AUGUSTA — So much for the talk about Augusta National Golf Club being too tough to handle.
And the discussions about there being little drama or excitement in golf’s first major can be put to rest ... at least for one day.
The field at the Masters got the best of Augusta National in the tournament’s first round Thursday, with 38 rounds under par. Two years ago, only nine players finished the first round under par, and that number climbed to 18 last year.
“It was a day for scoring,” Padraig Harrington said of this year’s first round. “(Club officials) can get the scoring whichever way they want. (Thursday) was obviously one of the most generous days ever around Augusta. You’ve got to feel it’s going to get a little bit tougher as we go on the next three days.”
The scoring conditions were just about perfect in the first round with generous pin placements and little wind, and the field took advantage of it.
No one was better than Chad Campbell.
Campbell birdied the first five holes, then added four straight birdies on the back nine to get to 9 under. He finished with back-to-back bogeys to end up at 7-under-par 65 and has a one-shot lead over Hunter Mahan and Jim Furyk.
“I was trying not to think,” Campbell said about his strong start. “(The hole) looked pretty big. Actually, it was nice to get off to a strong start like that, making some good putts and hitting my irons close. And starting with five straight birdies is always what you’re looking for.”
Campbell, who won the 2004 Tour Championship, has had limited success in his five previous Masters appearances. He missed the cut three times, finished tied for 17th in 2005 and tied for third in 2006.
He had shot in the 60s in only two of his previous 14 rounds and didn’t even play last year.
Still, Campbell went to the final two holes Thursday needing one more birdie to break the tournament record: a 63 by Nick Price in 1986 and equaled by Greg Norman in 1996. But Campbell failed to get up and down from a bunker at No. 17 and three-putted from 50 feet at No. 18.
“It entered my mind, definitely,” Campbell said of the course record. “Definitely on the back nine. I was thinking about it. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s hard not to think about that. I just tried to make as many birdies as I could, and unfortunately, I had a couple of bogeys at the end.”
After Tim Clark posted the early lead at 4 under, he was topped by a shot by Augusta native Larry Mize and Shingo Katayama before Furyk came alive on the back nine a little later. Furyk made the turn at 2 under after birdies on the second and ninth holes and was still at 2 under when he arrived at the 14th hole.
But he hit his approach shots to within 3 feet on the 14th and 15th holes, followed that with an 8-foot birdie putt on the 16th and a 20-footer on No. 17 for the lead at 6 under.
“I played well on the front nine, as well, but I didn’t hit my irons quite as close or didn’t putt quite as well,” Furyk said. “The difference on the back nine was my irons. I just hit some really crisp shots, hit a lot of greens and had a lot of close birdie putts.”
Playing in his 13th Masters, Furyk has finished in the top 10 three times. His best finish was fourth in 1998 and 2003, and his previous best first round was a 69 in 2001.
“I’m very pleased, obviously, with the round,” said Furyk, who won the 2003 U.S. Open. “I’ve struggled actually over the years to get off to a good start in this golf tournament, so it’s nice to be sitting in that position.”
Mahan is in good position after the best round of his Masters career.
He is making just his third Masters start and finished tied for 28th in 2007 before missing the cut last year. Before Thursday, Mahan had not broken par at Augusta National, shooting par once in each of his two previous appearances.
Mahan had three straight birdies on the front nine and four consecutive on the back, but he had a double-bogey on the 11th hole and finished with a bogey.
“I hit it great all day. I hit two bad shots, but other than that, I played great,” Mahan said. “I love this golf course, so this just gives me more confidence for the rest of the week, for sure.”
If conditions remain like they were Thursday, the entire field should have plenty of confidence.