AUGUSTA (Georgia) • Fred Couples, playing in his 32nd Masters this year, said he had never seen wind so fierce at the Augusta National Golf Club.
"Brutal," the 57-year-old said of the conditions during Thursday's first round. "So difficult, so hard."
Gusts up to 65kmh blew waves of sand from the greenside bunkers, forming little twisters of grit that forced fans sitting nearby to protect their faces with scarves and jackets. Approach shots landed on greens only to be blown backward into ponds and creeks.
Trees not normally in play became new hazards because wind bent branches just enough to put them in play and make them threats to well-struck shots.
"A day to fight," Phil Mickelson said. "Guessing what the wind would do to your ball was the game within the game all day."
1ST ROUND (selected; USA unless stated)
65 Charley Hoffman
69 William McGirt
70 Lee Westwood (Eng)
71 Russell Henley, Kevin Chappell, Andy Sullivan (Eng), Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose (Eng), Jason Dufner, Sergio Garcia (Esp)
72 Ernie Els (Rsa), Matt Kuchar, Rory McIlroy (Nir)
73 Fred Couples, Rickie Fowler, Danny Willett (Eng), Jon Rahm (Esp)
74 Jason Day (Aus), Yuta Ikeda (Jpn), Bubba Watson
75 Adam Scott (Aus), Jordan Spieth, Kim Si Woo (Kor)
76 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn),
77 Henrik Stenson (Swe)
It was also a day that started with the world's hottest golfer, Dustin Johnson, withdrawing from the tournament minutes before he was to step onto the first tee because of a back injury from falling on Wednesday. The last player to win the Masters while ranked No. 1 was Tiger Woods in 2005. That streak is safe for at least another year.
At roughly the same time that Johnson was exiting, Jordan Spieth, who blew his chance at winning last year's Masters with a stunning quadruple-bogey seven on the 12th hole, made an equally startling quadruple bogey on No. 15.
It will probably not be remembered as vividly as last year's catastrophe, but it was just as spectacular - an unfathomable nine.
But the first round was still a day of golf, which is to say it was mystifying and indecipherable.
As most of the field stumbled around with wind-burnt faces and expressions of bewilderment, one player waltzed across the history-drenched layout without distress or strain.
Charley Hoffman shot a seven-under 65 to take the first-round lead by four strokes.
Given the conditions, it may have been one of the best opening rounds ever at the Masters.
The American's lead is the largest at the Masters after 18 holes since 1955, when Jack Burke led by the same margin over Julius Boros. He had nine birdies - including twos on the course's four par-threes - and two bogeys.
"On a day like today, like everyone else I was just trying to make par and not shoot myself out of the tournament," Hoffman, 40, said. "But I started getting some shots close to the hole, and then I couldn't remember missing a putt."
His closest pursuer was compatriot William McGirt, who shot 69.
England's Lee Westwood, 43, still looking for a Major title on his 76th attempt, was a stroke behind McGirt. Four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy sank three birdies to salvage a 72 and a share of 12th place, while the other key contender, Jason Day, returned a 74 with to share 26th place.
"It was a day when experience mattered," said Mickelson, who shot a 71. "The wind was going to magnify your misses, and the guys who miss in the wrong spots will make big numbers. I love these conditions. Certainly challenging, but that's okay."
With the opening round completed, the Masters field seemed eager to flee the vicinity. When McGirt's round was complete, he was asked where on the golf course the gusts had been at their worst. He answered: "From holes 1 to 18."
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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