April 9, 2015 - 7:07pm
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T.J. Auclair
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Fred Couples
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The 7-over 79 carded by Fred Couples on Thursday was the worst opening round of his long Masters career.

After a spectacular first day from the 79th Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, here are the five biggest surprises from Round 1:

5. Fred Couples
Why?:
The 7-over 79 that Couples shot on Thursday was his worst opening round at the Masters since he shot a 78 in 1996. It should be noted, though, that the 1992 Masters champ bounced back to finish T15 in '96.

That said, rough starts aren't the norm for Couples -- even in his 50s.

RELATED: Masters leaderboard | Thursday's photos | Fashion photos 

The last time the 55-year-old was over par after the first round of the Masters was when he shot a 1-over 73 in 2009. That's also the last time he missed the cut -- one of just two missed cuts in his illustrious Masters career (he also missed in 2008).

4. Ernie Els
Why?:
There are few people at Augusta National who have experienced that "bridesmaid" feeling more often than Els. Six top-10 finishes -- including runner-up twice -- and not a win to show for it for the four-time major winner. And he just wants it so bad.

This year, Els came in with pretty much nothing momentum-wise. Outside of a T13 in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, it's been a rough season for the Big Easy.

In his seven starts, he's missed the cut four times. But, Augusta National is one of those magical places that can bring out the best in certain players no matter the state of their game prior to arrival.

Els is one of those players.

The South African shot a splendid 5-under 67 with just two bogeys, including one on the last hole. Believe it or not, it was the first time Els has recorded a Masters opening round in the 60s in 21 starts. His previous low was a 2-under 70. He was three shots better on Thursday.

Els was a surprise winner at the 2012 Open Championship. It had been 10 years between major wins. Can he be a surprise winner again this week?

It sure would be special.

3. Charley Hoffman
Why?:
Well, shooting anything under par during the Masters is fantastic, but Hoffman's 5-under 67 gave him the early lead (he would wind up three behind first-round leader Jordan Spieth). And that just capped off a great day. Hoffman was in the first group off Thursday morning with Brian Harman.

That means he was in just the right place at just the right time to watch three legends -- Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player -- hit the ceremonial opening tee shots. As Hoffman was hitting balls on the range alongside Nicklaus, he even got the Golden Bear and Palmer (he just missed Player) to sign a few Masters flags for his charitable foundation.

So, in short, Hoffman's day began by watching three Masters legends tee off and then he went out and played like one.

2. Jordan Spieth
Why?:
Well, because his round Thursday -- until the bogey on No. 15 -- was as close to videogame-like as you can get. With his poise, confidence and tremendous ability lately, it's nearly impossible to belief that he's just 21 years old.

Spieth, one year removed from that runner-up finish in his Masters debut, fired an 8-under 64 -- one off the Augusta National course record -- to take the first-round lead by three shots.

Is it a surprise that he's in the lead? Not really. He's been the best player on Tour the last several weeks. His last three starts, in order, go: win, runner-up, runner-up. Spieth came into Augusta National red-hot. The surprise here is that not only did he live up to the expectations of a favorite, but he may have even exceeded them.

In five rounds in the Masters, all five have been sub-par for Spieth. Just so much precision and in such control at a place where he really shouldn't have any business feeling so comfortable just yet. He feels like he belongs and he's playing like it.

Still, there are 54 holes left to be played. Not since Trevor Immelman in 2008 has the player with the lead or share of the first-round lead gone on to win the Masters.

1. Tom Watson
Why?:
The 65-year-old, two-time Masters champion, shot a 1-under 71 -- just the third time since finishing fourth in 1997 that Watson has broken par at Augusta National. And, even better, he made an 8-footer on the final hole to close it out.

Until Thursday's 71, Watson hadn't broken par at the Augusta National since a stunning 5-under 67 at age 60 in the opening round of the 2010 Masters.

Not surprisingly, Watson was pleased with his efforts: 

Top 5 surprises from Round 1
April 9, 2015 - 5:01pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Matt Kuchar
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Many shots at Augusta National require the perfect touch. Matt Kuchar displayed just that with his eagle on No. 13 on Thursday.

The par-5 13th hole at Augusta National -- the final hole on the three-hole Amen Corner loop -- is arguably the most beautiful on the course. And that's saying something, because there are so many gorgeous holes out there.

Being a reachable par 5, it can also be one of the most dramatic holes on the course.

And so, that's what it was for Matt Kuchar on Thursday in the first round of the Masters.

RELATED: Masters leaderboard | Hoffman's eagle | Compton realizes a dream

Just off the back of the green in two, Kuchar had the perfect touch, chipping it in for an unlikely eagle.

You can watch how he did it here:

 

That eagle canceled out the double bogey Kuchar made on the par-5 eighth hole and had him at 1 under for the day.

Kuchar has finished in the top 10 at each of the last three Masters Tournaments.
 

Kuchar chips in for eagle on No. 13
April 9, 2015 - 1:18pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
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Tom Watson
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Tom Watson, 65, wowed the Augusta National patrons on Thursday with a 1-under 71 in the opening round of the 2015 Masters.

If there's one thing we've learned through the years at Augusta National, it's that it pays to have experience.

Jack Nicklaus won at age 46 in 1986 and had another run for a bit in 1998. Fred Couples still gets his name on the first page of the leaderboard almost annually 20+ years removed from his 1992 win.

RELATED: Masters leaderboard | Hoffman's eagle | Compton realizes a dream

And on Thursday, Tom Watson -- now 65 and a two-time Masters champ -- proved once again that experience, patience and wisdom are intangibles at Augusta National.

Watson, who last made the Masters cut in 2010 when he finished T18, fired a fantastic 1-under 71 in the opening round of the 2015 Masters.

His 1-under 35 on the back nine was helped by this special birdie on the par-3 16th:

Along with his two wins, Watson has 13 other top-10 finishes in the Masters.

 

 

Let's see what the rest of the week brings for the two-time U.S. Ryder Cup Team Captain.

Turn back the clock: Tom Watson opens with 1-under 71
April 9, 2015 - 11:59am
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T.J. Auclair
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Danny Willett
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Danny Willett played alongside 1987 Masters champ Larry Mize on Thursday.

The greens at Augusta National are just so undulating and so fast.

Take this putt you're about to see form Danny Willett on the par-5 13th for instance.

RELATED: Masters leaderboard | Hoffman's eagle | Compton realizes a dream

When the ball was just a little more than halfway to the hole, he was asking it to get moving. Turns out if it hadn't hit the back of the cup and dropped in for an amazing 64-foot birdie, the ball was probably going to sail 8 feet past the hole.

Check it out:

 

Obviously, one does not "plan" to make a putt like that.

Nice early Masters highlight. 

Willett holes roller coaster, 64-foot putt for eagle
April 9, 2015 - 11:42am
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T.J. Auclair
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Charley Hoffman
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Charley Hoffman went for it on the par-5 15th hole at Augusta National on Thursday and his risk paid off.

The great thing about the two par 5s on Augusta National's back nine -- Nos. 13 and 15 -- is they're both terrific risk/reward holes.

Hit a great drive? You have a legit shot to reach the green in two. However, mishit that approach and doom beckons in the form of water.

RELATED: Masters leaderboard | 10 to watch | Compton realizes a dream

On Thursday, early starter Charley Hoffman blasted a fantastic drive on No. 15, positioning himself splendidly to take a crack at the green in two from 234 yards out.

As you can see below, he stiffed it.

 

Hoffman brushed in the eagle putt. After a birdie on the par-3 16th, Hoffman moved to 4 under for the round and was the early Masters leader. 

Beautiful approach sets up short eagle putt for Hoffman