Russell Henley and Kevin Chappell could be a rarity on a blustery day at the Masters.
Both were pretty pleased with themselves after their strong starts at Augusta National, considering the conditions. They shot 1-under 71s with the winds blowing heavily throughout the opening round Thursday. Patrons had a hard time holding onto their hats, flags atop the pins could be heard snapping in the wind and trees that line the course consistently waved as golfers walked past.
Chappell – a former Buchanan High and UCLA star – and Henley were the early low scorers on a day when few could stay significantly below par given strong gusts that bent shots and played havoc with golfers trying to judge proper distance.
“There was a lot of thinking out there,” said Chappell, at 2 under before a bogey on the 18th hole knocked him back. He finished 44th in his only other Masters in 2012.
American Charley Hoffman, 40, who played at UNLV, had the clubhouse lead after a 7-under 65. Only 12 players were in the red as the last few groups finished up.
“I hope conditions stay playable,” Chappell said. “I’m sure there’ve been some gusts where balls are moving on. But anytime you shoot under par around here under any condition, it’s a good score.”
It certainly was – only 12 golfers were under par midway through the opening round.
Henley was simply excited to be teeing off. His win last week at the Houston Open got him into the Masters and he had the first tee time right after the somber honorary start ceremony that was a tribute to the late Arnold Palmer.
“I still can’t believe I’m here and next thing you know I’m behind the ceremonial tee shot,” Henley said.
It quickly got very real for Henley.
He had to contend with the winds that went one way on one hole and a different direction the next. Henley opened with two birdies on his first four holes, then fell back with consecutive bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes. Just as quickly, Henley recovered with birdies on the 12th, 13th and 14th holes. A bogey on the 17th hole left Henley at 1 under, matching his second lowest score in 11 career rounds at Augusta National.
Henley said the wind may have been the toughest around Amen Corner – the nickname for Augusta’s famed 11th, 12th and 13th holes. Henley said he was about to take out a 5-iron for a 200-yard approach, figuring he would need some extra punch to get it close the green. Instead, he hit it over the green leading to a bogey.
“It was really rough,” he said.
Chappell matched his career low at Augusta, twice shooting 71 during his run in 2012.
Both Henley and Chappell say if the winds stay strong – the National Weather Service had a wind advisory for the area for the rest of Thursday – it will be difficult for anyone to get too far ahead. “I’m not going to wish anything bad on anybody,” Henley said, “but I’m really happy being under par.”
Bee staff contributed to this report.