Masters 2017: Charley Hoffman leads, Lee Westwood & Rory McIlroy in contention

Masters 2017: Charley Hoffman

Masters first-round leaderboard
-7 Hoffman (US); -3 McGirt (US); -2 Westwood (Eng) -1 Henley (US), Chappell (US), Sullivan (Eng), Fitzpatrick (Eng), Mickelson (US), Rose (Eng), Dufner (US) Garcia (Spa)
Selected others: Level Casey (Eng), Els (SA), Lowry (Ire), McIlroy (NI); +1 Fowler (US), Couples (US), Willett (Eng); +2 Day (Aus), B Watson (US); +3 Spieth (US), Langer (Ger); +4 Knox (Sco), Matsuyama (Jpn), Woosnam (Wal), Fisher (Eng), Stenson (Swe); +5 Lyle (Sco)

Unheralded American Charley Hoffman defied tricky blustery conditions to take a four-shot lead after day one of the 2017 Masters at Augusta National.

Hoffman, 40, sunk nine birdies in a seven-under-par 65 to lead ahead of compatriot William McGirt.

Lee Westwood is third on two under, one ahead of fellow Englishmen Justin Rose, Andy Sullivan and Matt Fitzpatrick.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy rallied with three late birdies in a 72, while 2015 champion Jordan Spieth carded 75.

England’s reigning champion Danny Willett started his defence with a double bogey and a bogey before fighting back to finish one-over par.

World number one Dustin Johnson pulled out on the first tee after injuring his back when slipping on the stairs at his rental house on Wednesday.

Little-known Americans lead the way

Scoring was expected to be tough at Augusta with high winds forecast to become even stronger as the opening day progressed.

And that proved to be the case as it became a distinct possibility that no player would shoot under 70 in the opening round for the first time in 60 years.

But the tricky conditions proved little obstacle for McGirt and, particularly, Hoffman, who were the only players to score in the 60s.

Hoffman has only previously claimed one top-25 finish at a major, tying for ninth at the 2015 Masters, but put together a remarkable round.

The world number 52 closed the front nine with two birdies to move two under, then blitzed the back nine with a five-under 31 which included four straight birdies.

The Californian almost made it five on the last, only to see a 16-foot putt fall agonisingly short.

Nevertheless, his four-shot lead is the biggest first-round advantage at Augusta since 1941.

“The putts started going in the hole – as simple as that sounds,” he said.

“I kept hitting my spots and in the wind I ended up getting 20 footers and I got some of them down the stretch.”

William McGirt

McGirt, making his Masters debut, became the first player to break 70 with four birdies and a bogey in a three-under 69.

The 37-year-old from South Carolina does not have much previous pedigree in the majors, having missed the cut at the US Open and The Open in 2016 before earning a 10th place finish at last year’s PGA Championship.

“It was pretty darn special. Any time to break 70 here is awesome,” said McGirt, who is ranked a place below Hoffman at 53rd in the world.

“The few times I came down here to play in practice the wind direction was the same so this was not new to me today.

“I’m lucky enough to know a few members here and I’ve spoken to a few caddies and they’ve been happy to share their knowledge with me.”

Westwood leads the British charge

Defending champion Willett is one of a record 11 English players in the 93-strong field at Augusta, but made a nightmare start to his defence with a double bogey and a bogey in the opening two holes.

Birdies on three and 10, with six successive pars sandwiched in-between, steadied the Yorkshireman’s scorecard and a superb eagle on the par-five 13th moved him level par for the first time.

However, a bogey on the 18th pushed him back over par.

“Battling back from three over even if it was flat and calm round this place would have been great,” said the world number 17, who has not won a tournament since claiming the Green Jacket.

“We gathered ourselves after probably the worst start we could have wished for. A score of 73 seemed like a good score.”

On returning to the scene of his greatest triumph for the first time, he added: “The memories came flooding back. To be anywhere defending a title is incredible but to be here at Augusta National is amazing – at least once in your life, but it would be nice to do it a couple of times.”

Willett became the first Englishman to win the Masters in 20 years when he overhauled Spieth 12 months ago, and a number of his compatriots are in close contention as they aim to repeat his feat.

Fitzpatrick, the 22-year-old from Sheffield, led for a short period at three under before a double bogey on the 18th dropped him back into the pack also containing Sullivan and Rose.

Westwood, 43, surged into third place with five straight birdies on the back nine as he continued his search for a first major title.

McIlroy lurking after late rally

World number two McIlroy, 27, is aiming to become only the sixth man to win all four majors – at his third time of trying at Augusta.

McIlroy is seeking a first Masters title following victories at the US Open, the Open Championship and the US PGA Championship.

And, after three consecutive top-10 finishes in Georgia, he has made no secret that finally winning the Green Jacket is his main priority.

The Northern Irishman made a scruffy start to his opening round, however, dropping three shots without making a birdie on the front nine.

Gutsy par putts on 10, 11 and 12 prevented him dropping further adrift, setting the platform to haul himself back to level par with three birdies in the final six holes.

“After nine holes if someone had said I would shoot even par I would have ripped their hand off,” he said.

Rory McIlroy

Spieth hit by quadruple bogey nine

Two-time major winner Jordan Spieth is hoping to banish memories of last year’s spectacular final-day collapse by winning his second Masters.

The American, 23, led by five shots as he approached the 10th in 2016, only to dramatically drop six shots in three holes – including a quadruple bogey seven at the 12th – and allow England’s Willett to take advantage.

He was putting together an encouraging first round on Thursday until another quadruple bogey wrecked his card, although at three over par he is still in contention.

Spieth was among the leaders heading into Amen Corner, coming through the tough trio of 11, 12 and 13 unscathed.

He found the green on the iconic par-three 12th to huge cheers, then birdied the par-five 13th to move into a 13-man share of the lead at one under.

“I was relieved to see it down and on the green,” he said of his tee shot on 12. “And I guess everybody else felt maybe more than I did on it.”

But his opening-day challenge faded quickly as a bogey on the 14th was followed by a nine on the par-five 15th.

Spieth’s approach fizzed back off the green into the water and after taking a penalty drop, he knocked his fifth shot over the back, then hit a poor chip before needing three putts from 30 feet.

“It was nice to make a three at 12 and then four at the next,” he added. “I really thought we had it going there and just made a club choice mistake on 15 but we’re still in the tournament.”

Pieters fades after early promise

Belgium’s Thomas Pieters – considered one of the rising stars on the European Tour – was one of the few players who managed to tame Augusta early on Thursday.

He moved into an early four-shot lead on his Masters debut, rattling in five birdies in his opening 10 holes.

Then, the 22-year-old came unstuck at Amen Corner.

He signed for his first bogey at Augusta by three-putting on the 11th, but worse was soon to follow at the 12th.

Pieters dunked his tee-shot into Rae’s Creek – the water hazard guarding the narrow green – before knocking on and needing two putts for a double bogey.

And another double bogey at the last dropped him back to level par alongside McIlroy, Ireland’s Shane Lowry, England’s Paul Casey and four-time major winner Ernie Els.

Analysis

Iain Carter, BBC golf correspondent at Augusta:

“This was a day not to play yourself out of the Masters.

“Today, you couldn’t win the tournament but you could lose it.

“All of the players that have battled to around par have kept themselves in it.”

Masters 2017 on the BBC
Venue: Augusta National Dates: 6-9 April
Coverage: Watch highlights of the first two days before live and uninterrupted coverage of the weekend’s action on BBC Two and up to four live streams available online.
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Masters 2017: Dustin Johnson pulls out in Augusta due to back injury

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World number one Dustin Johnson is out of the Masters at Augusta National after sustaining a back injury in a fall at his rental home on Wednesday.

The American, 32, looked set to take part after warming up on the range but he then withdrew on the first tee.

The US Open champion fell on the stairs and hurt his lower back on Wednesday.

His caddie was placing the ball on the tee for Johnson on the range, while coach Butch Harmon said pain hindered Johnson’s rest overnight.

More to follow.

Analysis

BBC Radio 5 live correspondent Iain Carter

Johnson took until the very last second to make what must have been an agonising decision to pull out. He was standing on the first tee before making the toughest call of his career. It is a severe blow for the player who has dominated golf this season.

He arrived here off the back of three big victories and was a justifiable favourite. All that has been lost through his freak fall at his rental home and the damage done to his back.

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Dustin Johnson injured in fall at home on eve of Masters

Dustin Johnson

Masters 2017 on the BBC
Venue: Augusta National Dates: 6-9 April
Coverage: Watch highlights of the first two days before live and uninterrupted coverage of the weekend’s action on BBC Two and up to four live streams available online.
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Pre-tournament favourite Dustin Johnson has suffered a lower-back injury following a fall at his rental home ahead of Thursday’s opening round of the Masters in Augusta.

His agent David Winkle says he still hopes to play tomorrow.

World number one Johnson fell on the stairs on Wednesday and “landed hard on his lower back”.

He is said to be uncomfortable but is resting and doctors have advised him to remain stable.

Johnson is due to tee off in the last group at 19:03 BST on Thursday evening.

“Dustin took a serious fall on a staircase in his Augusta rental home,” Winkle said in a statement.

“He landed very hard on his lower back and is now resting, although quite uncomfortably.

“He has been advised to remain immobile and begin a regimen of anti-inflammatory medication and icing, with the hope of being able to play tomorrow.”

The American, 32, won his third successive tournament when he beat Spain’s Jon Rahm in the World Match Play final in late March.

He has won seven of the 17 tournaments he has played since claiming his first major at the US Open at Oakmont in June, racking up another seven top-10 finishes in the process.

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Masters Par 3 event abandoned for first time in history due to bad weather

Niall Horan (left) with Rory McIlroy

Masters 2017 on the BBC
Venue: Augusta NationalDates:6-9 April
Coverage: Watch highlights of the first two days before live and uninterrupted coverage of the weekend’s action on BBC Two and up to four live streams available online.
Listen on BBC Radio 5 live and BBC Radio 5 live sports extra. Read live text commentary, analysis and social media on the BBC Sport website and the sport app.
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The traditional Par 3 curtain-raiser to the Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia, has been cancelled because of severe weather warnings.

A tornado threat in the area forced officials to close the course for the rest of the day on Wednesday.

The event, held each year on the eve of the opening round, often sees family members or celebrities serving as caddies to the professionals.

Bad weather has affected practice sessions at the course all week.

It is the first time in the history of the Masters that the Par 3 event has been cancelled.

“Augusta is now in a ‘Particularly Dangerous Situation’ tornado watch, which means there is a high probability of tornadoes in the area,” said BBC meteorologist Simon King.

Earlier on Wednesday officials closed the course for two and a half hours because of thunderstorms and weather warnings, and when players returned to the course for the Par 3 tournament, just 55 minutes of play was possible before being abandoned.

The weather is expected to affect the opening round of the 81st Masters on Thursday, with 40mph winds forecast during play.

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Masters 2017: Rory McIlroy confident after 99 practice holes at Augusta National

Rory McIlroy

Masters 2017 on the BBC
Venue: Augusta National Dates: 6 April to 9 April
Coverage: Watch highlights of the first two days before live and uninterrupted coverage of the weekend’s action on BBC Two and up to four live streams available online.
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Rory McIlroy has sought to make Augusta National like his “home golf course” during frequent practice sessions as he seeks his first Masters title.

The 27-year-old Northern Irishman has played 99 practice holes so far, with nine more to come on Wednesday.

“It’s been a quiet build-up compared to previous years and I haven’t minded that – it’s been quite nice,” he said.

“I feel good, like my game is there. I feel ready to go,” the world number two told BBC Radio 5 live.

“I feel like I’ve done everything I can do to prepare. It’s just a case of going out there and hitting the shots I need to.”

Victory this week would see McIlroy complete a grand slam of majors, adding to his US PGA Championship titles from 2012 and 2014, his 2014 Open Championship win and the US Open success he recorded in 2011.

Last year he chose to sit out the traditional Par 3 contest – played on the eve of the Masters – to focus on winning the main event, but finished tied for 10th, his third top-10 finish in a row.

He will play in this year’s Par 3 competition, adding to the number of holes he has amassed on the course in the run-up to the season’s first major.

“The more you can make Augusta National feel like your home golf course, the better,” added McIlroy.

“I’ve played here a good bit in recent weeks. I’ve shot good scores and I feel like I know what I am doing here. It’s all there. I know it’s all there, it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.

“That’s the difficult thing – it’s almost like getting out of your own way and letting your subconscious take over.”

McIlroy, who picked up a £7.7m bonus in September by winning last year’s PGA Tour points race, begins his first round at 18:41 BST on Thursday alongside Japan’s Hideto Tanihara and Spain’s Jon Rahm.

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PGA Tour players loose in ball marking – Mickelson

American Phil Mickelson

Masters 2017 on the BBC
Venue: Augusta National Dates: 6 April to 9 April
Coverage: Watch highlights of the first two days before live and uninterrupted coverage of the weekend’s action on BBC Two and up to four live streams available online.
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Some leading players on the PGA Tour are “intentionally loose” in marking their ball, says Phil Mickelson.

American Lexi Thompson ended up losing the first women’s major of the season after incorrectly replacing a marked ball and earning a four-stroke penalty.

Thompson said she did not mean to move the ball, but Mickelson says it does happen deliberately on the men’s tour.

“They will move the ball two, three inches in front of their mark,” said three-time Masters champion Mickelson.

“This is an intentional way to get it out of any type of impression and so forth – and I think that kind of stuff needs to stop.”

Incorrectly replacing a marked ball incurs a two-stroke penalty under R&A rules.

Thompson, 22, incorrectly replaced a marked ball in the third round of the ANA Inspiration last weekend with a TV viewer spotting the offence and telling officials by email.

She was given a further two-stroke penalty for returning an incorrect scorecard.

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Thompson was left in tears when told of the penalty while leading Sunday’s final round by three shots – and then lost a play-off to South Korea’s Ryu So-yeon.

Mickelson, 46, says no golf tournament should be decided in such a manner, believing the decision should be reversed and Thompson declared the winner.

“I think that she should be given the trophy,” he said.

“I feel like we’ve all kind of been a little lax at times in the markings of our golf ball and I hate to see it cost somebody a major championship because of that.”

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Masters 2017: Danny Willett hopes Augusta return can spark return to form

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Defending Masters champion Danny Willett says returning to the scene of his greatest triumph may not spark an instant upturn in form.

The Englishman, 29, won his first major after a shock win at Augusta, aided by American Jordan Spieth’s collapse.

Willett rose to a career-high ninth in the world, but has dropped to 17th after failing to win an event since.

“You do have a spring in your step coming back as champion,” he said. “But you can’t change your game like that.”

Willett became the first Briton to win the Green Jacket in 20 years when he shot a five-under-par 67 as 2015 champion Spieth crumbled during a thrilling final round.

However, he has struggled to regularly match his form at Augusta since.

The Yorkshireman finished third in the PGA Championship and second in the Italian Open following his Masters triumph, but suffered a dip in form ahead of his Ryder Cup debut in October.

He failed to win a single point as Europe lost 17-11 at Hazeltine, while also being distracted by questions over his brother Peter’s controversial comments about American fans.

Willett has only claimed one top-10 finish so far in 2017, blowing a three-shot 54-hole lead to finish fifth at the Maybank Championship in February.

“The pressure has been more from myself. It’s not a nice feeling to not hit good golf shots when you know what you can do,” he said.

“I think the last 12 months has made me a little more impatient.

“I think achieving what I achieved last year and performing under the pressure that I did on Sunday, if you don’t do that every time you get a bit annoyed.

“That’s where the game jumps up and bites you. It’s not that easy.”

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Willett begins title defence alongside Kuchar at Masters

Matt Kuchar, Danny Willett and Curtis Luck

The Masters, Augusta, 6-9 April
Coverage: Watch highlights of the first two days before live and uninterrupted coverage of the weekend’s action on BBC Two and up to four live streams available online. Listen on BBC Radio 5 live and BBC Radio 5 live sports extra. Read live text commentary, analysis and social media on the BBC Sport website and the sport app. Full details here.

England’s Danny Willett will begin the defence of his Masters title playing alongside American Matt Kuchar and Australian amateur Curtis Luck.

The 29-year-old, who won his first major at Augusta National last year, will tee off at 17:24 BST.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, 27, will play alongside highly-rated Spaniard Jon Rahm at 18:41.

World number one Dustin Johnson is in the final trio with two-time winner Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker at 19:03.

American Jordan Spieth, winner in 2015 and runner-up in 2014 and 2016, starts his fourth Masters campaign at 15:34. The 23-year-old is playing with Germany’s Martin Kaymer and England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick.

Three-time winner Phil Mickelson, 46, is in the following trio at 15:45.

American record six-time winner Jack Nicklaus, 77, and South Africa’s Gary Player, 81, who has three Green Jackets, will be the honorary starters. The pair have hit the opening tee shots of the tournament for several years in the company of four-time winner Arnold Palmer, who died in September 2016 at the age of 87.

Georgia native Russell Henley, who only qualified by winning the Houston Open on Sunday, is in the first pairing, out at 13:00.

England’s Justin Rose, who has had four top-10 finishes in the past 10 years, will play with Australia’s world number three Jason Day and American Brandt Snedeker. They tee off at 15:56 and are last out in Friday’s round two at 19:03.

Spain’s Sergio Garcia and England’s Lee Westwood are in the same trio as Ireland’s Shane Lowry.

A record 11 Englishmen are in the field of 94 players, which also includes two Scots – Russell Knox and 1988 champion Sandy Lyle – while 1991 winner Ian Woosnam is the only Welshman.

For full Masters tee times, click here.