AUGUSTA – There was a throwback element to the first round of the Masters on Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club, but for Brooks Koepka, just being back in the tournament worked out well.
Koepka, who missed the Masters last year due to a wrist injury, notched birdies on five of the first six holes on the back nine on the way to shooting 6-under-par 66 for a share of the lead with Bryson DeChambeau.
DeChambeau registered birdies on six of his last seven holes to make a late-day climb.
Phil Mickelson is a shot back at 5 under after his own scorching finish, with five birdies in the last seven holes.
Dustin Johnson and England’s Ian Poulter each shot 4 under to sit in a tie for fourth place, ahead of a five-player cluster at 3 under.
Former champion Adam Scott of Australia spent time atop the leaderboard, while Tiger Woods held a share of the lead for a stretch as well. Scott, who won the 2013 Masters, finished at 3 under with Kevin Kisner, South Africa’s Justin Harding, Spain’s Jon Rahm, and Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
Koepka, who has won three of the past six majors in which he’s competed, finished without a bogey on the day. He said even after sitting out last year’s Masters, he is comfortable at the venue.
“I feel like once you play it a handful of times, you really know a lot of the knowledge and the little nuances of this place,” Koepka said. “A lot of the times, you’re just trying to find the uphill putt out here.”
Despite a bogey on No. 14, DeChambeau was razor sharp down the stretch. He nearly aced the par-3 16th, settling for a tap-in birdie from inches away, and his approach shot on the 18th hole rolled squarely into the pin before bouncing backward and settling an inch or two short.
“I guess I should have pulled the flag stick,” joked DeChambeau, who usually putts with the flag stick in, under the PGA Tour’s new rule. “I should have had (caddie) Tim (Tucker) go up there and pull it or tend it for me, but that’s all right.”
Mickelson also came inches from an ace at No. 16. He then managed an unlikely par from the trees off to the left of the 17th fairway, and he dropped his approach at No. 18 to 7 feet for a final birdie.
“You never know how it’s going to play out, how the weather is going to play out and so forth,” Mickelson said. “You need some good breaks. … I’ve been fortunate to play a lot of rounds here, and I cherish and love every one of them.”
Johnson, who birdied three of his last eight holes, was in DeChambeau’s group, putting two of the six top-ranked golfers in the same pairing.
“It all feels pretty good,” Johnson said. “For me, the biggest part of my game is going to be short game. If my short game is really good, especially around here, (things work out).”
Woods shared the lead with birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 and would have exited the round — at the time, late in the afternoon — with a share of the top spot if not for a bogey on No. 17. He wound up at 2 under, tied for 11th.
Woods is a four-time winner at Augusta, but his last Green Jacket came in 2005.
“I felt like I played well and did all the things I needed to do to post a good number,” Woods said.
Optimism abounds regarding Woods, who shot 74 in the first round 14 years ago and ended up with the title.
“We still have a long way to go,” Woods said.
Harding birdied Nos. 15 and 17 to claim the early lead. But Harding took a bogey on the final hole, checking in at 3 under early in the afternoon.
“You’re going to make some mistakes out here,” Harding said. “Nobody really goes bogey-free. It’s just a matter of making more birdies than bogeys and seeing what happens.”
Harding, who played college golf for Lamar, had three birdies and a bogey on the first six holes.
Rahm, who was fourth last year in the Masters, played with Woods and overcame a couple of rough patches.
“I never lost patience,” Rahm said. “I kept my cool.”
Patton Kizzire was a 3 under through nine holes but ended up at 2 under. He had the tournament’s first eagle with a chip-in on the second hole.
Canadian Corey Conners became one of the stories in the first round, posting 2 under. Conners has ridden a recent wave, as he was the final Masters entrant, grabbing a spot when he won last week’s Texas Open for his first PGA Tour victory. He had been a Monday qualifier for that event.
Then Thursday, Conners was atop the leaderboard for a stretch early in the afternoon. He had birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 and then eagled the par-5 15th. He gave a stroke back with a bogey on the final hole.
Among other interesting rounds was the even-par posted by Kevin Tway. He had an active round, with only three pars on the first 11 holes before seven straight pars to cap the round.
Defending champion Patrick Reed sits at 1 over, while the world No. 1, Justin Rose of England, is at 3 over.
Golfers were greeted with what were described as ideal conditions after recent rain softened the greens, but difficult flag positions kept anyone in the field from besting 69 until late in the day.
–Field Level Media