The first major of the year got off to a difficult start.
With fast, swirling winds overwhelming Augusta’s pristine golf terrain, the best in the world struggled to reach red numbers.
In round one of The Masters, just 11 players, in a field of 94, shot a round under par. A 1-under-par 71 was good enough for fourth place.
In the round one battle, Augusta was the clear winner. Nobody could figure it out.
Nobody, that is, except Charley Hoffman. Hoffman, looking like he was playing a different course than the rest of the field, somehow was able to card nine birdies in the inclement conditions, ultimately shooting a seven-under 65.
At -7, Hoffman holds a four(!) stroke advantage over Masters rookie William McGirt.
Lee Westwood (-2) was the only other player multiple strokes under par. While the rest of the field will be stressed with the task of trying to catch Hoffman, the tournament favorite will definitely not be leaving Georgia with a green jacket. World #1 Dustin Johnson, who was forced to withdraw just before the start of his round.
1 Charley Hoffman -7
2 William McGirt -3
3 Lee Westwood -2
T4 Russell Henley, Kevin Chappell, Andy Sullivan, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Jason Dufner, Sergio Garcia -1
T12 Ernie Els, Rory McIlroy E
T19 Rickie Fowler, Danny Willett, Jon Rahm +1
T26 Jason Day, Bubba Watson +2
T41 Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott +3
T54 Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker +4
T66 Zach Johnson, Henrik Stenson +5
T75 Jim Furyk +6
How The Leader Did It
Nine birdies is phenomenal in perfect conditions at Augusta. Doing it in these winds is something else completely. Hoffman was even-par after seven holes, with two birdies, and two bogeys, but caught fire on the back nine with a birdie on 12, and then four in a row from 14-17.
Hoffman just barely missed five in a row when his birdie try on 18 couldn’t quite find the cup. This isn’t the first time Hoffman has played well at Augusta; he was in the mix in 2015, even playing in the final group on Saturday – while ultimately finishing T9, his best in three previous tries.
The 40-year-old has been up and down this season, with his best result being a runner-up finish in last month’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
We all thought the most disappointing withdraw this week was going to be Tiger, the four-time champion who is dealing with back and mental issues. While Tiger will be missed, he was unlikely to finish well at Augusta anyway.
Dustin Johnson, however, is a big, fast bullet the rest of the field is dodging. Johnson made news on Wednesday when it was reported that he hurt his back falling down a set of stairs at his Augusta rental home.
He was hoping to give it a go, but decided to withdraw just before his tee time. It’s extremely frustrating for DJ, given that he’s won his last three starts, and was the favorite to take home the green jacket this week.
One of the biggest storylines going into the week was Jordan Spieth’s return to The Masters after losing a five-stroke lead on the back nine last year.
For the second straight round, his back nine was severely marred by a quadruple-bogey. It was not #12 that tripped him up this time (he scored a par on that hole), it was the par-5 15th, where Spieth found the water and eventually ended up with a 9.
Aside from that hole, it was a good first round for the 2015 champion, playing the other 17 holes in one-under, finishing the day with a three-over 75.
Other Great Round Ones
Lee Westwood’s major clock is ticking, as he is in his 40s and still has not won on the biggest stage in spite of many, many close calls.
Westwood played the front nine to a disappointing +3, but after a five-hole birdie binge (13, 14, 15, 16, and 17), Westwood was able to post the third-best round of the day, a two-under 70.
He has finished in the top ten of The Masters six times, including a T2 just last year.
Another great player without a major is Sergio Garcia. The 37-year-old Spaniard, who was playing in his 19th Masters, had the only bogey-free round in the field. A birdie on #8 was his only non-par of the day.
Thomas Pieters, another Augusta rookie, was having the round of the day early on, reaching -5 after 10 holes. But two back-nine double-bogeys cancelled out much of that. But at even-par, the result is still solid and Pieters is in the hunt.
We Expected More
Tyrell Hatton has been a rising star on the European Tour, and has played well in his limited American starts as well. He finished in the top 10 of two 2016 majors, but is way off that mark after a horrendous round one 80 at Augusta. Only two players in the field, both amateurs, posted a worse score.
Martin Kaymer has two major victories on his resume, although he has never contended at The Masters.
It looks like he won’t this year either, as the European Ryder Cupper shot a six-over 78, despite an eagle on the second hole. Kaymer came unraveled on the back nine, with a double on six, and then five straight bogeys.
Henrik Stenson has been in a recent funk, but was still among the favorites coming into this week. After bogeys on four of his first five holes, Stenson left himself an uphill climb just to make the cut, finishing with a disappointing five-over 77.
“I made a good par save on #1, which was nice. I struggled with a couple of three-putts, which everyone had out there today, but then I honed in irons, and was able to be aggressive on a few putts, make a few there on 8 and 9. In the middle of the round I was able to hit some putts. The par save on 13 was the one that really kept the round going; you don’t want to make a bogey anywhere out here, but definitely on a birdie hole, and then I was able to rattle off four in a row, which no matter what tournament you’re playing, is pretty special.”
–Charley Hoffman, Round One Leader