Bubba Watson clinched his second Green Jacket in three years by holding off Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt to win the 78th Masters.
The American left-hander, 35, shot a final-round 69 to win by three shots after overhauling a two-shot deficit on his co-overnight leader Spieth on a humid day at Augusta.
Debutant Spieth, 20, was bidding to beat Tiger Woods as the youngest ever winner of a green jacket and battled with Watson for much of the day, but the Texan's chances were sunk in the water of Amen Corner and he carded 72 to end five under for the tournament.
Sweden's Jonas Blixt edged alongside Spieth with a 71, with Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez fourth on four under after a 71.
Americans Rickie Fowler (73) and Matt Kuchar 74) finished two under, with England's Lee Westwood (73) one under in seventh place, his 17th top-10 finish in major championships.
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy hit a three-under 69 to end level par and record his best Masters finish of tied eighth.
Watson became the 17th player to win two Masters titles, eight of whom have gone on to win three or more Green Jackets.
"Walking up 18 was a little bit easier this time," said Watson, who beat Louis Oosthuizen in a play-off two years ago.
"This one is a lot different. The first one I kind of lucked into it, but this is a lot of hard work. After giving it back I wanted to get it back again."
Watson began the day tied with Spieth at five under, but the 2012 champion quickly slipped two behind after three holes.
Bubba was temporarily three back when Spieth holed his bunker shot on the short fourth, but Watson rolled in his own birdie putt to stay two back at six under.
By the eighth they were level on seven under, but the tide turned Watson's way when he enjoyed a two-shot swing on the ninth with a birdie to Spieth's bogey to lead by two going into the infamous back nine.
Watson dropped a shot at the 10th after hitting a poor chip across the green, but the tournament dramatically lurched his way when Spieth's tee shot to the short 12th rolled down the bank into Rae's Creek, the graveyard of so many Masters contenders over the years.
Watson edged into a three-shot lead with a birdie on the par-five 13th and parred his way home for the victory.
Spieth, last year's rookie of the year, was playing in only his third major as a professional, while Blixt, 29, was also playing his third major after finishing fourth in the US PGA last summer.
"It's definitely mixed emotions," said Spieth. "It was very close on the back nine. I hit a lot of putts where I wanted to but they didn't go in. To play this course all week without worse than a bogey is something I'm proud of."
McIlroy had been installed as favourite in the absence of world number one Tiger Woods, but the 24-year-old's bid for a third major and first Masters was effectively scuppered with a disappointing 77 on day two.
"It's been a frustrating week, because I felt like from tee to green I played as good as the leaders," said McIlroy.
"I just need to take some more chances that I've given myself on the greens."
Also level par were 56-year-old two-time former champion Bernhard Langer, Americans Jimmy Walker and Kevin Stadler, Australian John Senden and Dane Thomas Bjorn.
Defending champion Adam Scott (72) and England's US Open champion Justin Rose (74) finished at one over par.
US veteran Fred Couples, 54, began the day four off the lead, also bidding to beat the 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus as the oldest ever Masters winner .
But despite two birdies to start, the 1992 champion faltered over the second nine and made a double bogey via the water at the 11th and another at the long 15th for a 75 and two over for th tournament.
England's Ian Poulter (74) also ended two over alongside Australian Jason Day (72).
THE MASTERS, FINAL LEADERBOARD
- -8: Watson
- -5: Blixt, Spieth
- -4: Jimenez
- -2: Fowler, Kuchar
- -1: Westwood
- Selected others: E McIlroy; +1 Rose, Donaldson, Scott; +2 Poulter; +6 Gallacher; +9 Clarke, Lyle.
Bill Haas holds a one-shot lead over defending champion Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen after the first round of the 78th Masters at Augusta.
The 31-year-old American fired a four-under-par 68 on a difficult day for scoring under a hot Georgia sun.
Haas, whose great uncle Bob Goalby won the Masters in 1968, birdied the last to take an unlikely lead as he chases a first major title, although he should be able to cope with the pressure having won the $10m FedEx Cup in dramatic style in 2011.
"I know that I can't expect too much," said the son of former PGA Tour player Jay Haas. "You've just got to go out there and keep playing golf, try to hit that fairway on number one."
Scott, who became the first Australian to win the Green Jacket last year, went out in 33 strokes and hit the front at four under after 10 holes.
But his "weak" nine-iron in a swirling wind at the short par-three 12th caught the bank in front of the green and rolled into Rae's Creek. He found the putting surface with his third after pitching from the fairway but took two putts from five feet for a six.
The 33-year-old reached the green in two on the par-five 13th but was unable to capitalise and three-putted for par after a long wait as playing partner Jason Dufner, the US PGA champion, ran up a horrific nine on the same hole.
Scott picked up a shot on the bunkerless 14th and parred home to lay a decent platform in his quest to become only the fourth player to win back-to-back Masters after Jack Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Tiger Woods (2001-02).
"I played really well from tee to green, except for a poor shot on 12. I perhaps left a couple out there on the par fives, but it's certainly something to build on," said Scott.
"I think winning here calms you down. It was the calmest start I have ever had. I had a fantastic response from the patrons."
American left-hander Watson, who beat Oosthuizen in a play-off to clinch the Green Jacket in 2012, birdied the 3rd,13th and 15th and parred the other 15 holes to end a bogey free round of three under par.
Former Open champion Oosthuizen, who fired a magnificent albatross two on the par-five second hole at Augusta two years ago, was three under after nine and stayed that way at the finish after an up-and-down back nine.
Bookies favourite Rory McIlroy hit a one-under 71 and said the course was the toughest he has seen on a Thursday.
McIlroy, chasing a third major title and first Masters, was two under after five but tripped up with a bogey at the long eighth to go out in 35.
He dropped another shot after three-putting the 12th from some distance but made birdies at the 13th and 15th before catching the fairway bunker up the last. He was able to make the green with his second but three-putted again from 30ft for a bogey to end in a tie for 12th.
"It was a good day. It was solid," said the 24-year-old Northern Irishman, who blew a four-shot lead on the final day in 2011. "I think that they set the course up very difficult. Some of the pin positions were tough to get close to.
"The greens are firming up. The wind was all over the place. Anything under par was a good score."
Three-time champion Phil Mickelson was among the big names to struggle and had a triple bogey on the seventh, where he took five shots from only 30 feet away from the hole, in a disappointing opening round of 76.
Mickelson, bidding to join the absent Woods and the legendary Arnold Palmer on four Green Jackets, fought his way back to one over after 13 but handed a shot back on 14 and double-bogeyed the par-five 15th after laying up in front of the green and seeing his third shot spin back off the bank into the pond.
The 43-year-old Open champion had three pars to finish but cut a dejected figure on the 10th anniversary of his breakthrough major win at Augusta.
"I've got a lot of work to do just to make the cut. So I've got some issues," said Mickelson, who signed for his worst opening round at the Masters since 1997 when he missed the cut.
"I know it's hard to say that, but I actually played well and I just made a lot of little mental errors."
Seven players ended two-under, including Brandt Snedeker, who has twice played in Sunday's final group at Augusta, and Kevin Stadler, who was making history alongside dad Craig as the first father and son to play in the same Masters.
Sweden's Jonas Blixt, who was also in the group on 70, led the European challenge as world number three and fellow Swede Henrik Stenson ended one over with Lee Westwood, while US Open champion Justin Rose battled to an opening 76.
England's 19-year-old amateur debutant Matthew Fitzpatrick, playing with Scott and Dufner, also ended four over alongside countryman and fellow amateur Garrick Porteous, Ian Poulter and former champion Sandy Lyle.
Among the big names to struggle on the opening day were former champion and last year's runner-up Angel Cabrera (+6), England's Luke Donald (+7), who was assessed a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a bunker on the ninth, and American Dufner, who carded 80 after coming home in 44 dreadful shots.
In the build up to Today's first round of the Masters, PGATOUR.COM staffers think they have the answer.
LEE WESTWOOD. Just can't overlook his track record here -11th or better in each of his last four starts. Obviously, at age 40, his window of opportunity for finally winning a major is closing, but Augusta National rewards experience and perseverance and often produces a storybook ending. Westwood could cast a lot of demons aside this week. – Mike McAllister
BRANDT SNEDEKER. He seemed to turn the corner in his last start which produced a tie for eighth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. Not to mention, his last five Masters appearances have resulted in four top-20 finishes, including two top-10s. If the putter cooperates, he could be tough. – Helen Ross
MATT KUCHAR. Kuchar has finished in the top 10 here each of the last two years, which includes a tie for third in 2012 when he had a share of the lead late on Sunday until a bogey on 16 ultimately left him two strokes out of a playoff. Sure, he blew the lead last week in Houston but that won't hold him back this week. His game is perfectly suited for Augusta National and given his career arc it shouldn't be long before he wins a major. – Brian Wacker
MATT KUCHAR. Yes, I saw what happened in the past two Texas events, both of which Kuchar should have won. That said, Kuchar has had a huge crush on Augusta National for years, and while he may have hit some poor shots down the stretch the past two weeks, his game is rock solid right now. Here's hoping for two redemption stories in a row at Augusta. – D.J. Piehowski
SERGIO GARCIA. Garcia and Augusta National haven't always been the best of friends, but his record here continues to improve. He finished eighth and 12th in 2013 and 2012, respectively, after posting just two top-25s in his previous 13 starts. Garcia's putting has improved greatly since switching to the claw grip; he's a respectable 32nd in strokes gained-putting this season and leads the TOUR in scrambling. He's coming off a third-place finish at last week's Shell Houston Open, his 13th consecutive top-20 finish worldwide. – Sean Martin
Ryan Moore statistically worsened his Masters chances by winning the traditional par-three tournament on the eve of the competition at Augusta.
The 31-year-old American finished six under around the picturesque nine-hole layout on the banks of Ike's Pond.
Kevin Stadler, son of 1982 Masters champion Craig Stadler, and 1979 winner Fuzzy Zoeller were second at four under par.
In its 53-year history, the competition winner has never gone on to clinch the Green Jacket in the same year.
When asked about the "curse" of the par-three winner, Moore said: "I'm not afraid of it. You never know, someone has got to break that curse at some point in time, so hopefully it's me.
"It was fun having my boy out there and playing a round with a couple of friends. That's what it's for, to kind of make you relax a little bit and just go and enjoy yourself the afternoon before.
"My coach and I have been working on my wedges lately," Moore said after receiving the Crystal Pedestal Bowl for winning. "My wife caddied for me, and I knew I'd get in trouble if I didn't hit it right at every hole."
Two players have won over the short course and finished second in that year's Masters, Raymond Floyd losing a play-off to Nick Faldo in 1990 and Chip Beck finishing runner-up to Bernhard Langer in 1993.
Rory McIlroy had fiancee and former world tennis number one Caroline Wozniacki acting as his caddie for the second year running.
The holes on the 1,060-yard par-three course range from 90 yards to 140 yards.
Three hole-in-ones were recorded on the day, two carded at No. 2, where 1998 champion Mark O’Meara and honorary invitee Buddy Alexander posted a 1. Matt Jones, making his Masters debut with his victory Sunday at the Shell Houston Open, aced No. 3.
Rory McIlroy admits there will be no excuses if he is not in contention for a first Masters success at Augusta National on Sunday.
McIlroy has already won the US Open and the US PGA Championship and finished third in the 2010 Open at St Andrews, but his best finish in the Masters remains a tie for 15th in 2011, when he led by four shots going into the final round but was brought to tears after a closing 80.
However, the 24-year-old Northern Irishman is in high spirits as he prepares to tee-off on Thursday after a confidece boosting final round of 65 in last week's Shell Houston Open.
"Mind, body, equipment, it's all there. There's no excuses," said McIlroy. "There's no excuses if I don't play well this week.
"Everything's in the right place to allow me to play well so it's just a matter of managing my expectations, not getting ahead of myself, not thinking about Sunday when it's Friday afternoon.
"Just really keeping myself in the present and in the moment and trying to take it one shot at a time and hopefully those shots add up to about 270 and I walk away with a green jacket.
"It's just about not getting ahead of yourself and just letting all the practice and all the work that you've put in come out in your execution and just get out of your own way.
"I think you're always excited to come back here. I really enjoy this tournament. I have no ill feelings towards 2011. I thought it was a very important day in my career.
"It was a big learning curve for me and I don't know if I had not have had that day, would I be the person and the player that I am sitting here, because I learned so much from it.
"I learned exactly not what to do under pressure and contention, and I definitely learned from that day how to handle my emotions better on the course."
McIlroy is making his sixth appearance in the Masters but will be the old timer in his group for the first two rounds after being paired with American duo Jordan Spieth, 20, and Patrick Reed, 23.
Defending champion Adam Scott is in confident mood as he aims to become the fourth player in Masters history to win back-to-back Green Jackets.
Scott became the first Australian to win at Augusta when he beat Angel Cabrera in a play-off this time last year.
"Over the last couple of years, I could definitely say I've been quietly confident coming to the majors," said the 33-year-old.
"I've seen my form and the way I play the majors get better and better."
The last player to win successive Masters was Tiger Woods in 2002, while Nick Faldo (1989 and 1990) and Jack Nicklaus (1965 and 1966) have also achieved the feat.
"I'd like to add my name to that list this week," added Scott. "I feel like I'm playing really well."
Scott said that returning to Augusta as the champion is a "dream come true" but insisted his off-course duties this week - including hosting the Champions Dinner on Tuesday - will not distract him when the tournament begins.
"I want to try to enjoy all that, but I also want to really get my head into playing well this week because I'm in good form," said Scott, who has chosen Moreton Bay bugs, a type of lobster from Australia, on his menu for the Champions Dinner.
Scott can overtake the absent Woods as world number one for the first time if he finishes anything better than tied third (with no more than one other player) this week.
"The motivation is just to play well," said Scott.
"If I play well, I have a chance to win. That's my goal this week. The follow-on from that would be world number one. I don't tee it up thinking I'm going to try to be world number one. It just works out."
The Australian will partner 19-year-old English amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick and US PGA champion Jason Dufner of the United States in the 10:41 (15:41 BST) grouping on Thursday.
For more than a decade, Nike Golf apparel and footwear teams have collaborated closely with athletes to create head-to-toe looks for each day of competition during the sport’s four Major Championships.
That tradition continues as six Nike Golf athletes prepare for the first Major of 2014. Under the theme of Engineered for Greatness, athletes Rory McIlroy, Russell Henley, Francesco Molinari, Thorbjorn Olesen, Charl Schwartzel and Nick Watney will be armed head-to-toe with a focus on full-range-of-motion construction; lightweight, breathable materials; and modern style.
“We listen to our athletes to understand what is going to make them feel most comfortable and confident so that they can play their best,” says Merritt Richardson, VP Global Golf Apparel. “Those insights are helping us deliver innovations that address what matters most to golfers – maximized range of motion, minimal distractions and supreme comfort, all while showcasing a modern look of golf that enhances the athletic form.”
McIlroy will sport one of the key styles of the season, the Lightweight Innovation Color polo, all four days of the tournament.
“These polos are really lightweight and comfortable,” says McIlroy. “I like that I know how it’s going to feel day to day, and there’s no distracting seams or material – I can just focus on my game.”
Aslan Golf Introduces the Nike Golf TW '14 Mesh Golf Shoes
Nike Golf’s latest footwear design is breathable, flexible and perfect for summer – and it’s also the newest member of the TW’ 14 family. The TW’ 14 Mesh merges innovative technologies from the original TW’ 14, such as the Nike Free-inspired outsole, with custom options previously only available on NIKEiD – until now.
Nike Golf designers paired the Nike Free-inspired design and Dynamic Flywire technology featured in the TW’ 14 with a ventilated mesh upper and lower-profile Integrated Traction on the outsole. The result: A breathable, lightweight golf shoe that allows for freedom of movement and maximum ground feel for a more powerful, natural motion.
“The mesh upper and Integrated Traction options have been incredibly successful with the TW’ 14 on NIKEiD,” says Lee Walker, Nike Golf Footwear Product Director. “Consumers have told us they love it. So we created a version of the TW’ 14 with those features that people can try on in stores and purchase on the spot.”
The Nike Free-inspired outsole allows for more flexibility and full athletic motion, while Dynamic Flywire technology cradles the foot for an adaptive, glove-like fit. Low-profile Integrated Traction makes the TW’ 14 Mesh a versatile option for both on and off the course.
The Nike TW '14 Mesh Golf Shoes will be coming soon to Aslan Golf
Rory McIlroy says he is determined to fill the void left by Tiger Woods' injury-enforced absence from the 2014 Masters.
Tiger Woods has withdrawn from the Masters after undergiung back surgery, to relieve a pinched nerve, leaving McIlroy arguably the biggest name on show at Augusta next week.
With victories at the 2011 US Open and the following year's US PGA, Northern Ireland's McIlroy, 24, won his first two majors at a younger age than Woods.
Saying he expected "a little bit" more attention due to Woods's absence.
"Golf's in a funny place at the minute," McIlroy quoted ahead of this week's Houston Open.
"You are getting so many different winners and there are not as many guys dominating the sport like in the past with Tiger, Vijay and Phil.
"I'd like to establish myself as that sort of player and someone's got to step up so I'm trying to be that person and it would be a great place to start next week."
McIlroy said he was not surprised that his good friend Woods had pulled out of the year's first major.
"I knew that it was going to happen but I didn't realise it was so serious that he needed surgery," he said. "Obviously everyone wishes him a speedy recovery and hopefully he gets back very soon because golf is better with Tiger Woods playing."
Like everybody else, Rory has his own theories on why 38-year-old Woods is proving so injury prone these days.
"He's had four operations on his left knee, he's had operations on his Achilles," said the world number seven. "There are obviously some weak points in his lower body and with how big he is in his upper body, there's obviously going to be something that has to take the strain.
"It seems like his lower back has been maybe working a little harder than it should have, to compensate for the surgeries he's had in his lower body.
"It's just sort of caught up with him, so I think surgery is a good thing for him and he'll rehab it the right way. He's got the best advice in the world so he will only come back when he's ready to play.
"He'll come back healthy and obviously put the right procedures and structures in place to make sure it doesn't happen again."
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