Rory McIlroy raised the biggest cheer on the first official practice day at Augusta National - with a hole-in-one at the 16th.
The ace, courtesy of a 7-iron from 170 yards, clinched a 3&2 win for the Northern Irishman in a match for “dinner” with tall Englishman Chris Wood.
“The roar was large considering it was a practice round,” said McIlroy, afterwards, when he also described his game as being in “good shape” for a second crack at completing the career Grand Slam.
That attempt will be made in an event featuring just 89 players - the fewest since 2002 - after Fred Couples, the 1992 winner, joined Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and Jose Maria Olazabal in being forced to miss out due to injuries.
Couples, 56, cited “acute back problems” for his absence.
Even though he lives just over 20 minutes away in Aiken, Kevin Kisner isn’t the local lad this week. That tag belongs to Vaughn Taylor, an Augusta resident. He attended last year’s event as a spectator with wife Leot and their young son, Locklyn.
He’s back inside the ropes for the first time since 2008 after reigniting a career that had started to flag with victory in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February.
“I had always been a little hesitant to come back,” said the former Ryder Cup player, who played three times in a row here from 2006. “I wanted to wait until I got back in the tournament but I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it back.
“But (managing that) tells me that you should never give up and always believe in yourself, no matter what your game feels like or where you’re playing. It seemed to take a long time to turn around - and it turned around quickly in one week.”
For the record, Taylor reckons he can do door to course in 17 minutes - five less than Kisner.
Jack Nicklaus believes golf is in “very good hands” with Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy riding high in the world rankings but the six-time Masters winner won’t be surprised if Rickie Fowler outshines that trio to make his major breakthrough this week.
Fowler, the Scottish Open champion, has been knocking on the door in these events, having finished second on two occasions as well as third and fifth in the 2015 majors. The 27-year-old didn’t really get in the reckoning last year in the same events, but won the Players’ Championship before tasting victory at Gullane and has since won twice more, including the HSBC ABu Dhabi Championship earlier this year.
“Rickie has gotten better each year, and he’s been putting himself in a position to win,” said Nicklaus of his fellow Rolex Testimonee in the build up to the 80th Masters. “I believe if he puts himself in a position to win a major, he knows how to win. So, if he gets himself in a position to do it, I think he will probably do it.”
No-one finished the job off better in these events, of course, than Nicklaus and this year marks the 30th anniversary of him becoming the oldest Masters champion at 46. While no longer competitive, the Golden Bear’s passion for the game is undiminished.
“I am very excited about the game of golf played at its highest level, because we have such a wealth of young talent, and we still have some veteran players whose games are strong and will contend in majors,” he added.
“But, when you look at players like Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, the game is in very good hands.”