Paul Casey matched the best round of his Masters career as a superb 65 earned him the early first-round lead after a lengthy storm delay at Augusta National.
The Masters, Augusta National
Seven months after the tournament was originally scheduled, the 84th Masters eventually got underway in early-morning rain before the players were called back in after only 25 minutes, with the rain getting heavier and the threat of thunderstorms in the area.
But the dark clouds made way for bright skies and led to a raft of low scores, with Casey’s seven-under opener leading the way by two shots from Webb Simpson, Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas, who was five under after 10 holes when darkness ended play for the day.
Tiger Woods made an ominous start to the defence of the title he won in memorable style last April, returning a 68 and keeping a bogey off his card for the first time on a Masters Thursday, but Rory McIlroy was out of sorts late in the day and bogeyed the first before getting the shot back at the long eighth in an outward 36.
McIlroy will resume on the 10th hole early on Friday morning, but Casey can enjoy a relaxing Friday morning after a first round which was a remarkable 16 shots better than his opening 81 last year that led to him missing the halfway cut for the first time since 2012.
Casey defied the difficulty of starting at the 10th and began with a birdie that set the tone for his day, the veteran Englishman picking up shots at both par-fives and the short 16th, and he found himself in the outright lead on six under when he rolled in a nice putt for eagle at the second.
The 43-year-old converted another birdie chance at the par-three sixth, and three solid pars closed out an excellent day’s work which Casey revealed was inspired by being at “special” Augusta having previously struggled with the lack of spectators, particularly at the PGA Championship.
“This is something I’ve looked forward to,” said Casey, who has five top-10 finishes in his 13 Masters appearances. “I was vocal earlier in the year at Harding Park about not enjoying golf in a pandemic.
“But I’m acutely aware that I’m in a very fortuitous position. I still get to be a professional golfer and play championship golf, but I didn’t know how the fanless experience would be. And so far, I’ve not enjoyed it, and I’ve lacked energy. I’ve had nothing or very little to draw from being out playing tournament golf.
“The Masters, though, it still has a buzz to it. There’s an energy and a little bit of a vibe. Yes, it’s clearly a lot less than what we are used to, but there’s something about this place that is still special and I felt excited to be here.”
While Casey was sitting pretty at the summit, his compatriot Lee Westwood also enjoyed a fast start as he matched the 68s of Woods, Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen and 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed.
Westwood stormed to the turn in 31 with five birdies, although the putts dried up on the back-nine and he bogeyed the 12th and was unable to make fours at either the 13th or 15th, settling for six pars in a row to finish on four under par.
“Well, I’ve got form round here, but the conditions are very different this week,” said Westwood, who is making his 19th start at Augusta after missing the last two years. “I have been playing well recently. I shot a poor first round last week in Houston but bounced back with a 69, which could have been 65 or 64. Today was a 68, could have been a 64, 63 quite easily.”
Woods declared he “did everything well” as he broke 70 for only the second time in round one of the Masters, the 44-year-old following a solid three-par start with three birdies in four holes from the 13th, although he would pick up only one more shot at the first and parred in from there.
Matthew Wolff, fourth at the PGA Championship and runner-up to Bryson DeChambeau at the US Open, continued to impress in just his third major start as he cruised to four under after 11 holes, with world No 2 Jon Rahm safely in the clubhouse after a 69 which was matched by Tony Finau and England’s Matt Wallace.
World No 1 Dustin Johnson looked in fine form as he eagled the second and birdied the eighth in a stress-free outward 33, with two-time champion Bernhard Langer again defying his age on such a huge layout, the 63-year-old making his fourth birdie of the day at the first to get to three under shortly before the klaxons sounded to bring the players in.
DeChambeau sprayed his ball to all parts with a wayward driver and had to scramble hard to save pars until running out of luck at the 13th, when his ambitious second from the pine straw sailed into a bush over the green – leading to a double-bogey seven at the easiest hole on the course.
But the pre-tournament favourite dug deep to salvage a two-under 70 thanks to a birdie-birdie finish, while 1987 champion Larry Mize was also two under for his 18 holes at the age of 62.
McIlroy’s latest bid to complete the career Grand Slam of majors again got off to an uncertain start, pulling his approach left of the target at the first and needing three to get down from there, and he was clearly not on top of his game although he did pull one shot back at the long eighth.
The 33-year-old had just dumped his approach to the 10th into the front greenside bunker when play was suspended due to darkness and, with 50 players currently under par, McIlroy will need to step it up when play resumes early on Friday morning.
Join us live at the earlier time of midday on Friday for Featured Group action from Augusta, featuring Rory McIlroy and world No 1 Dustin Johnson. Live on Sky Sports The Masters and Sky Sports Main Event.
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