Phil Mickelson took the scenic route down the back nine on Thursday. (Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Shooting a 7-under 65 in any round at the Masters is impressive. But first-round co-leaders Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros aren't the only players who pummeled Augusta National on Thursday. With little to no wind, soft conditions and relatively easy pin placements, nearly half the field shot par or better to open the 75th Masters.
"It's a hell of a score, don't get me wrong," said Graeme McDowell when asked about the leading score. "But the pins were set up for scoring, the fairways are running quite slow, which really helps around the greens because the ball stays on the upslopes. ... It was there for the taking today."
Added Nick Watney after shooting a 72: "I don't think we'll see the course much easier than it was today."
Indeed. Augusta National will get firmer and tougher as the tournament progresses. Add increasingly difficult pin placements, and the winning score will likely end up in the 272-276 range as it has been the last couple of years.
Woe to anyone who may be feeling comfortable after the first round.
"I would say that's an inexperienced statement," said 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman.
As Heath Slocum -- another member of the even-par club on Thursday -- pointed out, the lack of rain in the forecast will allow tournament officials to basically dictate how they want Augusta National to play.
"They will have full control of how much moisture they want to put on (the greens)," Slocum noted, "so their target score -- they will dictate what they want."
Or, as 2009 champion Angel Cabrera said, "I'm sure the course is going to get more complicated."
SPANISH ARMADA: Earlier this week, Phil Mickelson paid tribute to ailing Seve Ballesteros at the champions dinner by putting Spanish cuisine on the menu. Unfortunately, Ballesteros was not able to attend, but the two-time Masters champ had plenty of well-wishers that night.
On Thursday, Spaniards Quiros and Sergio Garcia (3-under 69) found themselves on the front page of the leaderboard, another nice reminder of the legacy that Ballesteros created here with his first Masters win in 1980.
SPEAKING OF QUIROS: He has a new caddie this week, Gareth Lord, who used to caddie for Robert Karlsson. Asked about the timing of such a change during the week of a major, Quiros wasn't concerned. Obviously, there was no negative impact Thursday.
"I know that it's difficult to believe," Quiros said, then added, "Well, no, it's not difficult. Somebody who knows about golf will understand perfectly."
DON'T FORGET THE KOREANS: Tied for third at 5-under 67 are Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi. Yang, of course, became the first Asian player to win a major when he overtook Tiger Woods to win the 2009 PGA Championship.
"It's a very good course for Koreans," Yang said. "It's atypical of a Korean course, so if you're on a good day, I think that it's to our advantage, really."
TOP TWO TROUBLES: The world's No. 1 player, Martin Kaymer, shot a 6-over 78; just four players shot worse scores on Thursday, and two of them play on the Champions Tour. Kaymer hit just six of 14 fairways and needed 35 putts (including two three-putts).
The young German has never made the cut in three previous Masters appearances, and he appears headed for the same fate Friday.
"It's just a shame," Kaymer said, sounding defeated. "It's obviously a huge tournament here and if it doesn't really suit your eye and you know that quite well, it's a little frustrating."
No. 2 Lee Westwood is in better shape after shooting 72, but he was headed to the practice green after his round. He missed a short par putt on the opening hole and could never get any sustained momentum.
"If you can't hole it out from four feet, you're going to struggle, aren't you?" Westwood said.
PHIL AND TIGER: Defending champ Phil Mickelson opened with a solid 2-under 70 after opting to change strategy and put just one driver in his bag (he said earlier this week he would use two drivers). "I didn't shoot myself out of it, but I didn't make up ground on the field the way I wanted to," Mickelson said, "so I've got to go do it tomorrow."
Tiger Woods signed for a 71, making birdie on just one of Augusta's four par 5s. "I'm right there in the ball game," Woods said. "I'm only six back."
INTERESTING STATISTIC: Ricky Barnes has played nine career rounds at Augusta National (2003 as an amateur; last year and this year as a pro). Seven times, he has finished that round inside the top 10 on the leaderboard, including Thursday as he stands tied for fifth with Matt Kuchar after shooting 68.
That top-10 rate of 78 percent is the highest percentage of any player since 2003.
"If you are going to play well out here, you are not going to live and die by playing the par 3s and par 4s well out here," Barnes said. "You have to cash in on some par 5s."
Barnes, naturally, birdied all four par 5s on Thursday.
PUTTING WOES: McDowell, the reigning U.S. Open champ, went through a six-hole stretch on Augusta's back nine in which he three-putted four greens. "Pace is my problem," he said after his 74 (a fairly miraculous score given his putting woes. "The first nine holes, I could barely get a putt to the hole. And then i sort of overreacted and started blasting everything on the back nine.
Dustin Johnson three-putted twice and missed a few short putts in matching McDowell's 74. "It seemed like I was putting downhill all day," he said.
FedExCup points leader Mark Wilson four-putted the eight hole, which he double-bogeyed en route to a 76. He said he missed his initial birdie putt from 10 feet, then missed a couple of three-footers after that. "Obviously, I got a little ahead of myself," Wilson said. "I was counting that birdie before I even hit."
SLOW PLAY: Normally the first group out can zip around the course on fresh greens and no groups ahead of them. But Thursday's first group of Ross Fisher, Jonathan Byrd and Sean O'Hair, teeing off at 7:45 a.m. ET, found themselves on the clock by the eighth hole.
After putting out on the ninth hole, Fisher was approached by officials who told him that he was taking too much time. After that, Fisher kept the pace situation in the back of his mind while finishing his 3-under 69.
"Obviously being the first group, it's our job to set the pace," Fisher said. "Unfortunately, we were a little bit behind to start it off, but I think we got around in good time."
MORE BAD NEWS: The Japanese continent at the Masters were again hit with news of another powerful earthquake in their homeland, this one registering 7.4 on the Richter scale. Combined with last month's earthquake that produced a devastating and deadly tsunami, worries about friends and family have taken its toll on the Japanese golfers playing in recent tournaments in the States.
"I understand that people, especially in Sendai, they are living in hell," said teenager Ryo Ishikawa after his 1-under 71, "and I would love to show the energy and power of what golf can bring to those people."
INJURY WOES: Tim Clark shot a 73 despite playing his first competitive round of golf in nearly three months because of tendinitis in his right elbow. He's taking anti-inflammatory medicine but "it's not working," he said.
"Not only is the elbow sore, but I have no strength in my shoulders and back because I haven't been able to use them, so that all just adds up," said Clark, who is now worried whether he'll be in shape to defend his PLAYERS Championship crown next month.
Meanwhile, three-time major winner Padraig Harrington is also a man who wondered whether he should even be on the course this week. Harrington said he nearly pulled out of the tournament this week because of a neck problem. He didn't ... and ended up shooting a 5-over 77.
"I couldn't keep my head in position at impact," Harrington said. "I had to come up on all my shots. And when you're doing that, you can hit it right and left."
Harrington said he was determined to play in Friday's second round, despite having very little chance of making the cut. "I've never failed to finish a tournament," he said.
SOLID COLORS: Rickie Fowler was decked out in all green, his apparel company Puma making him a special Masters wardrobe (he said it was a little lighter than the Masters green). And Bubba Watson was in all white, a look that he will continue in every round he plays this week.
Fowler, of course, will wear his traditional all orange on Sunday provided he makes the cut (he's in good shape after shooting 2 under). Asked if orange might clash with the Masters' Green Jacket, Fowler replied: "Nothing looks good with a a Green Jacket."
HOW ABOUT THE AMATEURS?: Six amateurs are in the field this week. David Chung, Hideki Matsuyama and Peter Uihlein each shot even-par 72, Jin Jeong shot 73, Nathan Smith shot 75 and Lion Kim shot 76.
Chung, Uihlein, Smith and Kim are flying the U.S. banner this week and will try to break the drought of American amateurs at this event. No American amateur has made the cut at the Masters since 2005