Dustin Johnson’s drama and the wind swirling around Augusta National Golf Club were the big story lines in the first round of the Masters on Thursday.
Then Charley Hoffman stole the show.
Hoffman shot a 7-under-par 65 to grab a four-shot lead after the first round, which featured the withdrawal of the world’s No. 1 player and strong, windy conditions throughout the day. Making his fourth start at Augusta National, Hoffman caught fire on the back nine with four straight birdies, starting on No. 14.
After two early bogeys to his round, he was at 1-over through five holes. Hoffman responded with eight birdies in his final 13 holes.
“For lack of any better words, it was a dream,” Hoffman said. “You hit the shots that you’re sort of looking at, and then the hardest part is to convert the putts, and I was able to do that, and I got some good numbers coming down the stretch, and I was able to do that. A few weeks back, I sort of sat back on a week off and asked some people what I needed to do better and asked myself what I needed to do better, and I just needed to believe a little bit more.
“I think I’m just starting to believe. This game’s tough, and I’m starting to believe, and obviously seeing putts go in and seeing shots where you want them to go helps the belief process a little bit.”
Only 11 players finished under par on the windy day, and the forecast for Friday’s second round is more of the same. One player who won’t be battling that wind is Johnson, who slipped and fell Wednesday away from the course and hurt his back and elbow.
Johnson tried to get ready for his round at the practice tee Thursday, and he arrived at the first tee for his scheduled 1:03 p.m. start but decided to not play. Instead, Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker played their round as a twosome.
“I mean, it sucks. I want to play,” Johnson told The State, his hometown newspaper in Columbia, S.C. “I’m playing probably the best golf of my career, and this is one of my favorite tournaments of the year. To have a freak accident happen (Wednesday) afternoon after I got back from the course, it sucks. It really does.”
Johnson told The State he injured his left lower back when he slipped walking down stairs in his socks.
“(Johnson’s son) Tatum was on the way home from day care, and it was pouring down rain, so I was going to go move the car,” he said. “My left elbow is swollen and bruised. I landed on my left side. It’s just real tight. As I was making some swings on the range, it was about 80 percent. And it’s still just — it’s just so tight, it just wouldn’t let me ... I couldn’t get through a backswing. Every time right at impact, it would just catch. So I just don’t feel like there’s any chance of me competing.”
Making his Masters debut, William McGirt certainly is competing well. He is second at 3 under after a round that included four birdies and one bogey.
Lee Westwood is third at 2 under, and there is a group of eight players at 1 under, including Macon’s Russell Henley.
“This is a lifelong dream, and it’s one of those things, that when you’re going through that, you don’t know if this moment will ever happen,” McGirt said of his first Masters appearance after years of working through golf’s mini-tours. “There’s been years and years, even since I’ve been on Tour, that I didn’t know if this moment would ever happen. It’s just one of those things; I’m going to try to soak it all in and enjoy it and relish every moment here at Augusta National.”
After Thursday’s first round: