April 10, 2009

Courtesy of Michigan State Athletics

Jack Newman proved Friday that he belongs. Entering the 2009 Masters as an afterthought in this year's field of 96, Newman posted an even par 72 in today's opening round to end Thursday in a tie for 39th. He also holds a two-shot lead on the next closest amateur - Danny Lee. Playing with a former Masters champion, Fred Couples, and a nine-time PGA Tour winner, Rocco Mediate, Newman fought off some nerves early, but posted the third-best second nine of the day - a three-under 33, including birdies on four of the last five holes. In all, he tied for fourth with six birdies today.

The day began a little later than usual for Newman, as he was able to sleep into about 8:30, before eating breakfast with his family and making his way over to Augusta National. After his typical warmup session, he took the short walk from the putting green to the first tee and patiently awaited the moment he had been waiting for since he won the U.S. Amateur Public Links this summer. Couples and Mediate's tee shots were the prelude to Newman's moment. His name was called out by the starter and he stepped between the markers to a chorus of cheers. A few moments later, his ball was in the middle of the fairway and he began his round as the first Michigan State golfer in the Masters.

Newman followed his first drive with an approach shot into the back part of the green, but went on to 3-putt to post a bogey-five in his first official hole at Augusta National. Like most of the afternoon, he drilled his second drive down the middle of the fairway and would be on the par-5 second green in three after a short chip. However, his putt from about five feet just slid past the hole for a par. Newman worked out of trouble throughout the third hole. After putting his tee shot in the left fairway bunker, his second shot went about eight feet off the back side of the green. From there, he putted it up to within five feet and sunk his par putt to complete the tough up-and-down. Newman had his second 3-putt of the day on the par-3 fourth, settling for the bogey at the hardest hole on the course today (3.36 average).

Newman's first Masters birdie came on the par-4 fifth hole, the ninth hardest hole today (4.08). He placed his drive down the right side, giving him a clean look at the flag. Newman stuck his second shot within three feet, just high of the hole. He calmly knocked in the slight downhill putt for one of the only 11 birdies on the fifth today - the fifth lowest of any hole. Although he put his tee shot on the green at the par-3 sixth, it took a tremendous two-putt to save par. With the pin on the lower platform of the green, Newman slipped his putt along the ridge before it fell down to his left towards the hole, stopping about five feet from the cup. He sunk the putt to remain one-over thru six holes. However, Newman would go on to bogey three of the next four holes to fall to four-over going into Amen Corner - 11th, 12th and 13th.

Here is where Newman's day turned around. A solid drive followed by an approach shot that settled about 10 feet in front of the flag on the 11th green, set up Newman's second birdie of the day. He drilled the putt, posting one of the eight birdies at the 11th, which played today as the fourth hardest hole (4.27 average). A bogey at the par-3 12th was followed by a par at the par-5 13th, despite being on in two. The previous two holes seemed to have fired up Newman, setting up the best finish by any golfer today.

A string of three-straight birdies began on the par-4 14th. A left side drive set up an approach that he stuck within 10 feet. He went on to center the putt in the cup for his third birdie. The smooth success of his putter carried over to the 15th and 16th. On 15, he laid up short of water in two, setting up a 60 yard chip which he spun to about 10 feet low of the hole. Again he sunk the putt and had a similar putt on the par-3 16th after sticking his tee shot just below the hole. His birdie on the 16th was just one of 24 there today and moved him to one-over for the day with two holes to play.

A solid par on the 17th, set the stage for the historical 18th hole. A dead-center drive gave Newman a look at the uphill green. He put his second shot just long, but it settled on top of a sprinkler head, allowing him to drop. With the ball sitting up in the fringe a couple yards off the green, Newman went to his putter and drilled the downhill 18-foot slider. His birdie was one of 14 on the closing hole, which played as the fifth most difficult today (4.19 average). The hole capped a run of four birdies in the final five holes and gave him an even-par round of 72.

For the day, Newman was tied for 26th with 12-of-18 greens in regulation (66.7%), tied for 35th with 10-of-14 fairways in regulation (71.4%) and tied for 36th in driving distance at 280.0 - even with Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia. Also he had the second most birdies on the par 4s with four, one behind Aaron Baddeley. Oddly enough, despite shooting a 72, Newman was towards the bottom of the field with 31 putts and was last with four 3-putts.

Newman stands above many well-known PGA Tour golfers on the leaderboard heading into the night. His names sits above four golfers in the top-10 of the World Golf Rankings, including No. 2 Phil Mickelson, No. 3 Sergio Garcia, No. 9 Robert Karlsson and No. 10 Camilo Villegas and is tied with No. 6 Paul Casey.