AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Dustin Johnson and his balky back may have withdrawn from this 81st Masters, but Mother Nature most certainly did not. The rain that saturated Augusta National for much of the last three days mercifully ceased hours before the first round commenced but the wind continued to howl, leaving a trail of swaying loblollies, shivering patrons and battered scorecards in its wake.
Charley Hoffman, meanwhile, appeared to play in a vacuum.
The four-time PGA Tour winner competing in his fourth Masters put together what might have been the best round of the year and arguably one of the greatest first rounds in Masters history: a nine-birdie, seven-under 65 -- including five birdies in his last seven holes -- on a day when the scoring average was a staggering 10 strokes north of that.
We’ll leave it to Jim Nantz and Jimmy Roberts to debate where Hoffman’s opening round ranks among other great first rounds at the Masters -- Greg Norman’s opening 63 in 1996 was also 10 strokes better than the field average -- but it was undoubtedly epic stuff, made more impressive still by the fact that he had two three-putts and a water ball on 13.
Said Hoffman, “For lack of any better words, it was a dream.”
Hoffman, 40, beat the moisture-wicking pants off the pre-tournament favorites, including Rory McIlroy (72), Jason Day (74) and Jordan Spieth (75). He didn’t need to worry about fending off the world’s hottest player (yes, Johnson), who withdrew Thursday afternoon after straining his back in a bizarre episode at his rental house a day earlier. Johnson said he was racing outside to move his car when he slipped down a flight of three steps. He landed awkwardly on his elbow and lower back, injuring both.
Johnson’s status for the first round was still in doubt when he arrived at the course Thursday. As he warmed up on the range and spoke to tournament officials, DJ Watch was in full effect. Golf Channel gave him the full O.J.-Bronco treatment, following his every step from cameras high above. After some apparent hemming and hawing with his caddie-brother (Austin) and coach (Butch Harmon), Johnson made it to the first tee for his 2:03 p.m. starting time, which seemed to indicate that he would give it a go. But moments later he reversed course, deciding he wasn’t game-ready. “It sucks really bad,” he said later in inimitable DJ fashion.