AUGUSTA, Ga. — Phil Mickelson did something he’d always wanted to do in 20 years of playing the Masters.
No, not that trek through the woods on 10, though more on that later.
Despite having the last tee time of the day, at 1:53 p.m. EDT, Mickelson was at Augusta National six hours early Thursday to watch Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit the ceremonial first shot. In his green jacket, no less.
“I’ve been wanting to do that every year, and this worked out great because I had the last tee time,” Mickelson said. “It’s an experience that I really enjoyed — watching those guys hit it, what they have meant to the game of golf.
“They’re the Big Three and they brought the game to where it is. Anybody who has a chance to come to the Masters, it’s worth getting up early to watch those guys tee off.”
Seeing Mickelson on the first tee meant a lot to Palmer, Nicklaus and Player, too. The three combined to win 13 Masters among their 34 major titles.
“A nice compliment,” Nicklaus said.
“I thought it was wonderful that he came out,” Palmer added.
Mickelson called the three “charismatic,” and the same could be said about him.
After all, it’s not every golfer who could prompt a gallery to set aside their beverages and form a search party for a lost ball, as fans on No. 10 did Thursday.
Home Cooking: Here’s one way to ease the Masters jitters: Pretend you’re at home.
PGA champion Keegan Bradley has most of his family on hand for his Masters debut. His aunt, LPGA great Pat Bradley, is in town, and he got to see his own nephew before he teed off Thursday. Not only did his mother, Kaye, caddie for him in the Par 3 contest Wednesday, she cooked his favorite dinner later that night.
“A special chicken that she makes and corn and rice,” he said, “so it felt like home.”
Every little bit helps at Augusta National, which is notoriously tough on rookies. Only three first-timers have won, and none since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. But Bradley looked quite comfortable among the Georgia pines.
After a messy double-bogey on No. 1, he didn’t drop another stroke until 18. He was back to par by the time he teed off on No. 5, holing out from the front right bunker on the par-3 fourth.
Mud Balls: If the school of hard knocks is closed, Stewart Cink has another place in mind for those Masters players who want to learn how to deal with mud on the ball.
“The school of bogeys,” Cink said.
An opening day that featured soft, scorable conditions at Augusta National came with a price: Sopped grounds that caused balls to plug, not roll, when they hit the fairway and occasionally collect clumps of mud.
The whole idea of lift, clean and place at majors is more or less verboten, so the players must play them as they lie.