Charley Hoffman took advantage of improving conditions to blow away the field at The Masters and open up a four-shot lead on a dramatic opening round at Augusta on Thursday (6 April). On the day that world number one, and tournament favourite, Dustin Johnson withdrew through injury without hitting a shot, Hoffman produced a stunning round of 65.
Fellow American William McGirt, making his Masters debut, was the only other player to score in the 60s, finishing three-under on 69. Two-time runner-up Lee Westwood is the leading European after a run of five straight birdies thrust himself into outright third on 70. Eight players are tied on 71, including three-time winner Phil Mickelson and 2013 US PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner.
Also on 71 are English trio Andy Sullivan, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Justin Rose with Spaniard Sergio Garcia. Ernie Els, on what could be his final Masters appearance, is on even-par 72 with the likes of Belgian Thomas Pieters and Irishman Shane Lowry.
Defending champion Danny Willett is one-over after recovering from three dropped shots in the opening two holes. Meanwhile, Jordan Spieth, who collapsed around Amen Corner in his final round in pursuit of successive titles last year, negotiated that tricky run of holes before a quadruple-bogey nine at the 15th left him three-over and struggling to make the cut for the weekend.
Conditions in Georgia improved and the winds dropped as the first day progressed, a day after the annual tournament curtain-raiser – the par-three event – was cancelled for the first time. However, no-one could live with Hoffman, a ninth-place finisher in 2015, who leads a major championship for the first time.
"Putts started going in the hole, as simple as that sounds," said Hoffman, who has the biggest first-round Masters lead since 1941. "I got away with a couple of shots and then I was able to make those 15, 20-footers into the wind, which is nice, and that is now I ended up shooting seven-under par.
"I just kept hitting my spots. I was able to pull those in down the stretch. Bay Hill is where I turned it around [putting]. My caddie pointed something out to me and we went with it and it is going in the right direction."
The Masters 2017 leaderboard
Charley Hoffman -7
Williams McGirt -3
Lee Westwood -2
Russell Henley -1
Kevin Chappell -1
Andy Sullivan -1
Matthew Fitzpatrick -1
Phil Mickelson -1
Justin Rose -1
Jason Dufner -1
Sergio Garcia -1
Earlier, Dustin Johnson dramatically withdrew from the opening major of the season due to a back injury suffered on the eve of the tournament. The 32-year-old fell on some stairs at his rental home on Wednesday [5 April] and despite going through his full repertoire on the practice range, felt unable to compete.
The US Open champion had won on each of his last three appearances, including completing the WGC grand slam at the Dell Match Play last month. The pre-tournament favourite said: "I'm playing the best golf of my life and to have a freak accident happen yesterday afternoon, it sucks really bad.
"I have been worked all morning and obviously I can take some swings, but I can't swing full, I can't make my normal swing and I didn't think there was any chance I could compete. I was wearing socks and slipped and went down the three stairs. The left side of my lower back took the brunt of it and my left elbow is bruised as well."
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