Viktor Hovland : After day one at the Masters, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, and Brooks Koepka took the lead with impressive seven-under-par 65s, while Rory McIlroy had yet another lackluster start.
Despite holing five birdies, the 33-year-old Northern Irishman could only manage a level-par 72 as his score was cancelled out by other shots. Meanwhile, defending champion Scottie Scheffler put himself in a good position with a four-under 68, while Tiger Woods struggled to a 74.
The next two days are predicted to bring stormy weather, which increases the chances of a Monday finish for the first time since 1983. In anticipation of incoming rain at Augusta, the Masters organisers have brought forward Friday’s tee-times by 30 minutes, with the second round starting at 12:30 BST.
Despite the expected bad weather, calm conditions on Thursday allowed 16 players to shoot under 70 on a scoreable opening day.
After shooting a five-under 67, former Australian world number one Jason Day and American Cameron Young are the closest challengers to the three co-leaders.
On the star-studded leaderboard, Ireland’s 2019 Open champion Shane Lowry, American world number seven Xander Schauffele, and Australia’s 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott are tied with Scheffler, three shots behind the three co-leaders.
Adding to the group three shots behind the co-leaders is 23-year-old American Sam Bennett, who achieved a remarkable feat of recording the first bogey-free round by an amateur in 30 years.
Despite playing alongside Hovland and Schauffele, 15-time major champion Woods was unable to match their exploits.
Having won the last of his five Green Jackets in 2019, the 47-year-old golfer recently stated that he will never fully recover from the serious car accident he had in February 2021, where he nearly lost his leg. His physical condition appeared awkward on the steep hills of Augusta National.
During the game, he appeared to be in pain on several occasions, particularly when playing his second shot on the 18th. With his right foot in a fairway bunker, he stumbled backwards into the sand after hitting his ball and ended up hopping on his left leg in obvious discomfort.
On an Exciting Opening Day, Top Golfers Compete for Position
One of the most anticipated weeks in golf is here, as the world’s top men’s players make their yearly pilgrimage to one of the most iconic venues in sports.
The opening day of the 87th edition of the Masters did not disappoint, with numerous birdies, top players competing for leaderboard positions, and many intriguing storylines unfolding.
After recovering from a four-putt double bogey on the first hole, Spanish world number three Rahm produced the most remarkable round of golf.
Despite being previously known for losing his temper on the course, the 28-year-old Spaniard showed a more composed and mellow side as he quickly forgot his shocking start.
Rahm quickly turned the tide with back-to-back birdies, setting the tone for an impressive round. He dominated the course with his long drives and accurate approaches, knocking in a total of five birdies and an eagle.
Reflecting on his round, Rahm stated, “We forget about the opening green and it was about as comfortable as I’ve felt this year.” The Spanish golfer has only won one major tournament so far, which was the 2021 US Open.
The 25-year-old Norwegian, Hovland, has long been considered a potential winner of one of golf’s prestigious major titles. In 2019, he finished as the lowest scoring amateur at Augusta, and once again, he demonstrated his exceptional ability during this year’s tournament.
Known for his exceptional ball-striking abilities, the world number nine Hovland moved into an early share of the lead with an eagle at the par-five second hole.
With a perfect start to his round, Hovland laid the platform for a classy and consistent performance. By the 13th hole, his five birdies seemed to put him on track for a commanding lead.
Reflecting on his round, Hovland said, “I hit the ball really well on the front nine but on the back nine I managed to rely on my short game and that’s what it’s all about in a major championship. It’s not rocket science, you have to hit the shots and if you don’t execute, it will punish you.”
Hovland and Rahm were among the early starters, with Koepka – one of the 18 players from the breakaway LIV Tour – later joining them at the top of the leaderboard. It remains to be seen how the players from the controversial Saudi-backed project will fare at the Masters, adding another intriguing element to the tournament.
With LIV Tour players competing in fewer events than their PGA Tour counterparts, many were skeptical about how ready their major champions like Koepka, Cameron Smith, and Dustin Johnson would be to compete.
However, Koepka, who won the latest LIV event in Florida last week, put all doubts to rest with an emphatic performance, earning a share of the lead with his eighth birdie on the 18th.
Despite being a LIV golfer, Koepka dismissed the notion that it provided him with extra incentive to succeed, stating that “This is Masters week, one of four big ones of the year.”
McIlroy struggles to keep up with leaders after scrambling throughout the day
McIlroy’s quest for the coveted Green Jacket generated significant buzz leading up to the tournament. The world number two was widely considered a top contender, along with Scheffler and Rahm. However, as has been the case in previous tournaments, McIlroy struggled to find his rhythm and is currently lagging behind the leaders.
Despite a birdie on the second hole, he quickly lost momentum with a disappointing bogey on the third, even though he had driven within a few yards of the green.
The situation worsened with a double bogey on the seventh, and McIlroy had a tumultuous round until he managed to revive his hopes with birdies on the 15th and 16th holes.
McIlroy’s quest for a long-awaited Green Jacket was a major talking point heading into the tournament. Despite being considered as one of the favourites alongside Scheffler and Rahm, the world number two struggled to find his form and was already playing catch-up, as he had done on previous occasions.
The Northern Irishman did manage to birdie the par-five second, but a poor bogey on the third hole and a double bogey on the seventh put him over par for the round. He was able to salvage some hope with birdies on 15 and 16, but a wayward drive on the 17th resulted in another bogey. However, he managed to sink an eight-foot par putt on the last hole to at least start level on Friday.
“It felt like a bit of a scramble all day. I missed a couple of tee shots left, paid the price and was untidy in some other areas,” McIlroy told Sky Sports. Despite feeling behind the pace of the current leaders, he remained optimistic and said, “there are still 54 holes left, a lot can happen and the weather is coming in.”
What transpired on the first day?
In the opening round of the Masters, Scottish golfer Sandy Lyle had a tough day, shooting a nine-over 81 in what is expected to be one of the final rounds of his professional career.
Lyle, who famously won the Masters in 1988, accidentally broke one of his clubs on the first hole while escaping from the undergrowth.
Despite the disappointing round, Lyle remains focused on enjoying his final outings as a professional golfer. Meanwhile, former world number one Justin Rose led the English players with a solid three-under 69.
Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton finished at two under and one under respectively, making them the only other Englishmen to end the day under par. Meanwhile, Northern Irish amateur Matthew McClean finished five over despite leading at two under after four holes.
Fred Couples, the 63-year-old American who won the Masters in 1992, shot a one-under 71 and became the oldest player to break par at Augusta since Tom Watson did it in 2015. Couples moved into joint third place with four birdies between the 12th and 17th holes, but a bogey on the last hole and the later starters pushed him down the leaderboard.
The opening field of 88 players at the first men’s major of the year was reduced after American pair Will Zalatoris and Kevin Na withdrew. Zalatoris pulled out minutes before his scheduled tee-off time, while Na withdrew citing illness after being four over after nine holes.