AUGUSTA, Ga. — We knew the winds were coming to Augusta. But what we didn’t know, what we couldn’t have predicted, was that Charley Hoffman, of all people, would be the one player who managed to weather the gale-force gusts.
Look, no disrespect to Charley Hoffman, who’s a hell of a golfer and a perfectly nice gentleman. But he’s neither the best-known Charley nor the best-known Hoffman, and he’s certainly not the guy you’d pick out of this collection of ballers to be the one to slice through 40-mph gusts of wind. But on Thursday at the Masters, Hoffman did exactly that, riding a second-nine 31 to a seven-under scorecard and a four-stroke lead over the field.
Hoffman hasn’t had a tremendous level of success at Augusta, but still cited its undeniable beauty and curves as a rationale for his exceptional performance. “I’m a very visual person, and [the course] fits my eye,” he said after his round. “I like to see putts that break, and it feels good when I’m on the green and hitting shots into the green. I definitely feel comfortable on this property.”
He was about the only one. Wind wreaked havoc with everyone’s game, sending tee shots long, approaches wet, and putts wide. Hoffman, who lives in San Diego and has won in Texas, has a bit of experience with the wind, but indicated that the “challenge” of Augusta excited him far more than the prospect of playing through the wind. “I haven’t had a whole lot of success in the British Open, and you’d think I would have if I’m that good in the wind,” he smiled.
Hoffman isn’t exactly a major-tournament threat. There have been 45 majors held since the 2006, and Hoffman has played in 23 of them. He’s made the cut in just 11, and his highest performance in a major is a tie for ninth two years ago. He’s got four PGA Tour wins, including one FedEx Cup playoff event in 2010, most recently the Valero Texas Open just under a year ago.
There are always reasons to worry at Augusta, and here’s Hoffman’s: with the exception of Jordan Spieth in 2015 and Trevor Immelman in 2008, no first-round leader has won since Ben Crenshaw in 1984. On the plus side, only two guys have won at Augusta since 1998 after being outside the top 10 on Day 1: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and the rules of mortals don’t apply to them.
So chances are your winner is either Hoffman or someone on the same page of the leaderboard as him, a crew that includes Lee Westwood, Jason Dufner, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, and Mickelson, among others. For now, Hoffman is leading the charge, and we’re all interested to see how he plays from the front, Hoffman himself most of all.
“This stage is as big as it gets,” Hoffman said. “I really enjoyed it, and I’m really looking forward to the next few days to see how I handle it.”
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.