Adam Scott was delighted with the start to his Masters title defence on Thursday, despite being one of many players to fall foul of the shortest hole at Augusta National.
The only blemish on Scott’s opening 69 was a double bogey on the 12th which left him sharing second place with former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson, the men who contested a play-off here in 2012.
American Bill Haas held the lead on four under par with Masters rookies Kevin Stadler, Jonas Blixt and Jimmy Walker among a seven-strong group on two under.
Scott had been four under after a flawless opening 11 holes, with one of his birdies coming on the par-four 10th where he sealed victory on the second hole of a play-off with Angel Cabrera last year.
But the Australian - aiming to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods in winning back-to-back titles - then dumped his tee shot on the 12th into Rae’s Creek in front of the green to run up a double-bogey five, before three-putting from long range for par on the 13th and 15th.
“I was very happy with the way I played today tee to green,” said Scott, whose 69 matched his lowest opening round at the Masters from last year and 2010. “It was really how you hope to come out and play at any major, and especially the Masters. I was really solid.
“I hit the one poor shot on 12, which obviously cost me a couple of shots, but very pleased to get off to a good start and there’s no doubt winning the Masters last year had me a little more comfortable on the first tee than I’ve ever been in the past, because I didn’t have the legs shaking and nerves jangling for six or seven holes like usual.
“Getting off to a good start in a major is huge, because I think they are the hardest tournaments to chase. Birdies aren’t that easy to come by usually at majors, and if you’re five, six or 10 back after the first round it’s a hard three days in front of you to peg it back.”
Asked if he had thought much about joining such an illustrious club by winning on Sunday, Scott added: “I haven’t really. It’s been mentioned and it gets mentioned to every guy who is coming back to defend I’m sure.
“It’s an amazing group of guys, great champions, but it’s so much golf to play yet, I can’t even think about it. My goal teeing off today was to play three good days and get myself in contention and give myself a chance like I did last year.”
Oosthuizen also found water on the 12th but escaped with a bogey, while US Open champion Justin Rose did likewise but still shot a 76 matched by playing partner Phil Mickelson, who had two sevens on his card.
Three groups ahead of Scott, 50-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez was four under after 10 holes in his bid to become the oldest winner of any major championship, Julius Boros being 48 years four months and 18 days when he won the US PGA Championship in 1968.
However, the Spaniard then dropped a shot on the 11th and also found water off the tee on the 155-yard 12th - ranked the second hardest hole on the course - to card a double bogey on his way to a 71.
Pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy safely found the 12th green in regulation but three-putted for a bogey and did the same on the 18th to also card a 71.
“It was a good day at the office, anything in red figures was a good effort out there,” McIlroy said. “When I saw the pin positions this morning I thought they didn’t want people to get too many under par.
“The set up was much more difficult than it has been in the past. Going out tomorrow afternoon the greens are going to be firmer. I wouldn’t mind if they were a little softer. They’re fast already. By Sunday they’re going to be pretty dicey.”
Haas had never broken 70 before in 16 previous rounds at Augusta but recovered from a bogey on the first with six birdies, including from five feet on the 18th after also dropping a shot on the 17th.
“I knew about that stat before the round so to shoot in the 60s feels great,” Haas said. “There is a lot of golf left but I’m ecstatic with today.”
The 31-year-old’s father Jay finished third here in 1995 and the family connection runs even deeper.
“My dad’s uncle, Bob Goalby, won the Masters in 1968, and I think it’s been a special place in our family since then,” Haas added. “My dad, I asked him last night, he said he played 22 times here.
“My uncle Jerry has competed in a couple of Masters and my uncle Dillard Pruitt, I’m almost positive he played one Masters, maybe two.”
Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher had been in outright second when he birdied the ninth to reach the turn in 33, but a hat-trick of bogeys from the 10th halted his charge.
The 39-year-old birdied the 15th and eventually signed for a 71 on his debut, one shot better than former US Open champion Graeme McDowell, while Lee Westwood bogeyed the last for a 73.
Sergio Garcia and Darren Clarke both shot 74 and Ian Poulter 76, while Luke Donald struggled to a 79 that included a two-shot penalty for touching the ground with his club after leaving his third shot in a greenside bunker on the ninth.