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The Masters: Bryson DeChambeau puts previous Augusta woes behind him to sign for opening 65

Danny Willett fires cards an opening 68 during his first round since undergoing shoulder surgery six months ago

Who knows? On a day which defied the forecast, the overnight storm doing less damage than anticipated in inflicting a mere two and a half hour’s delay rather than a multiple of that timeframe, Bryson DeChambeau – a player who’d flattered only to deceive in previous visits – contrived to sign for a stunning first round of seven-under-par 65.

How? Why? Who knows, truly? DeChambeau’s efforts of the past around the hallowed, hilly terrain never suggested such a transformation. He shot an opening round 76 in 2021, ultimately finishing tied-46th. In 2022, he opened with a 76 and missed the cut. In 2023, he opened with a 74 and missed the cut.

Yet here he was, one of those who took the LIV greenbacks, strategically working his way around a course in which the winds swirled through the towering cathedral pines.

And DeChambeau’s beautifully-crafted round of eight birdies and one lone bogey, on the ninth, enabled the 30-year-old American to inveigle a way to the top of the clubhouse leaderboard. From the get-go, the 2020 US Open champion was on song when, following a five-wood opening tee-shot, he hit a 145-yard approach to two feet for an opening birdie.


And the sense of surprise wasn’t confined merely to DeChambeau. In the case of Danny Willett, a favoured son who’d won his only Major when donning a green jacket in 2016, the wonders of medical surgery – having undergone a shoulder operation six months ago – enabled him to play his first round since the BMW PGA at Wentworth last September.

Told the recovery period would likely be 12-18 months, Willett – who was required to spend six weeks in a 90-degree cast that he could only remove to take a shower and four months doing extensive daily rehabilitation that included ice baths, saunas and gym work as well as visiting the medical specialists – marked his earlier than anticipated return to competition with a four-under-par 68, three adrift of DeChambeau.

“It’s unexpected, isn’t it?” remarked Willett of managing to produce such a comeback following his layoff. “Again, it was never an issue of whether or not the shoulder was strong enough, it was whether or not I could hit the shots I wanted to. I had no idea what to expect, so yeah, it’s obviously always nice to come in having shot a decent score, and just give yourself that little bit of confidence inside and hopefully have a nice few more days.”

He added: “We did a lot of pre-stuff before the surgery so we were as strong as possible after the surgery, and that kind of means that you don’t fall too far off. I had some great people around me, and we did some great work and put the hours in, and again, I could have shot 80 but it was still nice to have the ability to peg up and not be in pain. From where I was seven, eight, nine months ago and previous, to be able to play pain-free is a pretty nice thing.”

Both DeChambeau and Willett demonstrated patience, an enviable trait on a day where winds gusted at times and swirled at others. It had players and caddies second-guessing club selection, looking upwards to the swaying pines and then to fluttering flags in efforts to work out the puzzle posed by the wind’s vagaries.

At least principally for the earlier starters, those approach shots were to rather benevolent greens softened by more than one inch of overnight rain. But the tornadoes and the lightning stayed away, so that the only inconvenience of the opening round of the 88th Masters was a 150-minute delay to the starting tee times.

Gary Woodland, another player who has endured medical issues, in his case requiring surgery for a brain lesion, started with a double-bogey and suffered another double on the 11th. There was at least some consolation in three birdies late-on when ultimately signing for a 76.

For the 2019 US Open-winner, there was however an up-close view to the show put on by DeChambeau. “The thing about Bryson, people don’t talk about it, he’s always been one of the best putters in the world. When he drives it like he did today, and he makes putts, he’s obviously very good. It was a clinic. It was impressive. He didn’t get out of position hardly at all, and he rolled it very, very nice,” observed Woodland. “When he drives it like that, he makes this golf course a little bit different.”

Woodland, admittedly, wasn’t alone in enduring a tough day. Hideki Matsuyama, a winner in 2021, was among those to struggle while Jordan Spieth’s opening double-bogey put him on the back foot.

For Rory McIlroy, a player seeking the final piece in a jigsaw to compile the career Grand Slam, a slow start – one-over through two after pushing his drive wildly right into the trees – was followed by a patient recovery that saw him grind his way to stand one-under on his card through 13 holes, while Shane Lowry opened with a birdie only to slip out to one-over through seven holes.