Koepka and DeChambeau Lead at Masters
It was meant to be all about Rory McIlroy and his attempt to finally claim the career grand slam. Instead, the first round of The Masters was all about Tiger Woods, who shot a 70, and Brooks Koepka, whose 66 saw him leading the way with Bryson DeChambeau as he attempts to win his fourth major and his third since successfully defending the US Open in June last year.
Woods needed a nerve block simply to attend the Champions Dinner at Augusta National in 2017 and flew to London the same evening to consult a specialist about his ongoing back problems.
He eventually agreed to have spinal fusion surgery in a bid to save his career. The operation was a last roll of the dice but proved a success, Woods returning to competition in November that year and then playing a full season in 2018, culminating in his 80th PGA Tour in the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Woods also contended for the last two majors of the year and carried on where he left off at Augusta, carding an opening 70 to lie four shots off the lead shared by Koepka and DeChambeau.
“I thought I hit a lot of good shots and if I missed, I missed in the correct spots and had some of the simpler up and downs because of that,” Woods said. “I missed a few (putts) for sure, misread a couple and hit one bad one at six but other than that a good solid day.
“The whole idea is to try and peak for four times a year. And so, I feel like my body’s good and my game’s good, it’s sharp, so just got to go out there and execute.”
A long birdie putt from Tiger Woods. pic.twitter.com/SkIpjvvf5D— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 12, 2019
Woods reached the 14th hole at two under par before a wayward tee shot set up a moment of magic from the 14-time major champion, who threaded his second shot through a gap high up in the pines and holed from 25 feet for an unlikely birdie.
Just one off the lead when he signed his card, Woods then saw the later starters defy a freshening breeze to produce a series of good scores, Koepka making five birdies in six holes from the 10th and DeChambeau picking up shots on the last four holes.
Phil Mickelson, who would be the oldest major winner in history if he claims a fourth green jacket at the age of 48, also birdied five of the last seven to lie one shot off the lead, with Ian Poulter and Dustin Johnson a shot further back.
Phil Mickelson nearly aces No. 16. pic.twitter.com/PZgd6cUYnD— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 12, 2019
Poulter said: “I saw a stat that says at 43 there’s a three per cent chance to get the jacket so I have nothing to lose. I can freewheel. I came here two weeks ago and played with Lou Holtz [former University of Notre Dame football coach] and he gave me a pep talk, telling me I could win around here if I just did this, this and this. It was a great day.”
Woods shot 70 in the first round of each of his first three Masters victories and since lying 33rd after an opening 74 in his 2005 triumph, the last 13 champions were all inside the top 10 after the opening round.
Rory McIlroy, who needs to win The Masters to complete a career grand slam was joint 44th after an opening 73.
He was two over par for the day after bogeys on the 10th and 11th but birdied the 13th, 15th and 16th, only to drop shots on the last two holes.
Defending champion Patrick Reed also shot 73 while world number one Justin Rose and 2015 champion Jordan Spieth both struggled to rounds of 75.
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