43-year-old Englishman shoots 7-under 65 for a 2-shot lead in a quest for his 1st major championship; Tiger Woods opens with 68, and Bryson DeChambeau rallies to finish 2 under in early wave
Only a handful of threesomes started in the morning before thunderstorms swept through east-central Georgia and suspended play. After a 2-hour, 45-minute delay, play resumed and red numbers quickly crowded onto the leaderboard amid the softer conditions. The Masters, postponed seven months because of the global coronavirus pandemic, is starting the 92-man field from the Nos. 1 and 10 tees because of the diminished daylight hours.
Casey, starting on the back nine, birdied Nos. 10, 13, 15 and 16 as he made the turn in 4-under 32. He eagled the par-5 second hole and then added another birdie at the par-3 sixth.
"I have not played particularly great golf since this pandemic hit," Casey said. "For me, this is just a joy to be on this golf course. I put a lot of hard work in a short amount of time to try to play this golf course well, and it paid off today."
Casey noted the absence of spectators, who have been banned because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but said that Augusta National still has an "aura," with or without golf fans lining the ropes.
"There's this vibe that Augusta National has, which just adds excitement to playing this golf course," Casey said. "It's still exciting to be out here."
Casey, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, has won 14 times on the European Tour. All told, he has won professional tournaments on five continents since having turned pro in 2000 after he played college golf at Arizona. In September, he tied for second in the PGA Championship. It was his 10th top-10 result in major championships. Casey, a four-time Ryder Cup player for Europe, stands 22nd in the world ranking.
Americans Webb Simpson and Xander Schauffele shared second place among the early wave of players, at 5-under 67.
Defending champion Tiger Woods, in search of his sixth green jacket and record 83rd PGA Tour title, opened with 68 for a share of fourth among the early wave. It was his first bogey-free score in a major championship in his past 106 rounds.
Lee Westwood, who at 47 is another veteran Englishman looking for his first major title despite dozens of victories worldwide, also shot 68. He and Woods were tied with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and American Patrick Reed.
American bomber Bryson DeChambeau, the subject of so much speculation regarding how he might crush the 7,475-yard course with his 350-yard-plus drives, shot 70. Starting on the back nine, he got derailed early with a double bogey at the par-5 13th. He birdied his last two holes, Nos. 8 and 9, to recover from a shaky start.
“I’m fortunate enough to be 2 under par,” said DeChambeau, the reigning U.S. Open champion, calling his play “risky.”
The first round was expected to resume early Friday, delaying the second-round tee times.
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