Hoffman leads Masters by 4 after DJ withdraws

Charley Hoffman gave the 81st Masters exactly what it needed on a day that started with the downer of top-ranked Dustin Johnson withdrawing because of back injury.

Hoffman, from Poway and UNLV, collected nine birdies and posted a stunning 7-under-par 65 in chilly winds of more that 30 mph to take a four-stroke lead over William McGirt after one round in the first major of the season at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga.

“It didn’t start off so well because I had three-putts at Nos. 3 and 5 (for bogeys),” said Hoffman, who made seven birdies in 10 holes through No. 17, the last four in succession. “After that, I can’t remember missing a putt. I had good number and good reads all day, and made a lot of birdies.

“Just walking on this property is special. It just seems to fit my eye. To see the ball go in the hole was something special. I got some good momentum going. … It was fun.”

No so much for Johnson.

DJ, the reigning U.S. Open champion warmed up and actually got to the first tee for his starting time with PGA champion Jimmy Walker and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, before deciding he couldn’t play after injuring his back falling down stairs the day before at the house he had rented.

“I had (the back) worked on all morning,” said Johnson, who has won his last three tournaments. “Obviously, I can make some swings. But I can’t make my normal swing. … It didn’t hurt on the backswing, it was through impact. I just felt like I couldn’t compete. My heart was in it. I want to play. The more I thought about it the more I thought I wasn’t going to have any chance. …

” … It’s unbelievably difficult. This is one of my favorite tournaments and I feel like I’m playing the best golf of my career right now. It sucks, really bad. I wanted to play but I couldn’t compete like this. … The worst part about it is that I feel like in two days I’m going to be fine, but right this second I can’t swing.”

McGirt carded a single bogey while posting a 69 that he called “one of the best rounds of my career,” while Lee Westwood of England birdied five consecutive holes through No. 17 to shoot 70.

Russell Henley, who captured the Shell Houston Open last week to punch his ticket to the Masters, posted a 71 and was tied for fourth with three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, Matthew Fitzpatrick of England, Kevin Chappell of Fresno and UCLA, Justin Rose of England, Jason Dufner, Andy Sullivan of England and Sergio Garcia of Spain.

Second-ranked Rory McIlroy, who can complete the Career Grand Slam by winning the Masters this week, recorded a 72 and was in a tie for 12th that included Ernie Els of South Africa, playing in the Masters for the 23rd and perhaps last time.

Defending champion Danny Willett of England finished at 73 and was in a tie for 19th that included Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, rookie Jon Rahm of Spain, 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples and Marc Leishman of Australia.

Third-ranked Jason Day of Australia opened with a 74 and was in a tie for 26th that included 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize, Pat Perez of San Diego, Brendan Steele of Idyllwild and UC Riverside, two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa.

Sixth-ranked Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters champion who is trying to overcome blowing a five-stroke lead in the back nine in the final round last year en route to a tie for second, took a quadruple-bogey 9 on the 15th hole in a 75 that left him in a tie for 41st that included 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia and two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer of Germany.

 

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