When a player makes a double bogey on the opening hole and goes on to shoot 65, it is a sign the course is ripe for low scoring. That was certainly the case during a calm, warm first round of the 87th Masters Tournament on Thursday, when Jon Rahm made up ground after four-putting the first hole and was joined at the top by Brooks Koepka and Viktor Hovland, whose rounds were more conventional.
It was the first time in a springtime Masters that three players shot so low in the opening round. At the pandemic-delayed Tournament held in November 2020, Paul Casey, Dylan Frittelli and the eventual champion, Dustin Johnson, shared the 18-hole lead at 65.
“It was ideal conditions, still fairly soft out there with all the humidity, and there were going to be low scores,” said Adam Scott, the 2013 champion, who shot 68. He was one of nine major winners to shoot in the 60s on a star-heavy first-round leader board.
The leaders have a two-stroke advantage over Cameron Young and Jason Day. Scott was among seven players at 68, including defending champion Scottie Scheffler and fellow Texan Sam Bennett, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion. Jordan Spieth was among four players at 69.
While it was a fantastic day for the 23-year-old Bennett, it also was a successful stroll for Fred Couples, 63, the 1992 champion, who shot 71, a popular score on Thursday for those who have won a Green Jacket. Also shooting 1-under were Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama, Phil Mickelson and Johnson.
Five-time champion Tiger Woods was 2-over after five holes and, with a bogey on No. 18, finished that way. Rory McIlroy also got off to a slow start, going 2-over through seven holes. He improved from there, shooting even-par 72, but has now failed to break 70 in 13 of his 15 opening rounds in the Masters.
Rahm overcame his difficult first hole, where he took four putts from 40 feet to make a double bogey, his first 6 on No. 1 in 25 rounds. “If you’re going to make a double or four-putt or anything, it might as well be the first hole,” Rahm said. “Seventy-one holes to make it up. I was focused on the fact that all the strokes were good. The reads were good. The roll was good. Obviously, the speed was off on the first two putts. But once I kind of accepted that there was nothing really to look into, I just got to work.”
Rahm, ranked No. 3 in the world and the PGA Tour’s only three-time winner this season, started the salvage operation with quick birdies on Nos. 2 and 3. After another birdie on the seventh, he hit his second shot to 3 feet on the par-5 eighth, setting up an eagle. Birdies on four of his last six holes put him in position to join Sam Snead (1952) as the only players to win a Green Jacket after making a double bogey or worse on the first hole.
“I didn’t expect to hit a great 3-wood, a good second shot and four-putt the first hole,” Rahm said, “but to overcome that and shoot 9-under on the next 17 holes was something to be proud of. Hopefully, I can just keep it going.”
The presence of Koepka, a four-time major champion, atop the leader board marked another milestone in his comeback from a serious 2021 injury to his right knee. He slipped and fell at home, suffering a dislocation that quickly became a “gruesome” situation, he said.
“I dislocated my knee and then I tried to put it back in, and that’s when I shattered my kneecap and during the process tore my MPFL,” he said, referring to his medial patellofemeral ligament, which attaches the kneecap to the inner part of the knee. “My leg was sideways and out. I snapped it back in because the kneecap was already shattered.”
A complicated and novel surgery repaired the joint, but after Koepka quickly returned to competition, his body’s limitations led to a cascade of issues with his game.
“If your body won’t allow you to do the things you want to do, it’s frustrating and all of a sudden you create a lot of bad habits,” he said. “You try to work out the unhealthiness. You have to get out of those bad habits. When you break free, it’s kind of nice. I just think I’m healthy, so I can move the way I want to.”
Hovland hadn’t broken 70 in 12 previous rounds at Augusta National but got off to a positive start, holing a 25-footer for eagle on the par-5 second hole after a 6-iron from 209 yards. He made birdies at the sixth, eighth and ninth to turn in 31.
“I just kept hitting great shots on the front nine and made some putts, and before I knew it, somehow I was 6-under through 11,” Hovland said. “Kind of coast in to 65. That was awesome.”
He did have to work hard for a closing par after going bunker to bunker, crafting a creative third shot that he played far right of the cup, the ball rolling down a slope and finishing eight feet away. “Kind of gambled on it and hit a great shot,” Hovland said. “I like to gamble a little bit. You probably shouldn’t find out if you can hit the shot or not at the Masters, but you’ve got to try them out somewhere. Today I pulled off a lot of those shots, so that’s fun.”
Hovland grew up in Norway and lives in Stillwater, Okla., where he went to college at Oklahoma State. He might be as prepared as anyone if the weather turns nasty. “The few weeks that I’ve had at home the last two months, it’s been really cold, and I’ve played with three, four layers in 30-degree weather and blowing 30,” Hovland said. “I’ve definitely had enough practice in those types of conditions. But I haven’t played Augusta National in that type of weather, so that will be interesting to see how that goes.”
With inclement weather predicted to move in Friday – perhaps for a protracted period continuing through the weekend – starting times for the second round have been moved up 30 minutes. The first group is scheduled to tee off at 7:30 a.m.
On Thursday, it wasn’t only Hovland’s score that stood out. His shirt was a wildly patterned vernal mix of hot pink, green and white, a selection Hovland attributed to his clothing supplier. “I had nothing to do with it,” he said, laughing. “I just wear what they tell me to wear. It’s definitely a little bit out there, but I think I’d rather take it than the pink pants I had last year. So, we’re making progress.”
If his scores continue to be deep in the red numbers, that will be the color that matters most.
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