AUGUSTA, Ga. – Here is a recap of Thursday’s opening round of the 2017 Masters at Augusta National.
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LEADING: Charley Hoffman was playing Augusta National on Thursday. It was just a different one from everybody else. The 40-year-old fired a 7-under 65 in the first round of the Masters, a round that was not only the best of the day, but by far Thursday’s best round. Windy conditions ensured few would reach red numbers (only 11 would post sub-par rounds on the day), but they didn’t seem to bother Hoffman. And late in the day, when the breezes died down a bit, he pounced. Hoffman bogeyed No. 3 but would go birdie-bogey-birdie-par-birdie-birdie to finish out a 2-under 34. It wasn’t until the middle of the back nine that he got the reprieve in wind that lifted him well beyond reach. A birdie with an 11-foote putt at 12 was followed by another from 22 feet at 14, a third from 24 feet at 15 and then he got to just straight dropping approach shots next to the flag. Hoffman knocked it to 2 feet at 16 and 4 feet at 17. He rolled in both putts, making it four straight birdies, five in six holes and an 8-under score in his last 12 holes. By that point, he was 7 under and four clear of the field. He would barely miss a 16-footer for birdie short at the last, which meant the 65 and a four-shot lead.
Hoffman, a four-time PGA Tour winner, had been struggling in 2017 aside from a tie for fourth at the Genesis Open. Hoffman missed three of his first seven cuts after the turn of the calendar and had only one other top-25 in a full-field event. He started kicking into gear, though, as he raced out to the 36-hole lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational (he would eventually finish T-2). The Shell Houston Open would produce a T-23, a solid follow-up performance. Hoffman has never led after any round of a major, so this will be a first.
He does have some experience up on the leaderboard at the Masters, though. Hoffman finished T-9 in the 2015 edition of the event, but he was actually the closest to Jordan Spieth after 36 holes that week, sitting solo second five back.
Hoffman birdied all four par 3s this Thursday and had nine birdies overall. His four-shot cushion actually does not constitute the largest 18-hole lead in Masters history, as Craig Wood had a five-shot margin after one round in 1941. Still, a pretty special start for Hoffman.
CHASING: Well, they’re all distant chasers at the moment. The windy conditions made this possibly the most difficult opening round at the Masters in a decade. William McGirt survived it the most besides Hoffman, coming in at 3-under 69. Lee Westwood finished at 2 under. Eight are tied for fourth at 1 under. Among that group is Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Jason Dufner.
SHOT OF THE DAY: It was a solid opening round for Daniel Summerhays, with a 2-over 74 (good for T-27) in tough conditions. It almost included a hole-in-one.
The par-3 12th hasn’t seen an ace in the Masters since 1988, but Summerhays almost ended that 29-year drought with a beautiful 8-iron. The consolation was a tap-in birdie and a wonderful memory.
QUOTABLE: “I had a ball that was three feet from the hole. I’d marked it, put it back, and it rolled to 12 feet. So it’s very difficult conditions and borderline today.” – Adam Scott, blunt on Thursday’s windy conditions as the Aussie shot 3-over 75
CHIP SHOTS: Dustin Johnson withdrew from the field last-minute due to a back injury, a devastating blow for the man who entered as the clear favorite. It opens things up for everybody else, though. … Three guys who held the lead at one point finished with double bogey. Those would be Matt Fitzpatrick (1 under, T-4), Thomas Pieters (Even, T-12) and Rickie Fowler (1 over, T-19). … Ernie Els may have bogeyed 18, but he offered one heck of a comeback. Els was 3 over through 12 but proceeded to birdie 13, 15, 16 and 17. He shot 72. The Big Easy is still looking for his first Masters win. … The 50-and-over club authored some solid scores. Fred Couples, 57, posted a 1-over 73 and Bernhard Langer, 59, shot 3-over 75 to sit T-41. … Jordan Spieth made a quadruple bogey at the par-5 15th and was seven back (at 4 over) after tying the lead at 1 under two holes earlier. He ended the day at 3 over, which all things considered wasn’t too bad. … Jason Day came in at 2-over 74 for the day, battling the whole round. … Rory McIlroy was 3 over through eight but birdied Nos. 13, 15 and 16 to be even par. He parred 18 to shoot 72.