DJ sends a huge slice into the pines down the right of 18. His ball nestles behind a trunk; he’ll do well to get that back out onto the fairway and leave himself a clear line to the green. Up on the dancefloor, Christiaan Bezuidenhout nearly drains a 20-foot birdie putt, but he’ll be satisfied with his par and an opening round of 70. A par for Webb Simpson too, and he’s signing for a 70 as well. They’re -2. Bogey for the third member of the group, though, and Sergio’s signing for a four-over 76. Oh Sergio!
Justin Thomas is this close to acing the 6th. As the ball shaves the side of the hole, he holds his head in his hands and yelps in disbelief, so sure was he that the ball would drop. The ball rolls ten feet past so he’s not guaranteed to get any reward for that now, but let’s see.
Speaking of which, Leishman drops another stroke, the result of flaying his tee shot at 10 into the pine straw down the left. Not so long ago he was leading this Tournament on his own; now he’s back in the pack at -2.
More bother for Bryson, who having dropped three shots in his previous two holes, faces a tricky 12-foot slider for his par on 6. But in it goes. He’s made a couple of missable putts to limit the damage on the last couple of holes to bogey-par. A momentum shifter? On these treacherous greens, expect nothing, though at least it’s arrested his slide down the standings.
You’ll have noticed the lack of players taking a run up the leader board. Conditions are getting pretty tricky now, with the wind up and the greens getting ever firmer. They’re like sheets of glass right now, with pars, never mind birdies, coming at a premium … so having just typed that up, Justin Rose bundles a lovely second shot into the heart of the par-five 8th, curling his ball in from the left to ten feet, then tidying up for eagle! He’ll get some top-drawer crystal for that, but more importantly he’ll move back to level par. You’re welcome. Pulitzer, please!
Brooks Koepka ends with a couple of pars, and that’s an opening day 74. For all his ring-rusty travails, the four-time major winner is still only five off the current lead. A birdie for Xander Schauffele at 15; he’s -1. And on 4, Jordan Spieth pushes a par tiddler wide of the cup and drops back to level par. That’s extremely careless.
A three-putt bogey for Dustin Johnson on 16, and he slips back to level par. He’s not played particularly well today, so escaping with a 72 won’t be the end of the world for the defending champ. Meanwhile birdie for McIlroy, only his second of the day, at 15, and he’s +4, while another of our bogey-happy European favourites, Sergio, picks up his first stroke of the day at 16. He’s +3.
Bryson DeChambeau, then. All that talk of his taming Augusta National with his power game, but it’s the famous old course doing a number on him. After opening with three pars, he doubles 4 after finding a bush with his tee shot and only just managing to chop out. Then he finds more nature, down the left of 5, and that leads to a bogey. He’s +3 and not in a particularly chipper mood right now.
Ah right, well I’m glad I trotted all of that out when I did. Leishman misses a par tiddler at 9, and drops back into a share at -3. Meanwhile par for Matsuyama on 18, and he’s signing for a fine three-under 69.
-3: Harman (F), Matsuyama (F), Leishman (9)
-2: Zalatoris (F), Simpson (16), Bezuidenhout (16)
The best Webb Simpson can do at 16, having got wet, is a double bogey. That means Marc Leishman is in the lead on his own at -4. Leishman was one of the smart bets going into this week, with a fine record at Augusta: he tied for fourth in 2013, and has finished ninth and 13th in the last three years. He also tied a Tournament record here last year, playing the par-five holes to an aggregate score of -15.
Justin Rose has finished runner-up twice at Augusta, in 2015 and 2017, and ran Zach Johnson close in 2007. His bid this year hasn’t got off to the best start: bogey at the opening hole has been followed up by a three-putt bogey at 7, and he’s +2. Mind you, it could have been worse; the par putt that lipped out rolled six feet down the green, and he did extremely well to stroke in the bogey effort.
Bogey for Hideki Matsuyama at 17, and that costs him a share of the lead. It looks like Marc Leishman will have sole ownership of it in a couple of minutes, because Webb Simpson has just found the water with his tee shot at 13. He allows himself a wry smile, not least because conditions are beginning to get even trickier, the wind picking up and swirling, the greens getting even firmer.
Spieth and Morikawa make their birdies at the inviting par-five 2nd; they’re -1. Cam Smith has to settle for par however, and remains level. Early days, of course. Time is running out already for McIlroy, though; his dip into Rae’s Creek at 13 has cost him yet another shot, and he’s +5. He could be forgiven for already turning his thoughts to next month’s PGA. That’ll be played at Kiawah Island, where he lifted the Wanamaker Trophy in 2012. That it’s come to this for Rory on the first day at Augusta.
The three-time champ Phil Mickelson has started nice and steadily. Birdie at 2, and he’s -1 through the first five holes. At 50, he’d smash the record set by 48-year-old Julius Boros at the 1968 PGA for oldest major winner if he makes it this week. He couldn’t, could he? If anyone can pull a rabbit out of the bag, it’s Lefty.
Koepka is the only one of the three to make his short birdie putt at 16. Back-to-back birdies bring him back to +2, and perhaps his decision to come back early from injury, because it’s the Masters, isn’t quite so daft at all. Bubba remains at level par, Hovland +1.
Hovland is this close to holing in one at 16! He lands his tee shot into the heart of the green, allowing the right-to-left camber to bring his ball down towards the cup. It shaves the side of the hole before stopping six feet back. Despite going so close, it’s not a gimme, but what a shot. Bubba (E) and Brooks (+3) follow him close. All will have putts for birdie. Compare and contrast with Rory McIlroy, forcing it at +4, finding Rae’s Creek at 13. He holds his head in his hands, processing the fact that his career-slam dream is already close to kaput for yet another year.
Viktor Hovland has been the personification of pure entertainment since running up that triple bogey on the 1st. He hauled himself back to level par through 6, only to drop back to +3 with bogeys at 9, 10 and 12. But he’s just birdied both of the back-nine par-fives, and the one at 15 in particular was a doozy: a poor second sent down the slope over the back, a chip chunked, then a long putt raked into the cup at speed. Lucky that hit the hole, because goodness knows where it would have ended up otherwise. He laughs modestly, knowing he’s gotten away with one there. He’s a great player to watch. He’s +1.
Justin Thomas, who swaggered his way to the Players last month, was one of the hot pre-tournament favourites. But he hooked his drive at 2 into the pines, and having been forced to take an unplayable, is reasonably happy to escape with a bogey. He’s +1. Birdies for his playing partners in this penultimate group, though: both Louis Oosthuizen and Tony Finau move to -1.
A miserable end to Kim Si-woo’s round. Bogeys at 15 and 16 bring him back down to -1, but you can be sure he’d have been happy enough with an opening 71 at the start of the day. Meanwhile his compatriot Im Sung-jae, who sensationally tied for second here on debut last November, is going nicely again; he made 24 birdies last year, and he’s already got two this time round after three holes. He’s -2 in short order.
Cameron Smith knows what he’s doing around Augusta National. He tied for fifth here in 2018, while last year he shot four sub-70 rounds to tie for second. He’s opened his round this afternoon with a steady par, as has his playing partners in the final group of the day, Collin Morikawa and Jordan Spieth, who isn’t too shabby around here himself. These final groups will be well worth sticking with.
Birdies for Webb Simpson at 12 and 13, and here’s how the leader board looks right now.
-4: Matsuyama (14), Simpson (13), Leishman (7)
-3: Harman (F), Bezuidenhout (13)
-2: Zalatoris (F), Reed (11), Casey (11)
No eagle for DJ, his putt on 13 refusing to break right, but birdie will suffice. He’s in red figures for the first time this week at -1. His playing partner Lee Westwood can only par, and he remains at +6, taking his leave of the scene with a flustered face.
The defending champ Dustin Johnson was going nowhere fast through 10, but that chip-in on 11 for birdie has reinvigorated his round. Par at 12, and now he’s crashed his second into the heart of the par-three 13th, setting up a 15-foot eagle opportunity.
Thanks Luke. A hell of a leader board forming already. A lot of cream rising. Some big names having a miserable time of it too, though: Jason Day, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy are all +4, Lee Westwood is +6. Brooks Koepka is quietly falling away too; a creek-drenched bogey at 13 slips him to +3 and that injury lay-off doesn’t appear to have done him any favours. A big couple of hours to come for some of the game’s top names, if they’re to salvage their bids.
Scrolling down the leaderboard, Strafaci has collapsed to +7, Westwood is now +6, while Day and Garcia are all +4 for the day. Ouch.
And with that, I will hand you back to Scott Murray.
Brian Harman finishes his round with a birdie for a 69 and moves to the group of players on -3. And now Leishman moves to -4 after six holes, sinking a monster uphill birdie putt at the par three! He is tearing it up.
-4 Matsuyama (13), Leishman (6)
-3 Harman (F), Simpson (12), Bezuidenhout (12), Casey (9)
With an errant second at the 13th, Bubba Watson ends up with a fiendish chip from virtually under a bush at the back of the green. He takes out a five-wood instead of trying to chip or putt and pushes the ball first through the thick fringe, then down the ludicrously speedy putting surface. It’s a smidgen overhit but it stops – just – on the fringe on the opposite side of the green – and he knocks in the putt, allowing himself a gentle fist bump in celebration. That was a crazily good up-and-down from where he ended up after his second, in one of the worst possible spots around that green. That takes him to -1.
Hideki Matsuyama becomes our new outright leader on -4. This is despite the fact that he nearly sends his second shot into Rae’s Creek at the 13th. Luckily for him, that second shot (which is slightly short and right) bites into the steep bank by the water, and stops. He makes a good fist of an insanely tough chip, which bounces and rolls back down the hill towards the flag, and drains the putt for a birdie. Well played.
Meanwhile, Webb Simpson rolls in a fine birdie putt at the par three 12th to move to -3.
-4 Matsuyama (13)
-3: Simpson (12), Kim (13), Bezuidenhout (12), Casey (9), Leishman (5)
Despite being dressed like an ice cream, the champion Dustin Johnson has just holed a stunning uphill chip at the 11th, which moves him back to even par. That is absolutely class. He raises both hands in celebration before the standard fist-bump with his caddie.
Si Woo Kim has just bogeyed the par-five 15th, a cardinal sin, and drops back out of the group of leaders on three under. He overclubs his second shot over the water by quite some distance, then sends his chip, in the opposite direction, into the drink. C’est la vie. To give him his due, he hits a superb chip from the drop zone and will take the bogey.