Russell Henley makes most of early tee time at Masters

April 6, 2017

AUGUSTA — In a short span of time Russell Henley went from a non-participant in the Masters to warming up on the practice range at the same time as Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, who were preparing for the honorary opening tee shot for the tournament Thursday morning.

Henley earned one of the final spots in the Masters by winning last week in the Shell Houston Open.

“I just can’t really still believe I’m here. I’ve only known I’ve been in this tournament for a couple of days, and next thing you know I’m behind the ceremonial tee shot,” Henley said. “It was really cool, really special, but I tried to also kind of stay focused.”

The mystique of the moment wasn’t the only advantage of the earliest tee time of the opening round. Henley got to avoid the worst of the windy conditions, and he used that to his advantage as he turned in a round of 71 – the same score he shot in his last competitive round at Augusta National in 2015.

Henley came in confident because of his naturally low ball flight, and he was able to control his distances and keep the ball below the tree line in the opening round. He also finished up around the time gusts seemed to be picking up.

“I’m not going to hope that it gets harder or wish anything bad on anybody, but I’m definitely happy with under par. I think that’s good considering it’s blowing 25 (mph),” Henley said.

A string of three straight birdies on the back nine helped Henley turn a somewhat up-and-down day back in the right direction.

Henley, playing in his fourth Masters, got off to a good start with a birdie on the second hole and the par-3 fourth hole with a bogey sandwiched between.

His later stretch of birdies came after two bogeys – on No. 10 and No. 11 – dropped him to 1 over on the round. The 11th hole was one, where the wind did get the best of him. He still wasn’t sure what happened on the approach shot on that hole after the round.

“I think it gets tricky down there going around those trees and what not, so I say Amen Corner is definitely tough,” Henley said.

At the time Henley finished his round, Thomas Pieters was leading at 4 under through 11 holes.