AUGUSTA — One is a former Masters winner, appearing in the tournament for the 30th time. The other is a fresh face making his debut at Augusta National Golf Club in his first year on the PGA Tour.
While it might seem like Larry Mize and Russell Henley don’t have much in common, the first- and second-round playing partners both had a great time together Thursday at the Masters.
“The excitement is always here,” said Mize, the 1987 green jacket winner. “I’m nervous out there playing. The competitor in you wants to play well, and this just – it’s always exciting to be here.”
Henley’s a 23 year old who earned his berth in the Masters by winning his first PGA Tour start, the season-opening Sony Open in Hawaii. His 24-under score of 256 was the lowest in Sony Open history and tied for third-lowest in PGA Tour history. In spite of that taste of success, Henley was nervous about his first competitive round at Augusta National.
“I was a little nervy on the start. I walked on the tee and just got chills. Everybody clapping, it just kind of hit me all of a sudden that I’m here,” Henley said. “It brought back memories of standing outside the ropes looking in and guys getting announced. And I was just like, I’m the one inside now and I made it and it felt really good. And I had to fight off a few tears, but I did, and I was ready to go.”
Henley got off to a little bit of a rocky start. Perhaps dealing with his nerves caused him to make bogie on the first and second holes. But the Macon, Ga. native steadied the ship, making five consecutive pars before making the turn with back-to-back birdies.
Henley had another birdie and bogie on the back nine before sinking a more than 40-foot putt on No. 18 to save par. He finished his first round at even-par 72, leaving him in a tie for 33rd. That was one stroke better than Mize, whose round included two birdies and three bogies. Although Henley is a University of Georgia grad and Mize a Georgia Tech alum, both agreed they got along well and enjoyed playing with each other. Henley even joked when asked if he looked to Mize for advice.
“I don’t think he’s allowed to,” Henley said. “No, he was really great. He was very positive. He was rooting me on and it was nice.”
Mize, an Augusta native, was equally effusive in his praise for Henley.
“Oh, he was a great young man. I just enjoy playing with him,” Mize said. “We talked about different things. But I really enjoyed playing with him. He’s going to have a great career out here. He’s a good player and a good young man.”
The pair will play today’s second round again with Louisville, Ga. native Brian Gay, with the group set to tee off at 11:07 a.m.
Rain, rain go away
“I’d keep playing. I don’t think the heavy stuff’s going to come down for quite a while.”
That’s Bill Murray’s famous quote from the beloved movie “Caddyshack,” which proceeded torrential rains and a priest being struck by lightning. While the people running the Masters Tournament will ensure nothing as dramatic happens to any of the 93 players in the field for today’s second round, there’s a chance play could be suspended because of the weather.
Organizers didn’t have to worry about any delays or incomplete rounds Thursday, as forecasted storms held off until play was completed. That might not be the case today.
The forecast calls for a chance of a shower or two during the morning, followed by partly cloudy skies in the afternoon. The high will be around 80 degrees with a 50 percent chance of precipitation.
The good news is if play is unable to be completed today, the forecast for Saturday and Sunday is mostly clear, making it possible to complete the year’s first major on schedule.
Rain could alter the playing conditions and wind definitely will.
“It depends on the weather,” said Ernie Els, who is 1-under. “If the weather is good or if they have thunderstorms and it softens, you’ll see good scores. If it’s really firm and there’s no rain, it’s going to be like any U.S. Open, it’ll be really tough.”
One shining moment
Midway through the first round of the masters, an unexpected name was on top of the leaderboard. Not Marc Leishman, the Australian who finished Thursday tied for the lead with Sergio Garcia at 6-under. Earlier in the day, the clubhouse leader was David Lynn, who picked up where he left off in major championship play.
Lynn, a 38-year-old Englishman, finished second in the PGA Championship last summer, earning him a spot on the PGA Tour and in this week’s Masters. He made the most of his opportunity, carding a 4-under 68 that included six birdies and two bogies.
“I was on the ninth, and my caddie said, ‘you’re leading the Masters.’ He just looked at me and smiled. I said, ‘I’d rather be leading it Sunday afternoon.’ Lynn recalled. “It’s obviously not a bad thing to see your name up there leading the Masters and something you could always look back on. But you know, there’s a lot to be done for the rest of the week and hopefully I can keep my name up there.”
Although Lynn’s lead was short lived, he’s only two strokes behind Leishman and Garcia. It’s a major breakthrough for a player that turned pro in 1995 and is just now enjoying his first taste of success.
“I’ve always believed that I could perform well. I just don’t do it consistently enough,” Lynn said. “I’m just enjoying it at the moment. … Tomorrow is another day and I know I’m going to have to play well again tomorrow. … So I’m not going to sit here and say I’m going to be there Sunday night, but deep down, I know that I’ve got performances in me that could put me there Sunday night.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.