His college coach at Kansas University, Ross Randall, watched the Masters coverage with wife Linda from their winter home in Boynton Beach, Fla., and his mind wandered to the days Gary Woodland, a strapping athlete who could crush a golf ball, worked so hard at polishing the rough edges.
“I can remember all those times we’d stand on the putting green (at Alvamar), freezing our behinds off, moving snow off the green so he could putt,” Randall said.
Woodland’s sunny Masters debut got off to a rough start Thursday. His bogey on No. 10 put him at 3-over par, where he remained through 12. Oh well, at least he qualified.
Eagle, par, birdie, near-ace birdie, birdie, birdie. Six-under par over the final six holes. Tied for seventh with a 69. One stroke ahead of Phil Mickelson. Two strokes in front of Tiger Woods. Are we all dreaming, or is this really happening?
Mashing drives. Attacking pins. Draining putts. Golf announcers jacked beyond belief, marveling at how much fun Woodland, 26, Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas, 26, and Spaniard Alvaro Quiros, 28, were having while tearing up the back nine of Augusta National. One referred to them as “blasters.”
The Blasters and one much younger star stole the show on the first day of the greatest golf tournament. They fed off each other’s hot putters and fist-bumped. Quiros shot a 33-32—65 — his previous best score at Augusta National was 75 — and is tied for the lead with Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, 21. Woodland fired a 31 on the back side. Vegas shot 38-34—72.
When Woodland stood over a long putt on No. 17, Randall kept his fingers crossed, hoping for a two-putt. Woodland drained it, and Randall turned to Linda: “Hell, he never made putts like that for me.”
KU golf coach Kit Grove, an assistant to Randall when Woodland was a senior, couldn’t believe his good fortune. Here Grove was having dinner with a recruit and his parents as Woodland made a dramatic climb up the leaderboard on a nearby TV.
“He’s such a great ambassador for our program,” Grove said. “When he’s back in town, he comes in and talks to the guys on the team. He’s always thinking about ways to make KU golf better. He wants to give back. He’s already made two (financial) pledges.”
Woodland’s not a boring golf robot. He’s a personality, and he’s an athlete.
“He’s very personable,” Grove said of the Topeka native. “I watch his interviews, and he always plugs KU and KU basketball. He truly has a love for Kansas.”
Wooldand’s success might help KU’s recruiting.
“It just gives validity to the fact that, hey, you can come to Kansas and get prepared for the next level,” Grove said. “We play good golf courses, play a good schedule, have a winter hitting facility, a great short-game area, we really can prepare you to do something with golf after you get your degree.”
Randall had a feeling Woodland wouldn’t wilt under Masters pressure.
“He really likes the limelight,” Randall said. “He’s not a ham, but he likes being where the lights are on. He always does well when he’s on TV.”
Those cameras aren’t going anywhere. The Blasters tee off at 9:41 this morning.