Date: April 06, 2018
Author: Martin Blake

THE AUSSIES: Leishman, Smith start well

Marc Leishman is in contention at the Masters after an opening 70 at Augusta National today, but the Australian could have been so much happier.

A double bogey seven at the par-five 15th hole when he was in a share of the lead cost Leishman dearly.

Having hit his second shot just beyond the green, the man from Warrnambool chipped from the rough back on to the green and watched his ball roll down the treacherous slope and into the pond that guards the front of the putting surface. It took him from four-under and tied with Henrik Stenson to two-under and in the pack.

In the end, he had to make a scrambling par four from the trees at the 18th to sign for a two-under total, having jumped to the lead early in the day with birdies at the second, third and seventh holes.

Another Australian, Queenslander Cameron Smith is also in the mix after a solid opening 71, but Jason Day struggled to an opening 75, three-over par, after making four bogeys in his first seven holes and Adam Scott, the 2013 winner, birdied the final hole for a 75.

Leishman was disappointed to have finished poorly after such a great start in which he made birdies at the second, third and seventh holes.

 “I've let things get away from me around here before, don’t intend on letting that happen again,’’ he said. “That was frustrating especially from where I hit the tee shot, didn’t feel like the chip was that bad a shot, just got a bad bounce. (The) game feels good. Happy with the start. Would have been nice to birdie 15 and be five-under, but that’s golf.’’

Leishman played alongside Tiger Woods, who started with a 73, and paid little mind to the crowds and the excitement that can be a distraction. “I looked at it as a good thing, because if I’m going to win this on Sunday afternoon I’m going to deal with crowds like that and the energy around the group, so I looked at it more as preparation, as a positive, so hopefully I'll be around Sunday and fighting it out.’’

Day had a dreadful start with four bogeys in his first seven holes, but gathered himself to control the damage somewhat. His second shot at the first hole ended up in a spectator's beer cup. “It’s the first round,’’ he said. “I’ve got to give myself more opportunities. I can’t keep leaving myself where I’m at, (only) birdieing two holes and making bogeys. That’s just no good.’’

A three-putt at the 16th stalled the progress he made toward the back end of the round. “It’s disappointing,’’ he said. “I think I did the exact same thing last year. I’ve got a lot of work to do over the next few days.’’

Smith, playing just his second Masters, noticed how the power he has gained since he first played here as an amateur in 2015 helped him. He had two birdies and a bogey in his 71 and was just outside the top 10 by the end of the day.

 “It was a little bit nervy at the start,’’ the Queenslander said. “I struggled with the driver today, so to get out of here under par is a good effort.’’