By Andrew Both
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Austin Cook shrugged off his nerves to hit the first competitive shot at the U.S. Masters on Thursday.
Fifteen minutes after Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus had struck the ceremonial first tee shots, it was the turn of Masters rookie Cook to drive for real.
On a cold, crisp morning at Augusta National, with the sun barely peaking over the par-three course, Cook took off his beanie after stroking a few putts on the practice green.
At precisely 8:30 A.M. local time (12:30 P.M. GMT) it was time to hit.
He took one practice swing, stepped up and with a large gallery looking on drove down the left side of the fairway.
With the jitters out of the way, the 27-year-old from Arkansas proceeded to hit a nice approach shot and then sank a 15-foot putt dead center.
Cook is one of nine professionals playing the Masters for the first time.
All are trying to buck history at a tournament that has only once (by Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979) been won by a first-timer since 1935.
It would seem to be more than a coincidence, but Cook is not convinced.
"Spieth almost won as a rookie," Cook told Reuters, referring to Jordan Spieth, who tied for second in his first appearance in 2014, before going one better the following year.
He added that some rookies perhaps place too much importance on the occasion.
"Yes it’s the Masters but in the end it’s just another golf tournament. And you play with these guys all year long," he said.
"There’s so much history here but you’ve just to keep it in the back of your mind and go out and play."
Cook made his PGA Tour breakthrough when he won the RSM Classic, also in Georgia, in November, and has followed it up with solid if unspectacular form.
"Everything came easy," he said of his victory.
"It was just one of those weeks when nothing went wrong. I didn’t miss a single fairway or shot right. And having a one-way miss really is comforting."
He said his form is in good shape heading into the tournament.
"I’ve had great practice rounds here," he said.
"I’m hitting the ball great and I hope that continues."
The early signs, at least, pointed in that direction.
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Toby Davis)