A look of disbelief came across Patrick Reed’s face as his approach on No. 17 carried the front bunker at just the right distance and appeared to be heading close to the hole, only to kick forward and roll through the back of the green.
Next up, Jordan Spieth fired an iron that never left the flagstick. Spieth stared confidently, only to watch his ball check up and trickle slowly off the front of the green.
Bad luck or Masters rookie mistakes, those shots reflect a knowledge of Augusta National’s nuances that bedeviled Reed and Spieth at various points Thursday.
“It’s a prime example,” said Rory McIlroy, who positioned his approach at No. 17 about 15 feet left of the hole and gave himself a birdie chance.
McIlroy and first-timers Spieth and Reed were a marquee first-round grouping, and the large number of patrons following them confirmed it. They saw Spieth shoot 1-under 71, patiently looking for openings and making three birdies and two bogeys.
McIlroy also shot 71, starting fast with two birdies in the first five holes. He also birdied the par 5s on the second nine, taking advantage of his length on Nos. 13 and 15, before a bogey at No. 18.
Reed was cruising along at 2-under-par, but he bogeyed the last three holes to shoot 1-over 73.
He was clearly still frustrated by the bogey at No. 17 as he stood in the locker room.
“It landed about a foot on the green just over the bunker…” Reed said.
“It was a perfect example,” Spieth said of No. 17, which he parred with a good chip. “Patrick hit on the downslope, and it was an unlucky break. But mine went right at the hole. It was two feet from perfect.”
McIlroy, 24, was considered the savvy veteran of this young group, what with his two major titles and five previous Masters appearances. He’s only 15 months older than Reed and four years older than Spieth, but his experience helped him keep his mistakes in check.
“I think that coming back each and every year, you do learn where not to miss it and you learn where you need to position your ball to give yourself the easiest chance at birdie,” McIlroy said. “I felt (Reed and Spieth) handled it really well. They both had it under par. They played well. Everyone needed to stay patient today, and I think we did for the most part.”
Reed played Augusta National three times while in college at nearby Augusta State (now Georgia Regents University) and shot par 72 each round.
“The greens were faster than in college, that’s the only difference,” he said.
Reed often found himself 30 yards or more behind McIlroy and Spieth several times off the tee, and he said he was not driving the ball solid or straight.
“I started out solid. I just kept leaving myself on wrong sides of holes,” Reed said. “I was 2-under, but I felt like I wasn’t doing anything real well.
“If I do half the things better tomorrow, I’ll be OK.”