AUGUSTA, Ga. | As Russell Henley was warming up for the opening round of the Masters Tournament Thursday, he found himself near Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, who were preparing for their ceremonial tee shot.
Henley was in the first group to go off in the opening round, just after Player and Nicklaus hit the first tee shot.
“I’ve only known I’ve been in this tournament for a couple days and next thing you know, I’m right behind the ceremonial tee shot,” said Henley, a 2011 Georgia graduate who qualified with a win at the Shell Houston Open on Sunday.
Henley is one of four former Georgia players in this year’s Masters field. From the time his group teed off at 8 a.m. Thursday until Bubba Watson’s group concluded the day’s play after 7 p.m., the University of Georgia had a former player in action at Augusta National.
Henley wrapped up his first round, in which he carded a 1-under 71, shortly after noon. He birdied five times during the round, including on three consecutive holes in the second nine.
He enters Friday tied for fourth and six strokes off the lead.
“I feel comfortable, as comfortable as you can feel and just really feel like I’m enjoying it, enjoying the challenge,” said Henley, who is making his fourth Masters appearance and first since 2015. “It’s a very unique course, you don’t play another one like it the whole year, so it’s just trying to just enjoy the challenge of the course.”
Kevin Kisner, who teed off at 9:28 a.m. Thursday with Adam Scott and Andrew Sullivan, did not feel comfortable.
The 2006 Georgia graduate opened with a 2-over 74 with three birdies in windy conditions.
“You just had to hang in there somehow,” Kisner said. “It’s just brutal to try to hang in, too, because you just never feel comfortable over any shot. You have such small areas that you’re trying to hit and it’s just impossible to hit.”
Hudson Swafford, a 2011 Georgia graduate, capped his day with a bogey on No. 18. After a few errant shots, Swafford nearly sank a long putt to save par. But the shot failed to fall and teetered on the edge of the hole. Swafford tapped it in to finish at 5-over in his first Masters appearance.
Then, of course, there’s two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson. Watson’s group was the final to tee off on Thursday afternoon and added a little bit of drama. Watson was set to play with Jimmy Walker and top-ranked Dustin Johnson. Johnson walked off the first tee and withdrew after injuring his back in a fall on a staircase in his Augusta rental home Wednesday afternoon.
Watson’s day was largely up-and-down. He opened with a bogey and added two bogeys on the third and fourth holes to card a 2-over 38 on the first nine. He started the back nine with a bogey on No. 10 and posted consecutive birdies on Nos. 13 and 14.
At the 18th hole, Watson bogeyed to end the first round with a 2-over 74. He knocked in the putt and gave a quick wave.
Then, he walked back to the clubhouse, nearly 11 hours after the first University of Georgia graduate teed off.