AUGUSTA, GA. – One golf adage holds that the Masters doesn't begin until the back nine on Sunday.
Another suggests that you can't win a golf tournament on the first day, but you can lose it.
The first is poetic, if only occasionally true. The second is a hard-learned fact.
At the end of Thursday at the Masters, the scoreboards displayed the usual first-day bouillabaisse of front-runners, while the more intriguing stories lurked well behind the leaders — and sometimes behind pine trees and azalea bushes.
Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy ranked as either betting or sentimental favorites entering the tournament, and they spent much of the day strolling through pinestraw.
McIlroy and DeChambeau shot 76s, leaving them 11 behind leader Justin Rose.
Spieth rallied from 2 over after making a triple bogey at the ninth to finish at 1 under. Thomas shot a 34 on the back nine to finish at 1 over.
McIlory, again trying to complete the career grand slam with his first Masters victory, hit his father with a wayward tee shot on No. 7. "I think he just needs to go and put some ice on it," McIlroy said. "Maybe I'll autograph a bag of frozen peas for him."
Spieth and DeChambeau probably wish they had lined the fairways with relatives to keep their balls in play.
On the ninth hole, Spieth hit his drive about 40 yards into the trees, then banked a shot backward off one of them, winding up with a triple-bogey 7. The last player to win the Masters with a 7 on their scorecard: Craig Stadler in 1982.
When DeChambeau came to the Masters last November, he had shocked the golf world by overpowering Winged Foot to win the U.S. Open. His powerful swing threatened to alter the way Augusta National could be played. He shot 70, 74, 69 and 73 to finish in a tie for 34th.
On Thursday, he displayed the downside of power, hitting the ball over greens and even to a portion of the fifth hole rarely visited by mammals other than squirrels.
DeChambeau was at even par after three holes. On the fourth hole, he hit the ball over the green and into the woods, took a drop, and made double-bogey.
He planned to drive the ball over the fairway bunkers on the long, difficult fifth hole, but hooked the ball down the hill, into the left rough, and hit his recovery shot behind a camera stand well to the right of the green. After calling on a rules official, he finally chipped backward, past the green, then got up and down to save bogey.
On the downhill, par-3 No. 6, he hit the ball just over the green, but saved par. He sprayed his drive to the right on the par-5 eighth, making bogey.
After the round, DeChambeau alternated between shrugs and scientific mysticism.
"It's just golf, man," he said. "I don't know what else to say."
But he did know what else to say. Pressed on why he has struggled at Augusta National, a course whose wide fairways should benefit a long hitter such as himself, DeChambeau said: "It's just stuff we can't understand yet. … You need to understand how the ball flies off downhill slopes into uphill greens, and conversely uphill slopes into downhill greens, and all of the above. We just can't calculate and adjust the numbers very well and the wind is pretty tricky out here. And the greens are bouncing pretty hard, and there you go.''
Those excuses would sound better if Rose hadn't shot 65 after taking a month off, and Thomas and Spieth hadn't rallied under identical conditions.
Spieth chipped in for eagle on the par-5 15th, and had the chip not hit the pin, he said, "it wasn't just going into the water — it might have gotten to the middle of the water. … Probably the luckiest break I've ever gotten out here, if not anywhere.''
McIlroy and DeChambeau might have lost the Masters on Thursday. Spieth and Thomas didn't.
Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib • email@example.com