Augusta, GA — Mostly located on the first tee at Augusta National Golf Club, the gallery was dense from the start. And as Tiger Woods almost always lurks in the Masters tournament, there are almost no people there for the other members of his group, Viktor Hovland and Xander Schauffele. Could not.
They probably should have been – especially for Hovland, the only one of the three to have won a major tournament and never been runner-up. It was a draw with a person.
Hobland, who hit 7-under 65, said of the course, “If you get a little too cocky and want to push some spots you probably shouldn’t push, you’ll be punished quickly.” Rahm and LIV golf player Brooks Koepka tie the lead. And if you can make some putts, you have to make them so you can get into the rhythm.”
However, he cautioned, “It’s one of those things, pushing too hard can backfire.”
He’s clearly learned a lot in his first three Masters appearances. The course was moderately less intimidating than usual. The wind was gentle, the pine trees rustling, and the humidity kept the course soft.
In these conditions, it was almost certain that Hovland would end Thursday as a runaway solo leader. Rahm, who endured a frustrating March after winning three PGA Tour events in January and February, overcame a double bogey on the first hole to finish with 65. Koepka, who won the event, took birdies on the final two holes, gaining a share of the lead and lending the second-year circuit the dose of credibility it needed and could covet in equal measure. increase.
Koepka, one of the headliners of the LIV circuit, which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, said: “I’m totally focused on this and I’m going to walk away from here in my green jacket. ‘, and was met with considerable criticism and skepticism.
Koepka, a four-time major champion, grabbed the attention of the tournament’s competition committee on Thursday night. Its chairman said Koepka’s caddy and others had “questioned” “about a possible incident at Number 15.”
In a statement, Chairman James B. Hyler Jr. said, “All parties were adamant that no advice or solicitation was given. As a result, the Committee determined that no rule violations had occurred.”
Beyond Koepka, LIV had a mixed day, sparking widespread debate over whether the 54-hole competition will prepare players for the rigors of a 72-hole major tournament. Reigning British Open champion Cameron Smith started with a tee shot that stopped closer to the ninth fairway than the first. But by sunset he had marked his 70 for par 2-under. His three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson was par 1-under, and 2020 winner Dustin Johnson was also less than par 1.
But two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson missed out on Augusta National just once, bogeying or worse on six holes with a 77. Winning the US Open came less than three years before him, finishing in 74th place.
Yet for all the outraged theatrics that permeated men’s golf when the LIV came onto the scene last year, much about the first LIV-era Masters seemed like almost anything else.
Sorry fans and patrons, I was clutching a plastic cup that was noticeably sweatier than some of the players. A woman dozing at the base of a tree near the 11th fairway, just behind Amen Corner, 1987 champion Larry Mize, who was playing his last Masters, approached the 12th tee box and calmed down. gave a round of applause. Woods, a 15-time Grand Slam winner, was, as always, an attraction, either intentional or accidental.
“Just in time, I can see the Tiger teeing off,” said the gallery guard at the No. 7 crossway to an older man wearing a 2007 PGA Championship hat. Fittingly, Woods won the tournament.
He saw Woods, yes, his way to a 2-over-par 74. But he also got a glimpse of the handiwork of Hovland and Schauffele.
Hovland’s steep descent to the top of the leaderboard began with the 575-yard par-5 No. 2, which was played as the easiest hole at last year’s Masters. His tee shot slammed into the middle of the fairway, about 209 yards from the pin, and he gripped his 6-iron, hoping the ball would crash around his edge in front of the green.
It went far and landed close enough for Hovland to putt the eagle, who at times struggled to conquer the complexity of the short game. He then birdied on five holes, including the newly extended 13th, with no bogeys.
2018 winner Patrick Reed said, “Everything’s a different lie around here, except for the par threes, so there’s no normal golf shot.”
“So you have to be in complete control of what the club is doing, especially through impact,” added Reid, the LIV player who shot 71 on Thursday. “I think Viktor always did it really well. Once he got going and the putter started working, he’d go out and do the same thing he’s doing now on this golf course.”
Rahm summoned equally inevitable magic on the 8th hole, dubbed Yellow Jasmine, which requires 570 yards.
Rahm stood at the tee box and, in his estimation, hit “as hard as I could”. Thinking he had about 267 yards to the hole, he envisioned hitting a draw four iron. A right bounce, he thought, might put him behind the green.
Then he hit it lower than he wanted.
“It was about 8 on, clearly carried on a perfect line and released to 3 feet,” he said. It doesn’t happen all that often, and I’m glad I did, I mean, it was a really good swing, so it’s a huge bonus to end in that close match.”
eagle. The leaders say he will be two strokes behind Cameron Young and Jason Day, who are tied for fourth on Friday.
Augusta National may not be so easy over the next few days. The official forecast for the tournament warned of rain for much of Friday as thunderstorms could disrupt play in the afternoon. The outlook for Saturday was even more dire, with up to two inches of rain and gusts of up to 25 miles per hour expected.
Koepka said being named No. 1 at 8:18 a.m. ET — half an hour earlier than originally scheduled — could be his biggest advantage Friday.
“I think I can make more holes than anyone else before the dumping starts,” he said.
A lot of people are chasing me.
World No. 1 golfer and last year’s Masters winner Scotty Schaeffler finished the day at 4-under after missing a birdie putt in 18th place. Rory McIlroy recorded his 72 playing his first round above par for the first time since 2018 at Augusta.
The cut comes Friday night, weather permitting, with the line tied in addition to the top 50, with DeChambeau, Watson and Woods more vulnerable than most after their show in the first round.
“Most players are down today,” Woods said. “Today was the day to do it.”