Johnson’s withdrawal, Hoffman soaring top surprises at Masters
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.
Dustin Johnson walks off the 1st tee after deciding not to play in the opening round of the Masters on Thursday.