Masters morning rundown: Koepka fires back at criticism, Spieth’s struggles continue, Tiger and Phil in hunt, and latest on Day’s injury

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Welcome to the Masters morning rundown, your one-stop shop to catch up on the action from Augusta National. Here’s everything you need to know for the morning of April 12.

Koepka, DeChambeau lead on Day 1

One is known as a tactician. The other, a major mortician. While the Venn Diagram between Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka lacks significant overlap, both turned in a six-under 66 on Thursday to share the Round 1 Masters lead.

DeChambeau, whose analytical pursuits and scholarly vernacular mask his physical talent, made his mark thanks to six birdies in the final seven holes, including near eagles at the par-3 16th and par-4 18th. He finished with nine birdies on the day in just his fifth professional round at Augusta National.

Though he has three fewer red figures, Koepka was able to keep a clean card, in large part due to hitting 15 of 18 greens.

“Yeah, that was probably the best ball‑striking round I’ve had in a major championship, I would say,” Koepka, a winner of three majors, said. “I left myself with a lot of good looks.”

But it’s far from a two-dog race. Phil Mickelson continued his admirable fight against Father Time with a five-under 67. The 48-year-old is a three-time Masters champ, although Mickelson has just one top 20 in his last eight Augusta appearances. Rather than the confident, brash Phil we’ve come to know, Mickelson was one of poise on Thursday afternoon, bouncing back from putting his approach in the water at the 11th.

“Look, the greens are softer than they’ve ever been, and they’re not as fast as they normally are,” Mickelson said. “So today was a day to take advantage of it. I’m sure they’ll get firmer and faster as the week goes on. But you could get after the pins and you could putt aggressively.”

Others on the board include Dustin Johnson and Ian Poulter at four under, and five players—including Jon Rahm, Kevin Kisner and former champ Adam Scott—at three.

And right behind at two under?

Tiger Woods
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Woods in hunt

It’s only the start of this four-day rodeo. But for Tiger Woods, a start that more than kept him in the saddle. The 14-time major winner overcame a shaky putter and unfriendly conditions to turn in a two-under 70 in the opening round of the Masters.

“I felt like I played well and I did all the things I needed to do today to post a good number,” Woods said. “I drove it well, hit some good iron shots, speed was good on the greens.

“And it was tricky, the winds as of right now it puffs up, it goes down, it switches directions, and it’s typical of this golf course, it just kind of swirls out there and it’s hard to get a bead on the exactly what it’s doing at all times.”

Due to a blitzkrieg of birdies by the final groups, Tiger’s 70 lost some of its luster by day’s end. Still, Thursday has historically thrown Woods fits at Augusta. And for those seeking a sign: in three of his four Masters victories, Woods opened with a 70.

For Woods to make a move on Friday, he’ll need to improve his second-shot performance (only 11 greens on Thursday) and get on the same page as his Scotty. But he’s there, which is all a fan could ask for on a Thursday. He will tee off in Round 2 at 1:49 p.m.

2019 Masters
J.D. Cuban

Brooks fires back at criticism

Earlier this week, Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee had some choice words for Koepka, who admitted last month his game had suffered due to a diet change.

“The three times he’s played here he’s finished 33rd, 21st and 11th, that’s a pretty darn good trend,” said Chamblee. “We know why he didn’t play last year, we know what he did at the end of last year, you can extrapolate what he did at the end of last year and what he was likely to do here at Augusta National if everything were the same. Now, for him to change his body and his body chemistry, for vanity reasons, for a vanity shoot, is the most reckless self sabotage that I have ever seen of an athlete in his prime. I get why they ask Gary Player to do that shoot. I get why they ask Greg Norman to do that shoot.

“But to do something that takes you out of your game, to change your game completely, it’s never worked out very well. I think he’d be at the top of everybody’s list to win at Augusta National had he not done this and had his game not declined.”

Koepka’s 66 was a formidable response in itself. But just in case the message wasn’t received, Koepka made sure it was triple-stamped Thursday evening.

“Well, I lift all the time. I lift too many weights, and I’m too big to play golf. And then when I lose weight, I’m too small. So, I don’t know,” Koepka said, laughing. “I don’t know what to say. I’m too big and I’m too small.

“Listen, I’m going to make me happy. I don’t care what anybody else says. I’m doing it for me, and obviously it seems to work.”

We highly endorse those credos, although we don’t think anyone’s ever called Koepka “too small.” For what it’s worth, Chamblee upped the ante Thursday night when stating he’s still unsure if Koepka has the toughness to win at the Masters. That’s, um, an interesting hill to die on. Or maybe this is a worked promotion for a WWE match between Brooks and Brandel. Either way, sign us up for more.

The Masters - Round One
David Cannon

Day injures back

Jason Day’s road to a green jacket took an unexpected—or some would argue, expected—turn on Thursday.

The Aussie re-injured his back before the first round, aggravating it when he bent down to kiss his daughter Lucy. After bogeying the first hole at Augusta National, cameras caught Day receiving treatment on his back, laying on the second tee box as a trainer attempted to stretch him out.

The treatment apparently worked, as Day birdied the second hole, and finished with a two-under 70.

Day’s injuries have become a hot button as of late. The Aussie pulled out of Bay Hill, his ninth career WD. He later told Golf Digest’s Dave Shedloski that an MRI revealed an injury to his L4-L5 discs. He woke up the Sunday before the Arnold Palmer Invitational and “couldn’t really walk” because of back pain. Alas, some on social media questioned the severity of his pain as he was at Disney World with his family the following day.

At TPC Sawgrass, the 31-year-old responded to the outcry generated by his family outing.

“I don’t care,” Day said. “Like if people make memes about me, I think a lot of them are funny. I think that—I mean, it’s fine. It is what it is. People trying to be funny and that, I get a good laugh out of it and I’m OK with that. You can tell between people that are being funny and people that are actually trying to—that really hate you.

“It’s unfortunate, but it just reflects what they are as a person, because it means—I don’t have a problem with them, they have a problem with me. So it’s more on them than myself.”

Though Day did not stop to talk to media, his management said Day’s back was already sore heading into the week. Nevertheless, Day—who finished the round T-11—is expected to give Friday a go. This is Day’s ninth career Masters appearance. He has three top-10 finishes, highlighted by a runner-up in 2011.

The Masters - Round One
Andrew Redington

Spieth’s struggles continue

This week was supposed to be the elixir for Jordan Spieth. It has been in the past, after all. But whatever pain relief Spieth was seeking, Augusta National did not provide.

Spieth, whose 10-month funk has been one of the sport’s chief wonders and worries, remained in his slump Thursday afternoon, stumbling to a three-over 75.

The problems began early. First hole to be exact. He faced a two-footer for par. A par on the first is one of the biggest exhales in golf. Feels like you stole one on the field. But two feet has looked like 20 to Spieth as of late, ranking 181st in shorties last year and 161st on anything inside 10 feet this season. That showed on Spieth’s attempted save, as the putt lipped out something fierce.

The real daggers came on the sixth and nine. At the 180-yard par-3 sixth, Spieth flubbed his shot short and sideways, falling off the front slope of the green. He failed to get up-and-down from there for double. If that wasn’t humbling enough, Spieth’s chip at the ninth climbed halfway up the green’s incline before deciding to come back down to his feet. For those scoring at home, that’s a four-over 40.

Though he played the back bogey-free, he didn’t birdie the 13th and 15th. The final damage could have been worse, although nine shots behind the leaders is about as worse as it gets if you’re Spieth. Forget a second green jacket; at T-63, it will be a hustle to make it to Saturday.

Spieth will eventually get right. Too talented, too cerebral, too steadfast to be permanently stuck. It just won’t be here, not this week at least.

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