With a sense of freedom afforded from his breakthrough Masters victory in 2013, Adam Scott started impressively in his quest to conquer Augusta National once more.
Continuing where he left off from his playoff win over Angel Cabrera, Scott fired a three-under 69 in the opening round to sit in a tie for second place, just one off the lead and already on track to become just the fourth player to defend the green jacket.
It was the best first round by a defending Masters champion since Vijay Singh’s 69 in 2001 and only American Bill Haas bested Scott, with the 2011 FedEx Cup Champion opening with a four-under 68.
And set to prove he’s no one-hit Masters wonder, Marc Leishman fired a round of 70 to once again be right in the mix.
American Bubba Watson, the 2012 champion, and South African Louis Oosthuizen, loser to Watson in a playoff that year, joined Scott with rounds of 69.
Americans Brandt Snedeker, Kevin Stadler, Gary Woodland and Jimmy Walker plus Swede Jonas Blixt and South Korean K.J. Choi were tied with Leishman in fifth on 70.
“I was very happy with the way I played today tee to green. It was really how you hope to come out and play at any major, and especially the Masters,” Scott said.
“Getting off to a good start in majors is huge, because I think they are the hardest tournaments to kind of chase.
“Birdies aren’t that easy to come by usually at majors and, if you’re six back, five back, 10 back after the first round, it’s a hard three days in front of you to peg it back.
“You almost have to play flawless, so to get off to a good start is key.”
Scott certainly started hot and was once again the man on top of the leaderboard just nine holes into his defence.
Through 10 holes, Scott had four birdies and led by two.
But after getting an emotional standing ovation from the patrons walking to the 12th hole on Amen Corner, he stood on the tee at the picturesque par-3 bewildered by the breeze.
His concerns were realised when he left his tee shot woefully short of the target and ended up in Rae’s creek.
After a penalty drop and a reasonable pitch to the green, he couldn’t make the five-footer to save bogey, instead dropping two strokes with a double bogey.
“It was a weak shot, the only weak shot I hit, and it’s actually the first time I think I’ve ever hit it in that creek,” Scott said.
The 33-year-old bounced back with birdie on the 14th from about 12 feet and then parred home, including a nice save on the last from the treacherous bank over the back of the green.
Leishman, who led after round one in 2013 with a 66, was one-over through six holes but nailed birdies on eight, 13 and 18 to surge up the boards.
John Senden traded three birdies on the sixth, 13th and 17th holes with bogeys on the seventh, 10th and 16th to shoot an even-par 72 to be tied for 20th.
Debutant Matt Jones had a rollercoaster introduction to the tournament with an eagle and two birdies but also six bogeys for his 74.
Fellow first-timer Steven Bowditch shot 74 while Oliver Goss was four-over, good enough for equal low-amateur honours.
World No.4 Jason Day was the biggest disappointment in his return from a seven-week injury layoff, struggling to a 75 to be seven shots back.
But Day wasn’t alone as 2013 major champions Justin Rose (76), Phil Mickelson (76) and Jason Dufner (80) were a combined 16-over.
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