Round 1: Casey leads, Woods in hunt as field plays catch-up

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Tiger Woods watches his ball as he misses a birdie putt on the eighth hole during the first round of the Masters golf tournament Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Considering all the things they do control, it’s comforting to know the weather remains beyond the reach of the green jackets at Augusta National.

Already short on daylight after the pandemic pushed the Masters back from April to November, they looked on helplessly as early thunderstorms stole three precious hours and turned Round 1 into something resembling one-half.

When darkness halted play at 5:30 p.m. EST, there were 44 players still on the course and 48 who’d turned in complete scorecards, led by 43-year-old Englishman Paul Casey, with Webb Simpson, Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas (who only played 10 holes on Thursday) two strokes back. All told, there were 50 players in the red when the horn sounded.

Like them, Casey took full advantage of a rain-softened course to fire 65 — an astounding 16 shots better than his opening round there in 2019, prompting this cheeky assessment:

“To be honest, you rarely walk off this golf course going, ‘It could have been two or three better.’ But it kind of felt that way,” Casey said. “I don’t want to be greedy. I’m very, very happy with my 65.”

Scattered throughout that admittedly small sample of four dozen finishers, however, were a few other mild surprises.

Five-time and defending champion Tiger Woods dropped a turn-back-the-clock round of his own, relying more on experience than current form to post a 68.

Woods has been a non-factor in the majors since his electrifying 2019 Masters triumph and played just six events since golf’s return. He’s still battling nagging injuries and his best finish this season is a tie for 37th at the PGA Championship. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open in September. No matter. Something about the Masters has always been a balm for what ails him.