The world No1, Dustin Johnson, was hampered by a back trauma from falling down stairs on the eve of the Masters and pulled out at the 1st tee
As the stricken Dustin Johnson walked from the 1st tee at Augusta National, thereby making one of the most dramatic deviations in major championship history, the Thursday narrative seemed situate. Only something extraordinary would match the Johnson storyline.
Enter Charley Hoffman. Given savagely tough conditions, the afternoon 65 as posted by this 40 -year-old from San Diego ranks among the finest opening rounds in 81 stagings of the Master. It was a performance worthy of a trophy and 10 better than the field median. Hoffman birdied five of the last six pits when marching to the summit of the leaderboard, a position he holds by four heading into day two. Only Hoffman and William McGirt, who had a superb 69, could violate 70.
It would be legitimate to presume the other 93 players in this Masters field gleaned inspiration from the sight of the world No1, a hitherto dominant figure, exiting stage left moments before his tournament was due to get under way. Far less predictable after the Johnson theatre was the identity of Hoffman as the man to make hay. He is ranked No52 in the world, after all; hardly a journeyman professional but holding a pretty median major record which proves one top-1 0 finish in 22 appearances. I feel comfortable here, told Hoffman afterwards, with a decent dose of understatement.
English golf successfully played on the law of averages. That nation accounted for a remarkable 11 of the competitor listing; by shut of play, five were within seven of the lead. If that hardly voices remarkable, Hoffmans exploits in taking the largest Thursday advantage since 1955 surely were. Paul Casey, the lowest of that England quintet, shares 12 th. Lee Westwoods 70 means he lies third with Andy Sullivan and Matt Fitzpatrick at one under par and Justin Rose a further shot back.
If Johnsons back issue he tumbled down stairs in an Augusta rental home on Wednesday afternoon was well known, the presumption was the 32 -year-old would participate after he not only took part in a full range conference but headed for the opening tee. At that juncture the key seed of doubt came to the fore. Johnson about-turned and headed for the clubhouse, inducing his scale of letdown abundantly clear when en route.
I was inducing swings on the scope but could only run 80%, Johnson told. I could make a good backswing but at impact it was too much. So I dont feel like there was any opportunity of me competing.
I was doing everything I could to play. I was up most of last night using ice, using heat, using ice again. I was desperate to get it ready for this morning. I merely cant construct my normal sway because of my lower left back.
I didnt get much sleep but thats not the issue. I want to play. The questions is I merely cant swing.
Im playing the best golf of my career. This is an event I look forward to every year, so to have a freak accident mean I cant play? It merely sucks, it genuinely does.
If it happened on Monday, I dont think we would have any issues but it happened on Wednesday afternoon. It would even have been great if itd happened after this because I have three weeks off.
Someone, somewhere chose this was not to be Johnsons Green Jacket year. The golfing deities have always operated in mysterious ways.
Anyone trying soothe after Wednesdays electric storm was to be sadly disappointed as the wind whipped around Augusta to the extent the venue became more severe by the hour. Towering pine trees arced under the strain of biting gusts, with only sensible pin positions and greens softened by a pre-tournament spate ensuring the course remained playable. Challengers had to hang on for dear life; it soon became clear that an opening round of level par or better represented an outstanding return.
Rory McIlroy battled back manfully from the position of plus three after eight. s 72 leaves him well placed to challenge, providing of course Hoffman doesnt maintain his Thursday pace.
Jason Days return to competitive action was marked by a 74. Jordan Spieth lies one stroke behind Day, with a remarkable quadruple-bogey nine at the 15 th the key aberration of the 2015 champs Thursday. Spieth left the course to verification of the Johnson scenario. I could see on the board that his name was taken down, told Spieth. Certainly it is really unfortunate. As a friend of his and somebody who has played a lot of golf with him, I know this must not be good in order for him not to tee it up. I surely wish him well.
The signs were ominous for Danny Willett as he opened his Masters defense with a double bogey. The YorkshiremanWillett is due credit not only for the incurring of no further damage but actually curtailing it; he signed for a 73.
When I was stood on the 3rd tee if someone had said I would shoot 73 I would have ripped their hand off, walked up the hill, run inside and had a cup of tea, he told. I fought back really well, dug my heels in and make some really good golf shots.
Willett was among those to gaze in wonder at Hoffman and rightly so.
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