AUGUSTA, Ga. – Heading into the 83rd Masters, much of the pre-tournament talk concerned the changes made to the fifth hole, primarily the lengthening of the par 4 from 445 to 495 yards.
Masters officials should consider another expansion – to the famous white leaderboards that loom over Augusta National Golf Club.
In Thursday’s first round, the workers operating the manual leaderboards didn’t have enough space to display all the front-runners, especially with so many charging to the 72nd hole late in the day.
And that stampede contained a lot of firepower, including Bryson DeChambeau, who electrified the patrons en route to a 6-under-par 66. DeChambeau was his own highlight reel as he birdied 15, came within an inch of acing 16 and made birdie, then chipped in on 17 for birdie. He nearly holed out from the fairway for eagle on 18 but tapped in for birdie.
“I was just looking to shoot something in the 60s this week because I haven’t done that yet in my couple times playing here,” DeChambeau said. “What a magical back nine. I was being patient on the front nine, hitting a lot of quality shots, but I just wasn’t being rewarded. The key for me was 12. I hit it in there to 5 feet and made that. And from 15, I sailed through.”
He was joined at 66 by Brooks Koepka, who has won the past two editions of the U.S. Open and the 2018 PGA Championship. He birdied four consecutive holes beginning at the 12th and was the only player in the field to not make a bogey.
“I knew I was going to be ready for this week,” Koepka said. “That was probably the best ball-striking round I’ve had in a major championship.”
At 5 under was three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who birdied five of his last eight holes. At 48, Mickelson would become the oldest winner of a major championship if he were to win his fourth green jacket Sunday.
“I thought there were some 66s out there,” Mickelson said. “Look, the greens are softer than they’ve ever been, and they’re not as fast as they normally are. So today was a day to take advantage of it. I’m sure they’ll get firmer and faster as the week goes on. But you could get after the pins and you could putt aggressively.”
At 4 under were Dustin Johnson and Ian Poulter.
“There was just some really good play out there late in the day,” Johnson said. “A lot of great golf shots.”
At 3 under were five players: 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott, Jon Rahm, Kevin Kisner, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Justin Harding, who is playing in the tournament for the first time.
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 11, 2019
In a large group at 2 under was the biggest name of all – Tiger Woods.
“I’ll take it and run if I can,” Harding said. “We’re not allowed to run here at Augusta, but I’m pleased.”
So were a lot of other players. The tournament was expected to be a wide-open affair, with as many as 30 players having legitimate chances to win. The first round broke to those expectations.
Scott, who won his only major championship here among the Georgia pines in 2013, birdied the 17th and 18th holes to gain a share of the lead.
He became the first player to finish with birdies on the final two holes since Rory McIlroy and Louis Oosthuizen did so in 2012. The 69 was his best round here in five years.
“It’s a great start on a kind of tricky day,” Scott said. “Even though it wasn’t windy, I just felt it was very hard to get it near any of the pins through the first seven holes, whether I was just slightly out of position or the pins were just tough.
“I’ve talked a lot about kind of being at peace with the golf course and understanding it can give you a lot. It can take it away as well, but certainly I feel like there’s a lot of good karma if you treat it right out there.”
Playing in his 22nd Masters, Woods failed to break 70 for the 21st time, the lone exception coming in 2010 when he opened with a 68. But Woods was pleased with his round and the number 70.
“I felt like I played well, and I did all the things I needed to do today to post a good number,” the four-time Masters champion said. “I drove it well, hit some good iron shots, speed was good on the greens.
“I controlled my golf ball all day. I’ve shot this number and won (three) coats, so hopefully I can do it again.”