John­son’s with­drawal, Hoff­man soar­ing top sur­prises at Mas­ters

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

AUGUSTA, GA. | Dustin John­son with­draw­ing from the Mas­ters was shock­ing enough. Then Charley Hoff­man de­liv­ered a sur­prise of his own.

In a rag­ing wind that left most play­ers cel­e­brat­ing any­thing around par, Hoff­man ran off seven birdies over his last 11 holes Thurs­day for a 7-un­der 65 that gave him a four-shot lead over Mas­ters new­comer Wil­liam McGirt.

So tough was Augusta Na­tional in gusts that ap­proached 40 mph that Hoff­man and McGirt were the only play­ers who broke 70. Hoff­man didn’t have rea­son to be­lieve he would be one of them af­ter a pair of three-putt bo­geys early in the round.

“Af­ter that, I can’t re­mem­ber miss­ing a putt,” he said.

Hoff­man’s four-shot lead was the largest at the Mas­ters for the open­ing round since Jack Burke Jr. had a four-shot lead in 1955.

Lee West­wood, who has the cre­den­tials as the best player to have never won a ma­jor, ran off five straight birdies late in the af­ter­noon and sal­vaged a 70. Only eight other play­ers broke par, a group that in­cluded Phil Mick­el­son, Olympic gold medal­ist Justin Rose and Ser­gio Gar­cia.

Rory McIl­roy, need­ing only a green jacket to com­plete the ca­reer Grand Slam, used a nifty short game to stay in the mix. He saved two tough pars af­ter miss­ing the green in the wrong spots on Nos. 10 and 11, ran off three birdies in the mid­dle of the back nine, and closed with an­other good par save for a 72.

John­son never got a chance to see how he would fare.

Just un­der 24 hours be­fore the world’s No. 1 player was to set out in search of a fourth straight vic­tory, he was headed down­stairs at the home he is rent­ing to move his car in a down­pour when he slipped while wear­ing socks and landed on his left el­bow and lower back.

He tried to play. He wanted to play. Even af­ter warm­ing up, when he felt pain upon im­pact on two out of ev­ery three swings, he headed to the putting green to give it a shot. But that’s as far as John­son got. In­stead of go­ing to the first tee, he took a sharp right to­ward the club­house and soon was on his way home.

“I can’t do it,” John­son said. “I don’t feel there’s any chance of com­pet­ing.”

There have been four other play­ers at No. 1 in the world who didn’t play a ma­jor.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Dustin John­son walks off the 1st tee af­ter de­cid­ing not to play in the open­ing round of the Mas­ters on Thurs­day.

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