AUGUSTA, Ga. – The marshal told everyone to cover their heads; an errant ball was approaching.
It surprised everyone because this particular spot of Augusta National, tucked in a thicket of tall Georgia Pines not too far down the left side of the 18th fairway, isn't known for being a final resting place of tee shots. Getting there would require a horrible effort.
Moreover, the man who had just swung was Henrik Stenson, who had spent a day where few golfers had: threatening to finish in the mid-to-low 60s. That would have left him with a sizeable lead after the first round of the Masters.
He twice drained eagle putts and added three other birdies. His pace had slowed late in the round, but he still started the 18th sitting at five under. That would have been good enough to tie for the lead with Lee Westwood.
"What Henrik was doing early, that was pretty impressive," said Tiger Woods.
It was pretty impressive, at least until the marshal yelled "fore" in a place unaccustomed to the word. It turned out unnecessary, although not because the marshal was being overly cautious.
Stenson's tee shot didn't even make it that far or that close to the fairway. After a couple minutes of searching by Masters officials and patrons alike, his ball was discovered under a bush behind a merchandise shack near a drainage ditch that perhaps hadn't been touched in years.
And that was effectively the end of Henrik Stenson's round.
It's a cruel game and this was a cruel twist – and on his birthday, no less. The best player on the course all day melted down after that one horrific tee shot.
He tried to save himself with a whack out of the bush, but didn't even make it to the fairway. He then had a poor lie on some roughed-up ground and hit an approach that went nowhere desirable. He swung his club in disgust.
His next shot sailed over the green. It took four more to get in the cup. The result was a stunner: a quadruple bogey 8, a snowman on 18 at Augusta.
"Finishing with an eight?" Stenson said. "I don't think I've ever done that."
His lead was gone. He finished just 1-under par, tied for 14th.
The first day of a highly anticipated Masters just never quite materialized Thursday.
This was supposed to be a shootout, with several top players entering the event seemingly on top of their game. A series of storms didn't help things, altering the traditional way the course played. The day was a little ugly even before it began pouring late in the afternoon. More rain is in the forecast for Friday.
The news of the day wound up being more fallout from Augusta National's long-standing decision to not extend membership invitations to women. President Obama, as well as Republican candidate Mitt Romney both said the club should have members that are female. Meanwhile another Republic candidate, Newt Gingrich, supported his wife Callista's claim that she'd "love to belong to Augusta."
This may be the only issue on which all three men agree, so congratulations to Augusta for that.
What was getting silly off the course was swampy on it. The conditions were hot, humid and damp Thursday, in line with the warm spring that caused the course's signature azaleas to bloom weeks ago.
Whatever benefit soft, slow greens provided – you can slam it at the pin – were negated by a lack of roll on drives, worn conditions where the patrons walked and a lot of balls with mud on them.
"We got three [mud balls] today," Woods said. "Three pretty good ones."
Most of the pre-tournament favorites didn't do much. Tiger said he warmed up poorly and never got on track, finishing at even par. Phil Mickelson, en route to a two-over 74, hit one shot so far into the woods he had to employ the fans to help him search for his ball in the brush. Rory McIlroy, trying to rebound from last year's final-round collapse that cost him the green jacket, was up and down all day, although he finished birdie-birdie to finish at 1-under.
Luke Donald was almost accused of a false scorecard, which at least would've been dramatic except it turned out that a tournament administrator mistook a "5" for a "3" because of a smudged fax print-out. Leave it to the Masters to still use a fax machine.
Nothing was as disappointing, though, as Stenson. At the least the Swede could laugh, or at least discuss his disaster on 18 calmly afterward. His only regret was not realizing he was doomed under that bush – that he didn't try to play conservatively for a double bogey.
"I guess that's the difficult part here, accepting your mistakes, and just minimizing the damage," he said. "That's when this course really bites back. It can really grab you, and I sure got my bit of it on 18."
Just like that he went from leading the Masters to a cautionary tale. You don't see many quadruple bogeys at Augusta National. You rarely see them from the leader that had been brilliant when so many others had wilted.
"I did everything [well] except 18," he said.
Felt like that kind of a day here.
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