Augusta - Unheralded
Charley Hoffman takes a four-shot lead into Friday's Masters second
round after high winds punished the world's top golfers and favourite
Dustin Johnson withdrew injured.
Hoffman, 40, posted a seven-under par 65 in conditions described by one former Masters winner as 'borderline' unplayable.
He snatched the lead over second-placed fellow American William
McGirt on a day of high drama that saw world number one Johnson pull out
following a freak accident.
Hoffman's four-stroke lead is the largest at the Masters after 18
holes since 1955, when Jack Burke led by the same margin over Julius
In the difficult conditions, Hoffman said he set out to shoot for par but "got a little bit lucky."
"For lack of any better words, it was a dream," he said.
England's Lee Westwood, 43, still looking for a major title after 75
attempts, was in third place a shot further back on 70 on a day when top
contenders suffered in difficult conditions on the 7 435-yard Augusta
Johnson agonised for 24 hours before pulling out after a serious fall
on the eve of the tournament left him in pain from a lower back injury.
"I wanted to try and play but I'm not going to be able to compete," he said. "It just sucks."
Reigning US Open champion Johnson had been the oddsmakers' favourite
in the year's first major golf championship after winning his three
prior starts but hurt himself in a fall down stairs on Wednesday at a
Without the world number one, Northern Ireland's second-ranked Rory
McIlroy and Australian world number three Jason Day were tipped to be
key contenders for the title.
However, neither had it their own way in the opening round.
Nor did another top contender, former Masters champion Jordon Spieth,
who suffered a repeat of last year's quadruple-bogey disaster.
The 2013 Masters champion, Adam Scott of Australia, said the conditions were beyond tough.
"It's very difficult conditions and borderline (unplayable)," he said after returning a three-over 75.
Steady but swirling winds above 32km/h with gusts twice that
speed sending tee shots and approaches soaring off target and even kept
balls rolling on greens.
Four-time major champion McIlroy appeared to be struggling in the wind and was three-over after the front nine.
He opened with a bogey on the first hole and dropped shots on the
third and fifth to make the turn in 39. But on the way back he sank
three birdies to salvage a 72 and a share of 12th place.
"My short game really saved me today - 10, 11 and 12 - to get up and down was huge," he said.
"Even par was a pretty great score out there at the end of the day and I'm happy with it."
McIlroy was one shot behind England's 2013 US Open champion Justin Rose, who was in an eight-way tie for fourth on 71.
Day also suffered in the conditions, returning a two-over 74 with a double-bogey on the 11th hole to share 26th place.
For 2015 Masters champion Spieth, the day turned sour on the back
nine in a near repeat of the quadruple-bogey nightmare that cost him
back-to-back titles last year.
The American, twice a Masters runner-up, had been five shots ahead on
the final day last year before he imploded after taking seven shots on
the par-3 12th.
This time out, he negotiated the 12th hole in regulation but took a
nine on the par-5 15th, ballooning his score before sinking a birdie at
16 to limit the damage to finish on 3-over 75.
Spieth said the quadruple-bogey blowout put him under pressure for the following three days.
"I feel like I need to snag something tomorrow," he said.
One man who thrived in the conditions was three-time former Masters
champion Phil Mickelson, who fired a 71 for a share of fourth place.
"Man, I love it," Mickelson said. "I thought anything at par or better was going to be a great score and it is."
The 46-year-old US left-hander will replace Jack Nicklaus as the
oldest winner in Masters history if he can collect a fourth green jacket
Scores after Thursday's opening round of the 81st Masters at par-72 Augusta National Golf Club:
65 - Charley Hoffman (USA) 34-31
69 - William McGirt (USA) 35-34
70 - Lee Westwood (ENG) 39-31
71 - Russell Henley (USA) 35-36, Kevin Chappell (USA) 35-36, Andy Sullivan (ENG) 35-36, Matthew Fitzpatrick (ENG) 35-36, Phil Mickelson (USA) 35-36, Justin Rose (ENG) 34-37, Jason Dufner (USA) 35-36, Sergio Garcia (ESP) 35-36
72 - Soren Kjeldsen (DEN) 36-36, Thomas Pieters (BEL) 32-40, Paul Casey (ENG) 36-36, Ernie Els (RSA) 39-33, Matt Kuchar (USA) 39-33, Shane Lowry (IRL) 35-37, Rory McIlroy (NIR) 39-33
73 - Scott Piercy (USA) 34-39, Fred Couples (USA) 36-37, Rickie Fowler (USA) 34-39, Danny Willett (ENG) 38-35, Jon Rahm (ESP) 35-38, Marc Leishman (AUS) 35-38, Justin Thomas (USA) 37-36
74 - Daniel Summerhays (USA) 38-36, Brendan Steele (USA) 37-37, Larry Mize (USA) 38-36, Stewart Hagestad (USA) 37-37, Kevin Kisner (USA) 37-37, Brooks Koepka (USA) 35-39, Jason Day (AUS) 37-37, Rod Pampling (AUS) 36-38, Pat Perez (USA) 39-35, Ryan Moore (USA) 36-38, Charl Schwartzel (RSA) 40-34, Chris Wood (ENG) 36-38, Yuta Ikeda (JPN) 38-36, Alex Noren (SWE) 39-35, Bubba Watson (USA) 38-36
75 - Billy Hurley (USA) 36-39, Adam Hadwin (CAN) 38-37, Gary Woodland (USA) 38-37, Adam Scott (AUS) 37-38, Jordan Spieth (USA) 36-39, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (ESP) 39-36, Kim Si-Woo (KOR) 37-38, Brandt Snedeker (USA) 37-38, James Hahn (USA) 35-40, Webb Simpson (USA) 35-40, Steve Stricker (USA) 38-37, Bernhard Langer (GER) 36-39, Bill Haas (USA) 35-40
76 - Mike Weir (CAN) 39-37, Sean O'Hair (USA) 36-40, Kevin Na (USA) 39-37, Russell Knox (SCO) 36-40, Hideki Matsuyama (JPN) 39-37, Branden Grace (RSA) 41-35, Ian Woosnam (WAL) 37-39, Ross Fisher (ENG) 36-40, An Byeong-Hun (KOR) 37-39, Patrick Reed (USA) 38-38, Hideto Tanihara (JPN) 38-38, Jimmy Walker (USA) 39-37
77 - Brian Stuard (USA) 39-38, Sandy Lyle (SCO) 36-41, Zach Johnson (USA) 39-38, Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 38-39, Daniel Berger (USA) 36-41, Hudson Swafford (USA) 38-39, Jose Maria Olazabal (ESP) 37-40, Bernd Wiesberger (AUT) 38-39, Henrik Stenson (SWE) 40-37
78 - Jhonattan Vegas (VEN) 38-40, Jim Furyk (USA) 40-38, Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 37-41, J.B. Holmes (USA) 36-42, Francesco Molinari (ITA) 39-39, Wang Jeung-Hun (KOR) 37-41, Martin Kaymer (GER) 36-42, Mark O'Meara (USA) 38-40, Brad Dalke (USA) 39-39, Curtis Luck (AUS) 38-40, Vijay Singh (FIJ) 39-39
79 - Trevor Immelman (RSA) 40-39, Roberto Castro (USA) 38-41, Emiliano Grillo (ARG) 40-39, Angel Cabrera (ARG) 38-41, Mackenzie Hughes (CAN) 39-40
80 - Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 40-40
81 - Toto Gana (CHI) 42-39
82 - Scott Gregory (ENG) 41-41
WD - Dustin Johnson (USA)