If there’s one tournament where a golfer wants to keep positive vibes going from one year to the next, it’s the Masters.
Canadian Corey Conners — who finished in the top 10 in the last two Masters — did just that Thursday, opening with a 2-under 70 at Augusta National. He was just three strokes back of leader Sungjae Im.
“I felt like I did everything well,” said Conners, tied for seventh. “I was able to scramble well when I needed to and took advantage of a few of the birdie opportunities that I had.”
Conners is looking to become the second Canadian to win the green jacket, 19 years after Mike Weir broke through at Augusta. His usually elite ball-striking was off slightly on Thursday, hitting just 13 of 18 greens, but he scrambled well — highlighted by a pitch to within a foot on 18 — and his putting was solid.
The native of Listowel, Ont. said he’s been working hard on his short game. While he missed three putts of less than 15 feet — including a seven-footer for par, leading to his lone bogey of the day — he looked comfortable on Augusta National’s tricky putting surfaces.
Cameron Smith, who won the Players Championship in March, was second on the leaderboard at 4 under, while four golfers — including world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler — were at 3 under.
Conners will tee off at 8:55 a.m. Friday and try to make up ground in calmer conditions, with wind gusts expected through the afternoon.
“With the wind up, you’ve got to battle hard and try and keep it as simple as possible,” said Conners.
Shanks for the memories
Canadian Mackenzie Hughes doffed his cap to the gallery and received a smile-inducing ovation, but not for a reason you might expect.
Hughes shanked a wedge on the par-5 15th, leading to a bogey. After looking quizzically at his club, the levity of the moment sunk in.
“Never seen him do that,” Hughes’ caddy, Jace Walker, told the Star with a laugh. “He handled it pretty well.”
It was a rare mistake on the day by the native of Dundas, Ont., who shot a 1-over 73. He felt he played better than the score indicated.
“I felt like I did a good job of staying patient through my front nine there. I made a couple bogeys, but kind of fought through the middle part of the round and got a couple (birdies) on 12 and 13,” said Hughes.
While Viktor Hovland’s play over the last 12 months has made him one of the most talked-about young players in the game, it was his trousers that had everyone talking in the opening round. Hovland, ranked fourth in the world, rocked a pair of hot-pink pants with a bold white stripe down the side.
While the pants attracted attention on social media, his play wasn’t bad, either. He shot par 72, including a near-ace on the par-3 12th.
Asked why some golfers choose to make a bold fashion statement at the Masters, Weir — the 2003 champion, sporting Augusta green pants while shooting a 2-over 74 – says simply: “Hey, it’s Augusta, right?”
Matthew Wolff snapped an iron after hitting a poor tee shot on the par-3 fourth hole and was just one shot out of last place at 9-over 81. Hughes was in the 22-year-old Wolff’s group and offered encouragement after the round.
Last year, Wolff took a two-month break from the PGA Tour to focus on his mental health. He was disqualified from the last Masters after signing an incorrect scorecard.
At the last Masters, Si Woo Kim, in a group with Conners, broke his putter out of frustration in the second round.
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