2pts Kevin Kisner to win his three-ball at 13/8 (William Hill, BoyleSports)
5pts Jimmy Walker to win his three-ball at 11/10 (BoyleSports)
'Like glass' is how Ian Woosnam described the greens on a demanding first day at Augusta National, where, five months after the lowest-scoring renewal in history, a different set of records were under threat before Justin Rose completed a quite sensational opening round. Prior to his back-nine burst in an seven-under 65, three-under had been enough for the clubhouse lead, and Rose now has it by four.
After a serene start, the morning dew serving to create an illusion of playability, Augusta awoke. The four par-fives, holes two, eight, 13 and 15, offered some form of respite, but combined they were averaging less than a full stroke under-par. Every other hole on the course was playing above its average, with the usual suspects — one, five, 10, 11 — joined by nine, 17, 18 to make for an unrelenting and downright cruel test.
Much of this could have been foreseen, the tournament committee doubtless keen to punish everyone for what Dustin Johnson did here in November. And yet even some of those who'd been at the course preparing were surprised by just how quickly conditions turned, with Woosnam — who has been playing in this for more than three decades — suggesting the greens might already need water.
It's striking how many excellent short-games you can find towards the top of his leaderboard. Brian Harman, Webb Simpson, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Patrick Reed... all have the ability to overcome the challenge of stopping their ball somewhat close to the hole when faced with a missed green. So too does Hideki Matsuyama, typically a poor putter but underrated with a wedge in his hand. Of those out later, the same goes for Jordan Spieth, Shane Lowry and Tyrrell Hatton. Rose less so, but those in behind paint a different picture to that which we're perhaps used to.
If this remains the case, we'll get a very different outcome to that which I expected, because of a very different challenge to that which has been presented in recent memory. Much will depend on what organisers elect to do, not only with water but with pins and tees, too. Suffice to say, if they want their tournament to make a typical US Open look like a shootout, they really do have the power to do that. Rose, a former US Open winner, presumably wouldn't mind a bit and may be on the winning score already.
Hand on heart it's tempting to draw up stumps for a couple of days and see how things unravel, but there's enough juice in KEVIN KISNER's price so he gets the nod to beat Joaquin Niemann and Danny Willett for a second day running (1736 BST).
Siding with first-day winners in three-balls isn't generally a great idea, as the market reacts often quite strongly to what is ultimately one round of golf. In this instance, however, it was a round of golf which likely told us much about what to expect on Friday, and in a short-game contest Kisner beats his two playing partners hands down.
The University of Georgia graduate also hit more greens in the first round and his experience edge (Willett may be a Masters champion, but Kisner has played more rounds at the course) might also have been crucial to beating the Englishman by four, and Niemann by three.
That experience ought to have kept him from the triple-bogey he ran up at the 11th, the product of what Kisner called a 'bone-headed' mistake. Otherwise he played very nicely, cheered on by his family, and I suspect he feels that this version of Augusta has presented him with an opportunity he would not have had under November's conditions.
No doubt he'll feel he should've made more of it on day one, but at level-par he's right in this and that should remain the case come Friday night. Should his playing partners start badly, they may soon be out of things and a focused Kisner looks solid here at 13/8.
There's a broadly similar case to be made for Brian Harman, an occasional sparring partner of Kisner's with a very similar game and whose form coming in was excellent. The trouble is he's in with Brendon Todd and Ian Poulter, both excellent around the greens, and on what we've seen so far they're the wrong type of player to be taking on even if he gave both a beating to begin with.
Matt Jones might be a better option if you are looking for a double. The Australian won recently under very demanding conditions and made a solid enough return to Augusta, shooting 74 to beat Dylan Frittelli by a couple. It'll be a match once more, with Sandy Lyle no kind of factor unless this is won in 78 or 79.
Frittelli's overall form is not as strong as his playing partner's, and he seemed to appreciate softer conditions more last November. That being said, he has one of the best short-games around and this probably is the toss-up which the betting says it is.
Of the morning starters, JIMMY WALKER was three shots too good for Brian Gay, nine better than Larry Mize, and I'm amazed you can have odds-against with BoyleSports and Betway, with the 19/20 and 10/11 you'll find elsewhere perfectly fine (1312 BST).
Although Sebastian Munoz's late wobble cost us the double on day one, Walker more than kept up his end of the bargain despite a slow start and there's absolutely no reason to expect anything different today. He plays Augusta far better than Gay, his higher ball-flight will only become more beneficial, and there's no way his chance is worse than odds-on.
Posted at 2120 BST on 08/04/21; updated at 0745 BST on 09/04/21
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