Like a force of nature, August seeks out weaknesses and destroys everything in its path and on Thursday, Graeme McDowell’s shortcomings were laid bare as he continued his hate-hate relationship with the famous old course and crashed to a opening 75.
The Ulsterman hit just nine greens as he cancelled out three birdies with four bogeys and a double to slip eight shots behind first round leader Lee Westwood, who carded a brilliant 67.
Asked to describe his round, McDowell groaned: “It was rubbish. I hit it in all the places you can’t go and it’s tough from there. The pins were tough and I just didn’t control my iron play well enough and didn’t hit it to the correct side of the pins.
“This golf course gets me. It takes me 12 months to forget how much I dislike this golf course. I said I was coming here with an open mind this week and my mind closed up after about four holes.
“I’ve got to go out there and go low tomorrow after a rollercoaster day. I steadied the ship with a birdie on six but it is tough around the greens and just a tricky golf course.
“You have got to get in a good frame of mind and I just didn’t do that.”
McDowell bogeyed the first and followed a birdie at the third with a double bogey five at the tough par-three fourth where he was bunkered and misjudged an attempted running recovery to a tough back pin with his gap wedge.
He hit back with a birdie at the sixth but failed to get up and down for birdie from short of the par-five eighth to turn in one over and then overshot the 12th and bogeyed again to slip to plus two.
He must have felt he had a chance of retrieving something at the par-five 13th when he finished in the swale left of the green in two. Faced with a high tariff up and down, he knew he had to be perfect but chipped through the green from an awkward stance and did well to scuttle the ball down to six feet above the hole and save par with a fine putt.
Another shot went at the 14th and he made hard work of the par-five 15th too but walked off with a birdie. Blocked out by the tree on the left, he found the far right hand corner of the green around 25 yards from the pin, putted down to around 10 feet and holed the putt.
Two over wasn’t a disaster but he bogeyed the 17th off a poor drive and closed with a par to end the day beating himself up.
The Ulsterman has made the cut just once in his four previous starts but rather than admitting defeat, he tries valiently to psyche himself up for the tournament only to have his failingslaid bare in the cruellest fashion by the terrible beauty that is Augusta National.
Brutally honest about his struggles here, McDowell added: “I just don’t play well enough around this golf course. It doesn’t set up for me and I don’t have enough right to left shape.
“The rain has made it play long and tricky today and I just hit it in all the wrong places and paid the price. It helps if you can hit it 320 off the tee with a right to left shape and I don’t have that weapon unfortunately. You have to be really on from there with your irons and your short game and I got off to a sloppy start.”
It didn’t help McDowell’s frustration levels that he played alongside Louis Oosthuizen, who birdied four of the last five holes for a 68 and the early lead.
He said: “I’m only seven behind Louis so it’s bunched but it feels like a disaster after watching him do what he did over the last five holes.”
McDowell appears to be psychologically beaten by Augusta National, which puts him on the defensive around the greens and adds pressure to his long game.
“This golf course makes me walk off feeling disappointed with myself every time,” he said afterwards.”It’s hard and doesn’t fit my eye, especially when it is wet like this.
“It’s tough. It’s difficult in an around the greens. You hit quality shots and leave yourself tough putts. It’s just a tricky golf course. You’ve got to get in the right frame of mind out there and I just didn’t do it today.
“It’s always tough to chase out here but having said that the pins were tough today. There are birdie oopportunities out there. The par-fives are there for the taking. You just have to drive it well. You’ve got to be aggressive and take it on a little bit.
“I’ve got to play patient to the tough pins tomorrow and aggressive to the easy pins.”
Asked if there was a way of fooling himself into loving the course today, he said: “I’ve been trying to trick myself all week. I do love coming here. Augusta is a special place to come but the golf course…”
The double bogey at the fourth signalled the end of McDowell’s day. Bunkered and facing a tough up and down, he compounded the error with two more and walked off with a five on his card.
“I feel like when I miss greens here it makes me awfully negative and defensive. You shouldn’t be chipping and putting defensively but it makes you defensive because you miss it on the wrong sides of the greens and you are just trying not to make double instead of trying to get the ball up and down. That is the wrong mentality and probably why I am going wrong a little bit.”
Reflecting on the struggle just to make five having reached the edge of the 13th in two, he said: “You have to hit a perfect pitch just to get it within 10 feet. You are kind of rating yourself with perfection out there and generally, week in, week out, you don’t do that.
“Instead of missing a green and trying to get it up and down, you are going up there trying not to make bogey and that’s why I get all negative.”