Jonas Blixt, Kevin Stadler and Jimmy Walker lead record crop of Masters rookies
Trio two off the lead as hopefuls try to emulate Fuzzy Zoeller's 1979 feat of winning event at first time of asking
Sweden’s Jonas Blixt and Americans Kevin Stadler and Jimmy Walker led a record 24 first-time Masters players by firing two-under par 70s to finish two strokes off the lead on Thursday.
Not since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 has a Masters rookie won the green jacket on his first try, but a fistful of hopefuls put themselves in the early hunt with a solid start at Augusta National.
Blixt, who could become the first Swedish man to win a major title, birdied the third hole and then twice followed bogeys with back-to-back birdies to complete the front nine.
A birdie at the par-5 13th put Blixt atop the leaderboard but bogeys at the par-5 15th and 18, after a par putt lipped out, dropped him back.
“You know you can do it. You’ve got this under your belt now,” Blixt said. “I just need to play smart and aggressive.
“At Augusta, the thing is you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I feel like I can shoot really low out here. And I really like the golf course the way it sets up. But you could also have a really awful day when you catch all the bad breaks.”
The only bad one Thursday for 56th-ranked Blixt came at 18.
“A little heart breaker,” Blixt said. “I made a lot of putts today, too, so I can’t really be too angry about it.
“You have to be focusing on every single shot. Every single shot can be the best shot of your life and the worst shot of your life. That’s Augusta. It’s going punish you if you don’t focus.”
Walker, who has three wins this season, was two-over after bogeys at 11 and 13 before running off four birdies in a row starting at the 14th.
“You can’t ever give up. You never know what’s going to happen,” Walker said.
“Guys know how to play golf. It’s a matter of going out and doing your homework and knowing where to hit and not where to hit it. I did a pretty good job of that today.”
Overcoming the first-hole nerves was a big factor for Walker.
“It was cool,” he said. “Definitely felt a little jitters on the first green. Hit a good putt and settled in. It was great.”
For Stadler, the son of 1982 Masters winner Craig Stadler, there was great satisfaction in being on the leaderboard at a course he has seen almost every April since his dad won when he was only two years old.
“I’ll take two-under all day every day the rest of my life,” Kevin Stadler said.
Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old American who last year became the first teen PGA winner since 1931, opened on 71.
“I’m very happy with it,” Spieth said. “One-under is a good score. The course is playing difficult for everybody. I’m very pleased.”
Spieth had three-putt bogeys at four and 14 and birdies at the fifth, ninth and par-5 13th.
“I was really patient, consistent,” he said. “My only two bogeys my speed was just off on the first putt. I can take a lot from that. And that’s very positive going forward because you’re going to have some putts that make you scratch your head.”
Spieth learned from watching playing partner Rory McIlroy, a two-time major champion.
“You have to dial it down, no doubt about it. You can’t be aggressive,” he said. “You can see certain spots where Rory hit shots that looked like they were off line, but in fact they were right where they needed to be versus maybe going more towards the pin.”