Charley Hoffman tames the elements on day 1 of the Masters
Charley Hoffman defied brutal conditions to fire a stunning 65 and earn a four-shot lead on an incident-packed opening day of the 81st Masters.
The withdrawal of world No 1 Dustin Johnson was the major talking point of the first round at Augusta National, while only 11 of the 93 players who started managed to break par in winds gusting up to 40mph.
Hoffman made light of the tough conditions to comfortably surpass William McGirt’s earlier 69, while Rory McIlroy atoned for a poor outward nine with three birdies in four holes from the 13th as he salvaged a level-par 72.
Last year’s runner-up Lee Westwood surged into contention with a remarkable run of five consecutive birdies on the back nine to finish the round in outright third on three under, while three of England’s 11 challengers share fourth as Andy Sullivan, Matt Fitzpatrick and Justin Rose carded creditable 71s,
But the field were left trailing by a magnificent performance from Hoffman, who was one over after five holes before birdies at three of the next four took him to the turn in 34.
The 40-year-old holed a great putt for a rare two at 12 and produced some precision iron-play to set up four consecutive birdies from the 14th, and he went agonisingly close to another at the last before tapping in to cap an early contender for round of the year.
“I made nice long putts on 14 and 15, then I hit it close on 16, 17 and had a look on 18 to make it five in a row but lacked a little steam,” he said afterwards.
“Obviously, going to sleep on the lead at a major championship here at Augusta National is not going to be the easiest thing but I look forward to the challenge the next three days.”
For more than half the day it looked possible that no player would break 70 until McGirt got to three under with his fourth birdie of a steady round at the 16th and parred the last two holes to set the clubhouse target.
Westwood was up against it having made three bogeys in five holes to turn in 39, but he turned his fortunes around with a welcome birdie at 13 and backed up some solid approaches with a red-hot putter over the next four holes.
The veteran did well to get up and down from sand at the last to stay at two under and one ahead of his three compatriots as well as Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Russell Henley, Kevin Chappell and Jason Dufner.
Fitzpatrick got to three under with his fifth birdie at the 15th, but he got into trouble at the last and took the gloss off a good day with a double-bogey six, while Garcia was the only player in the entire field to get round without a single blemish on his card – a birdie at eight and 17 pars.
McIlroy, playing in the third-last group of the day, got off to the worst possible start when he bogeyed two of the first three holes and dropped another shot at the eighth as he struggled to find his range with his irons.
But he dug deep to get up and down to save par at 11 and 12, and he caught a lucky break at the long 13th when his second held on the bank when it looked destined for Rae’s Creek.
He chipped to four feet and holed for birdie and added another at 15 before almost holing out for an ace at the next, and he parred safely in to join the likes of Thomas Pieters, Paul Casey, Ernie Els and Shane Lowry on level par.
Defending champion Danny Willett fought hard to recover from a six-six start and clawed his way back to level when he eagled the 13th, although his comeback was soured when he three-putted the final green.
World No 3 Jason Day opened with an erratic 74 in his first start since pulling out of the WGC Match Play and revealing his mother was battling lung cancer, while Jordan Spieth ruined a steady first 14 holes with an ugly quadruple-bogey nine at the 15th and returned a disappointing 75.