AUGUSTA Observations, things we learned and random thoughts from the first round of the Masters:
1. FRED’S DAY
If it’s Thursday at Augusta, Fred Couples will be in contention.
No matter how old he is – he’s 54 – Couples loves Augusta and always plays well early in the tournament.
His biggest moment came when he won in 1992. He has 11 top-10 finishes and 18 career top-25 finishes. He tied for 13th in 2013.
Can he still win?
“Well, yes,” Couple said. “It’s hard, I will say that. It’s hard for me personally to play a course this hard day after day after day for four solid rounds. But my goal is to compete with these younger guys and not really worry about them.”
2. WHAT TREE?
If you didn’t know it had been there for all those years, you wouldn’t know the Eisenhower pine existed on the left edge of the 17th fairway. There’s no sign of it.
“It does look a little naked now,” Jack Nicklaus said.
Honorary starters Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player had different opinions on replacing the tree.
Palmer said put another big tree back. Nicklaus said the 17th hole needs more definition closer to the green. Player said he’s not in favor of trees – or sand traps – in the middle of fairways.
I agree with Palmer. Replace Ike’s Tree with a pine of similar size. Call it Ike’s Tree 2.
3. BAD HAIRCUT
Ike’s Tree wasn’t the only pine at Augusta that took a hit from the winter ice storm.
Numerous pines had limbs cut out of the tops of them.
They looked a little lopsided – like a $3 haircut.
4. CELEBRITY WATCH
You can see all sorts of celebrities at the Masters – including athletes, coaches, media types and actors.
Among those attending Thursday were Gamecocks wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr. and Jamie Speronis, USC’s director of football operations.
The celebrity impossible to miss was Carolyn Wozniacki, who was in the gallery of her fiancé, Rory McIlroy. She has dyed her hair a bright pink.
5. OUTSIDE THE GATES
Inside Augusta National, all is calm and serene, save for the occasional roar for a birdie or an eagle. There’s no running, no pushing. Patrons are well-mannered.
Outside, there’s a battle for sin and redemption.
Across from the main gate on Berckmans Road, youngsters are handing out pamphlets on how to get to heaven.
A few hundred yards away on Washington Road, John Daly – who didn’t qualify for the Masters – has his merchandise trailer parked at Hooters.
Hooters has put up tents in its parking lot to accommodate its extra patrons this week.