Maybe James Piot wasn’t surprised, but it wasn’t quite what he expected. The fifth-year senior remembered the nerves of the Arnold Palmer Invitational — not being able to feel his hands on the first tee at Bay Hill. Barely being able to line up a putt on that first green. Piping irons farther than normal purely off the adrenaline of the moment.
But in his first major appearance—at the Masters, no less—he found one pleasant thing. On maybe the biggest stage in golf, those nerves weren’t as harsh.
“Out here, I felt a little more calm,” he said in an interview courtesy of Augusta National. “Just didn’t make some great swings today.”
Piot scored a 9-over-par 81 during the first round at the Masters that saw him battle his driver, fail to make his irons talk and come tantalizingly close with a couple of putts to turn his first taste of Augusta National into something a little sweeter. But if it was a struggle to find his way out of bunkers or onto fairways and greens, that was far from the case when it came to his search for some perspective after a challenging round.
“(I’m) obviously extremely bummed with how I played and it’s gonna sting for a little bit, y’know, it’s the Masters,” he said. “It doesn’t get any cooler than this.”
Piot never played in the red in his first run after opening with a par-4 bogey and failing to shave strokes due to problems with his tee shot and navigating some rain-softened greens. But a 12-foot bogey-save putt kept him at 4-over through nine and the opportunity to whittle it down was there, so long as he navigated a tricky four-hole stretch on the back nine.
After running through the first two legs of the famed Amen Corner unscathed, the other shoe dropped on 13. Piot sent a draw off the tee on the 510 yard par-5 into the woods, took a drop and ended up hitting his makeup shot into the snaking creek along the green. When it was all said and done, he carded a hectic triple bogey on a hole that’s proven to be a make-or-break stop for hundreds of golfers before him.
“It was just a build up of bad swings today,” Piot said. “I kept short siding myself, hitting on the wrong side of the hole, which you can’t do out here.”
Even if the damage was done, Piot was determined to make sure that wouldn’t be his breaking point. He said he was proud of the way he dug in further to record a par on 14 and his first birdie of the day on 15 before closing out with two more bogeys to keep him firmly on the wrong side of tomorrow’s cut line and the tournament’s low amateur honors.
The score doesn’t show it, but Piot was adamant that his experience was one to be remembered. He raved about playing with reigning champion Hideki Matsuyama and former PGA Tour Player of the Year Justin Thomas, two players that made for an “awesome” pairing with the chance to witness two professionals work through one of the most challenging courses in all of golf.
“I’ve never seen someone chip the way he did today,” Piot said of Matsuyama. “I mean, it was impressive watching how he controlled it around the greens.”
If that wasn’t enough, golf’s biggest story of the year was taking place one hole ahead. Piot got the full experience as crowds swelled around Tiger Woods’ unbelievable 1-under 71 in his first return to professional golf after a traumatic leg injury in February 2021.
“He’s a pretty good player, isn’t he?” Piot said jokingly before taking on a more serious tone. “When he hit a good shot, the roars, I’ve never heard anything like it.”
For now, Piot said he’s taking a quick break before some range work tonight to get some food, talk to his friends and family that made the trip down south and, most importantly, relax. After all, there’s another round to be played and with high winds in Friday’s forecast, something could give.
“For me, there’s nothing to hang your head about yet,” he said. “It’s not over until it’s over.”
And plenty more to be soaked in.
“It’s Masters week. You gotta just enjoy it,” Piot said.
Piot tees off in the second round of the Masters on Friday at 1:52 p.m. His round can be viewed on the Masters' website.
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