AUGUSTA, Ga. – It’s not often that a major-championship field can be made to look inept, but that is what Charley Hoffman did Thursday at the Masters. He shot an opening-round 65 at Augusta National Golf Club to take a four-shot lead.
Hoffman rattled off five birdies on the back nine, including four consecutive at Nos. 14-17, before his birdie attempt at the par-4 18th turned away at the hole for a 31 on the inward nine.
William McGirt, who shot 69, was the only other competitor to break 70 on a cold and windy day when only 11 players bettered par 72.
“I'm going to feed off that the rest of the week,” Hoffman said of his 7-under round that included nine birdies. “Today, you just sort of go with it. There wasn't, I wouldn't say, a ton of pressure today. You're just trying to make ends meet, really. Just want to start hitting the fairways so you can hit the green and have the ability to make the putt.”
In the 2015 Masters, Hoffman opened with a 67, three shots off the lead of eventual winner Jordan Spieth. It was a new position for Hoffman, who faded on the weekend with 71-74 to tie for ninth. It is the only top-10 finish in 22 major championships for Hoffman, 40, a four-time winner on Tour.
“I think any time you step on this property, it's hard,” Hoffman said two years ago while holding the early clubhouse lead. “It's a major championship, and it's the coveted green jacket you want to get. I'm trying to approach it like if I get in position, I'm going to be aggressive. If I get out of position, I'm going to try to get back in position just like any other golf tournament.”
On Thursday, with the wind howling consistently blowing more than 20 mph and gusting near 40, Hoffman conceded that he could shoot himself out of the tournament quickly. He said that he simply was trying to make pars and progress through the next three rounds.
In the process of making pars, Hoffman found himself in position much of the day to make birdies. What started as a defensive struggle against Augusta National turned into an offensive onslaught.
“For lack of any better words, it was a dream,” Hoffman said of his first round that included hitting 14 of 18 greens in regulation and needing only 25 putts. “I mean, you hit the shots that you're sort of looking at, and then the hardest part is to convert the putts, and I was able to do that and I got some good numbers coming down the stretch and I was able to do that.”
In addition to McGirt, the only other players to break par were Lee Westwood, who stands solo third at 70, and Kevin Chappell, Jason Dufner Matthew Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Russell Henley, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Andy Sullivan at 71.
Dustin Johnson, No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking and winner of his past three starts, didn’t get a chance to extend his streak. After falling down stairs at his rental house and injuring his back Wednesday, Johnson withdrew minutes before his scheduled 2:03 p.m. start. Other favorites Rory McIlroy (72), Rickie Fowler (73), defending champion Danny Willett (73) and Spieth (75) struggled.
With his stunning first round, Hoffman improved to 13-2 odds to win, according to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. He started Thursday at 150-1.
“I enjoy the challenge, I think, more than actually the wind,” Hoffman said. “Just this golf course just sort of challenges me and keeps me on my toes. I enjoy that.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli