Masters 2017: Charley Hoffman separates from pack in blustery first-round conditions

The world's 52nd-ranked golfer picked a great time to shoot one of the "top four of five rounds I’ve had since joining the PGA Tour."

Charley Hoffman completed one of the best opening rounds in Masters history Thursday, especially considering the blustery conditions swirling around Augusta National.

Despite battling through wind gusts near 30 mph, Hoffman shot an incredible 7-under 65 on the strength of a5-under 31 on the back nine.

Hoffman, who was even-par through his first seven holes, birdied seven of his last 11 holes. He will enter the second round with a four-shot lead.

The morning wave failed to produce a round under 71, but William McGirt, playing in his first Masters, finally shot a 3-under 69 to momentarily take the lead.McGirt never drifted over par for his round.

"That was probably one of the top four of five rounds I’ve had since joining the PGA Tour," McGirt said on ESPN after his round. “It was a very difficult day on the golf course. The wind was all over the place. I’m sure the gusts were in the 40 mph range."

Lee Westwood, a staple at the Masters, though he has yet to win a major of any kind, exploded on the back nine with five straight birdies to shoot a 2-under 70. After drifting down to 3 over through 12 holes, Westwood birdied holes 13-17 to get back into contention.

Belgian star Thomas Pieters looked like he was playing a different course early in his round — jumping to 5 under through 10 holes, which gave him a four-shot lead — but he crashed back down to earth with a bogey on the 11th hole and a double-bogey on 12 after hitting his tee shot inRae's Creek.

Pieters finished his opening round at even par after double-bogeying the par-4 18th hole.

Matthew Fitzpatrick, who also double-bogeyed the brutal 18th, finished in a tie for the lead in the clubhouse midway through Round 1 after shooting a 1-under 71.

The Englishman, a former Northwestern standout, played on the European Ryder Cup team while also finishing tied for seventh in his second Masters last year.

Phil Mickelson became the biggest name to finish his opening round in red figures when he completed his last seven holes in 2-under par to shoot a 1-under 71.

"Man, I love it," Mickelson said after his round regarding the tough conditions."I thought anything at par or better was going to be a great score and it is. But because the greens are receptive, you can make birdies and you can stop balls on the greens and make easy pars on a lot of holes.

"The problem is there's a lot of holes out here that you can have a big number and you just have to be careful of that."

Russell Henley, a Georgia native fresh off a win at last week's Shell Houston Open, was one of the first players to tee off Thursday. He jumped out to a quick start by shooting a 1-under 71 with five birdies, including three straight from holes 12-14.

The long list of players at 1 under also included Justin Rose, Andy Sullivan, Kevin Chappell, Jason Dufner and Sergio Garcia.

“If you didn’t commit, there was something bad waiting for you on the other end," Rose said on ESPN after his round."The first 12 holes, I hadn’t played better golf than that all year long.”

Rory McIlroy battled back after a sluggish start to shoot an even-par 72. He needs a green jacket to earn a career grand slam.

One of the favorites entering the week, Rickie Fowler, like Pieters and Fitzpatrick, double-bogeyed the 18th hole.

Fowler shot a 1-over 73 while battlingthrough the morning breeze to set himself up for an intriguing week. Fowler missed the cut at Augusta last year after shooing an opening-round 80, but he finished T-5 and T-12 in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Jordan Spieth shot a 3-over 75 after once again finding trouble on the back nine. This time, hisround was blown up on the par-5 15th hole after recording a quadruple-bogey nine. Last year, during the final round, he recorded a quadruple-bogey seven on the par-3 12th hole.

Unfortunately, the biggest news of the day came when Dustin Johnson withdrew just before his tee time. He appeared ready to play, but decided at the last minute that he couldn't go due to the back injury he sustained falling down the stairs Wednesday.

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