Russell Henley and Daniel Summerhays were in the first group Thursday in the first round of the Masters.
But they still had a hard act to follow.
The two teed off at 8 a.m., right after Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player served as the honorary starters for the tournament.
Henley, who won the Houston Open on Sunday to qualify for his fourth Masters appearance, finished with a 1-under-par 71.
“It was cool. I was warming up, and they were hitting some balls on the range,” Henley said of Nicklaus and Player. “So that was just really cool. You feel, like it’s a weird presence, you feel from those guys that it’s just ... I just can’t really still believe I’m here. I’ve only known I’ve been in this tournament for a couple days, and next thing you know I’m right behind the ceremonial tee shot. So, it was really cool, really special, but I tried to also kind of stay focused.”
Summerhays is making his first Masters appearance. He finished Thursday with a 2-over 74. Henley and Summerhays will tee off at 11:07 a.m. on Friday in the second round.
The ceremony was emotional for Nicklaus and Player because of the absence of Arnold Palmer, who died in September.
“I really tried to picture it. Typically I show up right around the teeing area five minutes before, whatever, from the range, but I did it a little different this time because I wanted to soak in the experience, being first off and knowing that Jack and Gary were going to be there,” Summerhays said. “I got up to the putting green and had a moment of silence for Arnold. I had the goosebumps thinking about Jack. He could barely see the golf ball; he was in tears. And when he hit his shot, he still striped it right down the middle. But at the end of the day, no matter how nervous we are on the biggest stage, it’s all about relationships. And you could feel Jack Nicklaus’ love for Arnold Palmer in that moment. And that was a really special thing.
“But your first Masters, first off following them, it was really special. I was definitely nervous, but I’ve been really nervous a lot of other stages in my life. So it was nice to get one right in the fairway there.”
Mickelson back in the mix
Augusta Phil Mickelson got exactly the start he wanted Thursday at the Augusta National Golf Club.
The three-time Masters winner then used that to move forward to a strong first round. Mickelson finished at 1-under-par 71 after an eagle on the par-5 second hole gave him plenty of early momentum.
“Oh, that was cool, To make a putt on 2 for eagle and get the round started like that was exciting,” Mickelson said. “But I knew that there were still a lot of tough holes left out there, and just trying to make pars was kind of the goal ... and then take advantage of some of the par-5s.”
Mickelson added a birdie on the difficult par-3 fourth hole to sit tied for the lead at 3 under early in the day. But he had bogeys on Nos. 5 and 6 to drop back to 1 under.
Another set of back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 10 and 11 dropped him to 1 over, but he responded down the stretch to birdie the 13th and 16th to get back under par.
“Man, I love it,” Mickelson said of the tough, windy conditions. “I thought anything at par or better was going to be a great score, and it is. But because the greens are receptive, you can make birdies, and you can stop balls on the greens and make easy pars on a lot of holes.
“The problem is there’s a lot of holes out here that you can have a big number, and you just have to be careful of that.”
Spieth struggles on 15th hole
Jordan Spieth had no trouble with the par-3 12th hole Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club.
The par-5 15th, however, was a different story.
Spieth had a par on the 12th, which bit him for a quadruple-bogey 7 last year and derailed his chances of winning a second straight Masters title. But on No. 15 on Thursday, Spieth had another quadruple-bogey — with a nine — to slow any momentum in this round. He finished with a 3-over-par 75.
“Yeah, very difficult,” Spieth said. “You think of it as a birdie hole, obviously being a par-5. And unfortunately I still thought of it as a birdie hole (Thursday), and it really isn’t, when you lay up. So I didn’t take my medicine and hit it about 15 feet right with a club that takes the spin off. Instead, I was stuck in the 15-is-a-birdie-hole mentality, and it kind of bit me a little bit. I struck the shot well; I just hit the wrong club. I struck it very solid; I used a club that would spin instead of one that would maybe take the spin off.
“I moved up a few — 10, 15 yards on the next one — and I clubbed down, and that one just didn’t hit the same wind. But you don’t have much depth there, and I obviously wasn’t going to hit it in the water again. So just went over, and from there it’s very difficult.”
Spieth started strong with a birdie on No. 2, and he was still even after he had the par on No. 12. He got back to 1 under after a birdie on No. 13, but a bogey on No. 14 and then the disastrous 15th dropped him back in the field.
“I was a bit surprised at how loud the cheer was when my ball landed about 35 feet away from the hole,” Spieth said of his return to the 12th hole. “But I was relieved to see it down and on the green. And I guess everybody else felt maybe more than I did on it. But it was nice to make a 3 there and then capture 4 at the next. And I really thought we had it going there. And just made a club choice mistake, but we’re still in the tournament.”