Injured Johnson hoping to play as Masters starts

2017-04-06 17:35
Dustin Johnson (Getty Images)

Augusta - World number one Dustin Johnson, suffering from a back injury, was still hoping to play as the 81st Masters began Thursday at rain-soaked and windy Augusta National.

Johnson suffered a serious fall on the eve of the tournament but received prompt treatment and was up and ready to practice his swing as the Masters got under way.

"The main goal was to control the pain overnight to minimize stiffness and avoid spasms this morning," said Johnson's physiotherapist, Ara Suppiah, while trainer Joey Diovisalvi told Golf Digest he was "definitely going in the right direction."

Before the accident, the US Open champion was the favorite for the Masters title with Northern Ireland's second-ranked Rory McIlroy a key challenger.

Australian world number three Jason Day is also among the top contenders for the title along with 2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth.

On the course, Belgium's Thomas Pieters made three birdies in four holes to grab an early one-stroke lead in his first Masters at 3-under par through five holes with about half the field of 94 on the course in blustery and chilly conditions.

Earlier, golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit traditional ceremonial tee shots to mark the start of the tournament and also to commemorate the late Arnold Palmer, a four-times Masters winner who died last September.

Palmer's green jacket, the symbol of a Masters champion, was draped over the back of an empty chair during the brief ceremony that took place at the first tee just before the competition began.

Top-ranked Johnson had a clear edge over his rivals before the setback after winning three events in a row.

McIlroy, another long-hitter like 32-year-old Johnson, is seen as a serious threat. Teeing off a 1:41pm in his ninth Masters, he is seeking to complete a career grand slam at Augusta and hoping to make amends for a Sunday back-nine disaster that cost him the title in 2011.

Cold and windy conditions, with gusts of up to 40 mph (65kph), were expected to play havoc with the world's greatest shotmakers for the first two days of the 72-hole showdown in the year's first major tournament.

"It's going to be pretty tough -- 20-30 mph winds is not what we're used to around here," Day said. "And it's going to be cold, so the ball is not going to be flying very far. Typically, I kind of like those tough conditions. I'm a grinder in that sense. I need to respect it more and not really be too aggressive."

Spieth says it will take time to sort out strategy.

"It's going to take a good five six holes, I think, before we really understand what this golf course is going to give us," he said.

However, the conditions may suit wily campaigner Phil Mickelson, the five-time major winner who would become the oldest Masters champion just two months shy of his 47th birthday.

Meanwhile, Nicklaus, a six-times Masters winner, said the conditions would be challenging and prevent too many low scores.

"I don't think there will be a lot of scores under par, but some of these guys are so good that they will shoot under par," he said, predicting that the greens would be "very difficult."

Read more on:    pga tour  |  masters  |  dustin johnson  |  golf


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