By DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Hideki Matsuyama is a Masters champion and apparently a master host.
Jack Nicklaus has been attending the Masters Club dinner since 1964, the year after he became eligible by winning, and he said Tuesday night was one of the best ever. The food Matsuyama thing? Sensational. Nicklaus also said the conversation was flowing.
“That part was neat,” he said. “But then Hideki, he gave about a three-minute speech in English. Doesn’t speak very much English, and he did not look at a note. He had figured out what he wanted to say. I’m sure he had some help getting it on paper and then memorized it or whatever. But he was terrific.”
Better yet, global traveler Gary Player responded to the speech in Japanese.
“Gary Player spoke very well in Japanese, which we were all just blown away by,” Mike Weir said.
Nicklaus added: “I thought that was terrific. I have no idea what Gary said.”
Tom Watson said he had his eyes trained on Matsuyama, seated between Ben Crenshaw and club chairman Fred Ridley, and he was visibly nervous.
“He made the speech. He didn’t miss a beat. He didn’t miss a word,” Watson said. “After the speech was over, he goes, ‘Whew!’ Simultaneously, everybody got up to give him a standing ovation — a standing O — because we really appreciated the effort that he put in to go through minutes in English when he had a hard time doing it.”
No one was less prepared for Augusta National than JJ Spaun. He wasn’t about to complain.
Five days ago, he was only planning to watch it on TV.
Spaun won for the first time at the Texas Open, earning the final spot in the field at the Masters. He arrived on Monday, had limited practice because of storms the next two days and was first off Thursday morning with two-time champion Jose Maria Olazabal.
Spaun opened with a 74, going bogey-free over the final 14 holes.
“A lot of nerves, especially with the lack of preparation I felt,” Spaun said. “I didn’t really have the time that I feel like a lot of people had to get ready. I mean, it’s a great issue to have But with the rain, the weather delays, I saw the course very quickly.”
At least he had a big crowd to watch his debut, even if it was by default. Spaun and Olazabal tee off 20 minutes after the honorary start of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson.
“We had all the eyes on us in the morning on the first shot,” he said. “That was a cool kind of moment to be the first off because everyone is already congregated there for the honorary tee shots. Regardless, it’s still Augusta even if there’s people watching or not.”
Paul Casey’s run of playing in 30 consecutive majors ended Thursday. He withdrew before the first round Thursday citing persist back issues.
Casey has been struggling with back issues since his third-place finish at The Players Championship. He withdrew the following week from the Valspar Championship, where he was the two-time champion. At the Match Play in Texas, he pulled out after two holes of his opening match with back spasms, then wound up conceding the next two matches.
Two weeks later, there has been no improvement. Casey missed his first major since he wasn’t eligible for the Masters in 2014.
In an Instagram post, Casey said, “The back issues are persistent and thus preventing me from being able to compete. I shall now focus on my treatment and recovery so I can return to competitive form as soon as possible.”
Cameron Smith won The Players and is ranked No. 6 in the world. His game is more than good enough to earn him plenty of notice.
The Mullet was one of the big stories on Thursday at the Masters, with Smith’s hairstyle a talking point all day — before and after his round of 4-under 68.
“I see the barber probably once a month and he cleans it up, and then towards the end of the month it gets scruffy again and then it gets clean again,” Smith said. “It’s probably at its cleanest it’s been for quite a while .”
Harry Higgs’ first competitive round at Augusta National went extremely well: He shot a 1-under 71.
He had a little help: The 2020 Masters champion was more than happy to show him around.
“I played Sunday afternoon and then Monday morning with Dustin Johnson, and kudos to him,” Higgs said. “He was a wealth of knowledge. He almost would come over and start talking to me when I would look confused. He could almost tell as if he was the same way when he was his first time around here.”
Johnson’s best piece of advice was pretty simple, and accurate. “This golf course,” Higgs said, “is really hard.”
The low amateur at the Masters typically gets invited to Butler Cabin on Sunday and, provided he makes the 36-hole cut, also gets a silver cup.
There’s a long way to go before Keita Nakajima needs to start making plans for Sunday evening, but he’s off to a fine start. The amateur from Japan shot an even-par 72 in Round 1, the lowest score of the six amateurs in this Masters field.
Austin Greaser was 1 under through nine before settling for a 74, the second-best score of the day among amateurs. Stewart Hagestad finished with a 7-over 79, while Aaron Jarvis, James Piot and Laird Shepherd all were at 9-over 81.
Forecasters are saying wind tastes could approach 40 mph at Augusta National on Friday.
That has the attention of some players.
“I think tomorrow is going to be a really tough day,” world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler said after his opening round of 3-under 69. “Especially late in the afternoon. If the forecast holds, it should be pretty gusty winds.”
Joaquin Niemann’s eagle on the par-4 ninth hole was the first at the Masters since Bill Haas in 2013. … Mike Weir started with a double bogey. He played the next 17 holes in even par. … A handful of players failed to make a single birdie Thursday, including Cameron Davis, who had the proper attitude heading into Friday’s Round 2. “Ready to make them all tomorrow,” he said.
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