AUGUSTA, Ga. – If Justin Rose was looking for validation of his recent decision to change his putter and putting grip, he received it immediately Thursday. His first putt at the Masters was a 20-footer for birdie that dropped.
Rose made a 25-footer for birdie at No. 3 and added a 30-footer at No. 10, a convenient path to a first-round 69 and a spot near the top of the leaderboard.
"That always smartens up a scorecard when you're making some putts of length," Rose said.
Rose said he was recently craving a change with his putting and spent time at his home with putting coach David Orr "toying around" with a stash of extra putters. He also went to work in his Science and Motion (SAM) PuttLab, a technological contraption that offers analytical feedback on the putting stroke.
With that, Rose finally settled on a mallet putter and claw grip to use at Augusta National.
"I noticed that the stroke felt a lot smoother," he said. "Then the numbers on the SAM PuttLab were incredible. There was a big spike, a big improvement. So it was a mixture of feel and science telling me it was working for me."
BRAND-NEW BAG: Paul Casey and caddie John McLaren chatted for a solid minute on the sixth tee box, debating whether Casey needed a full 7-iron to access a front-left pin.
"Paul was thinking it was playing a lot longer than I was thinking," McLaren said. "It's hard to push someone to your corner when there's a big, gaping bunker short (of the green) and lots of room past. He's like: 'Are you sure?' I said: 'Yes, take something out of it. Just trust me on it.' And he did."
Casey parred the hole and made six birdies in a 69 that has him tied for fourth.
McLaren caddied for Luke Donald in the previous six Masters and while Donald was the world's top-ranked player from May 2011 to March 2012. But in an unusual decision in the caddie-player annals, McLaren chose to split with Donald in the fall.
"It's all personal stuff, stuff I don't really want to talk about," McLaren said. "Luke is a great guy. I have nothing but admiration for him and his game. It came to a point where I didn't think I could give him as much input as I would have liked. Maybe someone with fresh ideas would do Luke better."
While Casey thrived Thursday, Donald prepared for next week's PGA Tour event in Hilton Head Island, S.C. He did not qualify for the Masters, and his world ranking has fallen to No. 95.
THREE OF A KIND: Arnold Palmer couldn't miss it. Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player wouldn't allow it. So the iconic trio united again early Thursday on the first tee for the Masters' ceremonial opening tee shots.
Palmer, 86, was without a club, having decided long ago to be simply a spectator. Wearing his green jacket, he rose from a chair and offered a thumbs up when introduced by Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne. Nicklaus fought back tears.
"To be on the tee with Arnold still being a part of us, it was gratifying and sad," Player said. "Because everything shall pass. But it was nice to have him on the tee. I dedicated my first tee shot to him in respect."
Player, who at 80 made a hole-in-one in the par-3 competition Wednesday, hit a good one and outdrove Nicklaus, 76.
"I hit a pop-up," Nicklaus said.
This article was written by Dan Wiederer and Teddy Greenstein from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.