WITH a red hot putter 40 year old American Charley Hoffman raced to a four shot lead in the first round of the 81st Masters, seemingly oblivious as strong winds buffeted all those around him.
In one of the great first rounds of the tournament’s long history, Hoffman slotted a nine-birdie, 7-under 65 to be 10 strokes better than the field scoring average.
“For lack of any better words, it was a dream,” said Hoffman, who had six birdies in his last eight holes and narrowly missed another on the last.
Hoffman is playing in his fourth Masters with his best result a T9 in 2015.
Alone in second place at 3-under was 37 year old Masters rookie William McGirt from North Carolina, who has just two professional wins.
In third place at 2-under was Lee Westwood who had five straight birdies from the 13th.
Eight players were next on 1-under, including Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and four-time winner Phil Mickelson, who said he loved the fierce conditions because it takes less experienced players out of the mix.
“The wind is going to magnify your misses,” Mickelson said, “and a lot of the guys that aren’t familiar with this course and where you can go to on certain holes for certain pins will miss in the wrong spot and end up making big numbers.”
One of those with big numbers was Jordan Spieth, still determined to appear in control after hitting a 9 on the 15th.
The best finishing Aussie was Marc Leishman, who had an unfortunate bogey on the last to slip to 1-over, while in no way out of contention were Jason Day (74), who sank some great pressure putts, and Adam Scott (75) who would love his putter to join the club.
Rod Pampling was also on 74 while amateur Curtis Luck finished with three straight bogeys to slip to 78, four behind the leading amateur Stewart Hagestad.
The day began with an emotional tribute for Arnold Palmer from Augusta National chairman Billy Payne. It was left to legends Jack Nicklaus and Garry Player to perform the ceremonial opening tee shot without their long time third partner.
Shortly afterwards there was a further jolt to the tournament when world number one and strong favourite Dustin Johnson, who was to hit off in the final group, announced his withdrawal due to a freak accident in his rental home when he slipped down the stairs and landed on his back and elbow.US Masters Leaderboard
Ist Round Recap Video: Johnson withdraws, Hoffman on fire
A sombre tribute to Arnold Palmer as Masters begins: Video