Bezuidenhout to the manner born on testing Augusta National

Christiaan Bezuidenhout looked to the manner born on Thursday as he played with delicate precision on Augusta National Golf Club course to card a two-under-par 70 in the opening round of the Masters.

With the greens as firm and as fast as they have been for many years – and as they weren’t during the last Masters which was held in unseasonal November last year – Bezuidenhout plotted his way around the storied layout with the sang froid born of confidence in his skills.

“November played soft,” he recalled after his opening round. “It played long. Like now there’s some places where you can’t even hold a green with a seven-iron in your hand, where November you’re going for flags with a four-iron in your hand. It’s a completely different golf course. Different course management. I mean, you have to give those holes respect. When you are in position for the birdies, then you can make birdies. Overall, just balls are not going to sit.”

But he managed things perfectly. His tee-shots were like lasers as they found fairway after fairway, and his approaches landed like butterflies on greens that appeared unwilling to accept the presence of any balls. And then he seemed as if he knew the greens and their treacherous slopes and breaks intimately, as if he were a Masters veteran, rather than a second-time rookie seeing the course for the first time as it usually plays.

He hit 13 of 14 fairways, with his average driving distance of 274 yards substantially lower than the field’s average of 290. His longest drive was just 277 yards, so it is very apparent how consistent his swing stayed throughout the round.

Because he was a little shorter than most, hitting the greens was a little less impressive: He hit 11 of 18. And one of his misses, on 14, was the direct cause of his single bogey: After another drive in the middle of the fairway, he pulled his approach and short-sided himself. His chip ran 15 feet past the hole, and he was agonisingly close with his par putt – but not close enough.

Despite that missed putt, his putting statistics showed he had 1.56 putts per green in regulation, the best performance by anyone in the opening round. And it could have been better, as he rifled his approach on 18 to 12 feet past the flag. His left-to-right curling putt didn’t move fast enough to the right as it slipped by the hole.

He handled himself really well through the tough stretch from 11 to 13 – Amen Corner – with only a three-putt on the par-five 13th for par leaving him a little regretful. “The wind started to pick up quite a bit, and it was flowing through Amen Corner, like it always does,” he said. “Pity about my three-putt on 13, but overall I have to say, tee to green, I was hitting it great.”

He had plenty of reason to be well pleased with a great opening round. “I’m pleased with the day,” he said. “I’ve been playing well over the last couple of months, but I’ve been struggling to put four rounds together. So hopefully, I can turn that around this week and put four decent rounds together and then see where I finish off.”

A little less impressive – although it bears repeating that there were only 12 players of the 88 who finished the first round under-par – were 2011 champion Charl Schwartzel who finished two-over, and Dylan Frittelli who signed for a four-over 76. Louis Oosthuizen was also four-over.

Leader Justin Rose was two-over through seven holes, before he made eagle on the eighth to turn his round completely. He added seven birdies to his tally to race to seven-under 65 and a four-stroke lead over Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman of the United States.

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