Lee Westwood / Getty Images
Lee Westwood looks like a good pick to be right there on the weekend — If you were to go down the list of potential Masters winners at the beginning of the week, Lee Westwood wasn't a name being mentioned by many people. Despite behind No. 3 in the world, Westy was an under-the-radar pick ... until he went out and fired a 5-under 67 on Thursday to take a one-shot lead. His round included a couple of careless bogeys, but for the most part, he was head and shoulders the best player on the course. He's still one of the best players without a major championship to his name, but if he keeps putting together solid rounds in the 60s — that was his fifth in his last nine rounds at the Masters — there's a chance he could be slipping a green jacket over his shoulders on Sunday evening. But again, it's only Thursday, and we have to pump the brakes when it comes to Westwood. We'll see what tomorrow holds for him.
Keep an eye on Tiger Woods' driver this week — Prior to the start of the Masters, you could have made the case that the best club in Woods' bag in the weeks leading up to his win at Bay Hill was the driver. For the first time in a while, it seemed like he finally had the big stick under control — so much so that Woods gushed about having some pop behind it earlier in the week. But whatever consistency and pop he had wasn't there on Thursday. He not only hit just six of 14 fairways, but had a couple of awful snap hooks that made you scratch your head. It's hard to tell if this is a major problem or just a one-round hiccup. Either way, keep an eye on the driver this week. If it becomes a bigger issue, watch out.
Rory McIlroy's 1-under 71 was beyond impressive — It's rare that we gush about a 1-under 71, but what Rory McIlroy did on Thursday was nothing short of amazing. The talk in the early week was how McIlroy would handle his first round following his Sunday collapse last year. Well, we got our answer in the first round; he's going to be just fine. After doubling the first hole, he came back and birdied three of his next eight holes before giving two back on the 11th and 13th. But McIlroy didn't flinch after the bogeys, going birdie-birdie over his final two holes to finish under par for the day. He showed some serious moxie down the stretch, and that could come in handy if he finds himself in contention on Sunday.
Players fail to take advantage of Augusta National's soft conditions — It was supposed to be a birdie-fest this week. Soft conditions were supposed to turn Augusta National into a lamb where scores of 65 and 66 were the norm. At least that's what we thought. Instead, players struggled to take advantage of the soft greens. With showers predicted on Friday, there's a good chance the course could soften up even more in the days ahead. But after seeing the scores on Thursday, will it really matter?
Big names have some work to do on Friday — Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and Jason Day? They were all contenders when the tournament started. But following the first round, all three could be booking plane flights home for the weekend. Mickelson was off his game, carding a triple on the 10th and finishing at 2-over; Donald fired a 3-over 75 (or was it a 73?) to fall off the pace; and Day, nursing a bad ankle, finished at 4-over. They weren't the only big names posting numbers in the black on Thursday, but they were definitely three of the most notable.
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- Lee Westwood
- Tiger Woods
- Rory McIlroy