Hoffman leads 1st round at Augusta


AUGUSTA, Ga. — On a day when it was tough just to break par at the Masters, Charley Hoffman turned in one of the greatest opening rounds in the history of Augusta National.

Hoffman took a four-shot lead Thursday over William McGirt for the largest gap at the top after the first round at Augusta in 62 years. The 40-year-old American bounced back from a slow start to shoot a 7-under 65 in a swirling wind that gusted close to 40 mph.

Hoffman, no stranger to being in contention at Augusta, played in the next-to-last group on Sunday two years ago but closed with a 74 to finish 10 shots behind winner Jordan Spieth.

Now, it’s Hoffman holding the largest lead after the first round since the 1955 Masters, when Jack Burke Jr. opened with 67 and was four shots ahead of Julius Boros and Mike Souchak.

But, in a reminder that the tournament is never won on Thursday, Burke followed with a 76 that turned his big lead into a six-shot deficit against Cary Middlecoff, who went on to capture the green jacket in a romp.

Hoffman had a shot at birdie on the 18th hole, which would have tied him with Craig Wood in 1941 for the largest lead after the opening round. Hoffman wasn’t able to sink the putt, but he certainly had no complaints about his performance — especially after a pair of bogeys left him at 1 over through No. 5.

He birdied eight of the next 12 holes, including four in a row beginning at the 14th.

McGirt, who shot a 3-under 69, was the lone player within five shots of the lead. No one else has managed to go lower than 1-under par.

McGirt, A 37-year-old American, birdied four holes and had only one bogey.

A journeyman player who didn’t even reach the PGA Tour until he was in his early 30s, McGirt qualified for the Masters with his first tour victory last year at the Memorial.

McGirt calls his Augusta debut one of the top four or five rounds of his pro career.

Phil Mickelson eagled the second hole on the way to a 1-under 71 as he tries to become the oldest champion in Masters history.

Jack Nicklaus was 46 when he won the last of his six green jackets in 1986. Mickelson will turn 47 in June, which makes him seven months older than the Golden Bear at the time of his historic Masters victory.

In addition to the eagle at No. 2, Mickelson had three birdies to go along with four bogeys.

The 81st Masters began with a moment of silence, a few tears and two tee shots.

It was the first Masters since 1954 without four-time champion Arnold Palmer, who died in September. Augusta National chairman Billy Payne told thousands crammed around the first tee that the unbearable sadness was surpassed by the love and affection everyone feels from The King.

He asked for a moment of silence, and then turned it over to Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to hit the ceremonial opening tee shot.

Augusta stunner: DJ withdraws from Masters with back injury

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Dustin Johnson arrived at Augusta National on quite a roll, having won his last three tournaments.

He never even took a shot at the first major of the year.

The world’s No. 1-ranked player was forced to withdraw from the Masters on Thursday because of a lower back injury suffered less than 24 hours earlier in a freak fall at the home he was renting for the week.

“I want to play,” Johnson said. “I just can’t swing.”

He certainly tried, arriving at the club about two hours before he was scheduled to tee off in the final group of the opening round with two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker.

Johnson took some easy swings on the practice range, headed back inside for additional treatment, and then broke out his longer irons and the driver to see how the back reacted.

He was clearly in pain, rubbing the area several times and letting his caddie tee up the ball so he didn’t have bend over. After an extended conversation with his coach, Butch Harmon, Johnson started walking toward the first tee.

His intention was to play.

His back wouldn’t let him.

“It sucks,” Johnson said. “I’m playing the best golf of my career. This is one of my favorite tournaments of the year. Then a freak accident happened (Wednesday) when I got back from the course. It sucks. It sucks really bad.”

Johnson got as far as the putting green between the clubhouse and the first tee. After about a half-dozen putts, he pulled out an iron and took a few more half-hearted practice swings.

Walker and Watson headed toward the tee.

Johnson went the opposite way.

“I was doing everything I could to try to play,” he said. “Last night, it was ice, heat, ice. I was up pretty much all night trying to get it ready for today. I had it worked on all morning. Obviously, I can make some swings. But I can’t make my normal swing.”

This Masters was over for Johnson before it even began, a stunning development that removed the favorite for the green jacket .

“It’s disappointing, for sure, for everybody,” 2013 champion Adam Scott said. “To pull out of the Masters when you’re in the kind of form he’s in, it must be a very difficult decision to make. Hopefully he gets better quick.”

Two-time major champion Jordan Spieth realized Johnson was out of the tournament when his name was removed from the scoreboard.

“As a friend of his and somebody who’s played a lot of golf with him, I know this: It must really, really not be good in order for him not to tee it up,” Spieth said.

The injury occurred Wednesday after Johnson returned to his rental home from a morning practice session at Augusta National. On the way outside to move his car, and wearing socks but no shoes, he slipped on a short staircase.

“It would have been better if it was full set of stairs. I would have slid all the way down,” Johnson said. “But there were only three steps. I landed on my left side. My left elbow is sore and bruised. My lower left back took the brunt of it.”