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Stunning Masters start by Charley Hoffman

Hoffman - every reason to smile (Photo: Getty Images)
On one of the most demanding of opening days in the history of the Masters, American Charley Hoffman has defied logic with an opening round of 65 to lead by four over tournament debutante, William McGirt, with England’s Lee Westwood another shot back in outright third.

Winds gusting up to 30 miles per hour buffeted Augusta National from the start of play and that eleven players managed to break par in such difficult conditions was a testament to their quality of play and to a golf course which was set up as fair as could be in order that players would not be too embarrassed.

Not only was it that so many finished under par, but that only three players failed to break 80 (and two of those were amateurs playing on debut) was a reflection on some high quality play given the circumstances.

Hoffman began well at the Masters two years ago, in fact he was alone in second position heading into the weekend before finishing 9th. He has been inside the top thirty in his other two appearances in the event also so while his good start might not necessarily have been a surprise, that he would take such a significant lead so early and producing nine birdies on the most demanding of days is.

“The round was a little bit lucky," said the leader. "I put myself in spots to be able to make putts which doesn’t mean you are going to make them but I was able to make some longer putts which I was just trying to die up near the hole and they were able to go in.

“I wouldn’t say there was a ton of pressure today – you are just trying to hit the fairway so you can hit the greens but now I am sleeping on the lead at Augusta National it is not going to be the easiest thing but I look forward to that and the challenge over the next three days.

“I was just trying to shoot around even par. It was one of those rounds where you could shoot your way out of the golf tournament pretty quick and I was just trying to make pars.”  

“When I step on the property I feel good,” Hoffman added when asked why he plays Augusta National so well. “I am a very visual person and visually it fits my eye and on the greens I don’t know why it is but I like to see putts break. It feels good when I am on the tees and on the greens and perhaps it makes me focus a little more around here.”    

McGirt is a player good enough to have won the Memorial last year along with two runner-up finishes at the Canadian Open so despite his relatively low profile he has played well at near the elite level.

“It was a very solid day today,” said McGirt. “Luckily this is the first time all year we have played in wind like this where I have had a bunch of good numbers and when I missed shots I seemed to miss them in the right spots.

"This is a lifelong dream (to play at the Masters) and when you are going through that (the struggle to even get there) you don’t know if it is ever going to happen. I am just going to soak it all in, enjoy it and relish every moment here at Augusta National.”

Westwood has been such a good performer at the Masters over such a long period and some may need reminding that he did finish runner-up twelve months ago and has been playing very solidly of late. Still yet to win his first major championship, he has given every indication today that this provides a good opportunity even at the age of 43.

Westwood birdied five consecutive holes from the 13th to emerge from obscurity to his position near the top of the leaderboard.

It is perhaps no coincidence that ten of the 18 players at par or better were Europeans, perhaps the cool, gusty conditions handled better by those with that sort of background than others or maybe that is reading too much into it at this early stage.

Of the perhaps more fancied candidates who have done well, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose are amongst the group at 1 under par and sharing 4th position while Rory McIlroy fought back from a slow start to be at even par after an outward nine of 3 over was balanced by his homeward run of 3 under.

Any player recording rounds of 3 over or better perhaps even higher can consider himself still very much in the event given that the current cut, taking into account the similar conditions expected on day two, is likely to be around 5 or 6 over.

The Australians are headed by Marc Leishman who at 1 over is in a share of 19th position with Jason Day and Rod Pampling one further back in 26th place, Adam Scott in 41st place at 3 over and Curtis Luck 75th at 6 over.






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