(Reuters) – Dustin Johnson’s wild finish left five shots behind the leaders yesterday as the defending Masters champion faced much faster conditions at Augusta National compared to the toothless scheme he defeated five months ago.
This Masters has a much more familiar look as it is back in its traditional slot in April as the premier of the year while fans are welcomed back, although numbers are limited and with protocols in place to reduce ‘ r risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, strengthened by an eagle in the par-five eighth, and Brian Harman fired a three-under-par 69 to split the club’s first shutout.
Former US Open champion Webb Simpson, Masters discuser Will Zalatoris and Christiaan Bezuidenhout from South Africa were all one shot back.
“It’s definitely a lot harder to play just because when the lawns are firm and fast here the golf course plays hard,” said Johnson. “And you add the wind in today it was playing really hard I thought.”
World number one Johnson (74) was one under when the par-three reached 16th but made a bogey after his shot rolled off the green. He carded a double reed at the age of 18 after his shot sailed far to the right of the road.
Johnson, whose 20-under-par 268 total last year was the lowest in tournament history, is trying to put himself in elite company as Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods are the only three players to win titles Back to back master.
World number two Jon Rahm (72), who competes five days after his wife gave birth to their first child, mixed two birdies with two bogs.
Rory McIlroy (76) made an unsuitable start to his latest bid to complete the Grand Slam of his career as he carded his worst opening round at the Masters and even hit his father’s leg with a mad approaching shot that resulted in one of his six bogey.
Bryson DeChambeau, whose bid to defeat Augusta National last November when he was a favorite before the tournament, failed three over through seven holes after a rough stretch that included a double-bogey in the par-three fourth where he found a bush with his shooting you and barely cutting it out.
Justin Thomas, who has improved in all five of his Masters starts and finished fourth in November, was also three over after seven holes while former champion Jordan Spieth, fresh off his victory in the last week at the Texas Open, even after six holes.
Holidays began hours earlier when Lee Elder, who in 1975 became the first Black man to compete in the Masters, was warmly welcomed as he joined Nicklaus and Gary Player as the honorary new starter for the 2021 tournament.
A bright sun had barely risen over the clubhouse when the 86-year-old Elder was driven to the first tee in a golf cart as a new big season dawned.
“I think it was one of the most emotional experiences I have ever witnessed or been a part of,” said Elder.
“It’s definitely something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life because I’ve loved coming to Augusta National and playing here.”
Elder has limited mobility and didn’t hit you.