Koepka and DeChambeau set the pace on day of Masters drama
Tiger Woods lurks ominously as faces old and new cram the top of Masters leaderboard
Brooks Koepka reads a putt on the 17th hole during the first round of the 2019 Masters at Augusta. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters
Bryson DeChambeau didn’t require any degree in physics to understand the fundamentals of his opening round in this 83rd edition of The Masters tournament.
The mathematics of his deeds were simple, as four straight birdies to finish – for a six-under-par 66 – gave the scientific-minded DeChambeau a share of the first round lead with three-time Major champion Brooks Koepka who too enjoyed a birdie streak on his homeward journey.
And although the two young guns – DeChambeau aged 25, Koepka, at 28, three years older – produced most of the day’s firepower, some players with more mileage also figured prominently with 48-year-old Phil Mickleson, a three-time winner of the green jacket, once again demonstrating that he is rejuvenated each time here with a wonderfully crafted 67 built on three birdies in his final four holes.
“The greens are softer than they’ve ever been, not as fast as they normally are. (It) was a day to take advantage of it. I’m sure they’re going to get firmer and faster as the week goes on. But you could go after the pins and you could putt aggressively,” said Mickelson.
Those endowed with a later tee-time were unquestionably the beneficiaries of a more benevolent setup, as the wind died, and, in the calmer conditions, power games and aggressive shot-making reaped the benefits. None more so than for DeChambeau, who dialed-in late-on with a near ace on the 16th, a chip-in on the 17th and then an approach shot with all the accuracy of an exocet missile which hit the flagstick on the last and left him with the easiest of tap-ins to finish his round.
His eight-iron tee-shot on the 16th looked for all the world as if it would give him a first-ever hole-in-one. He was denied. “The whole time it was rolling – I’ve never had an ace, ever, unfortunately – I was really hoping it would go in,” admitted DeChambeau, adding: “What a magical back nine!”.
Koepka’s homeward run didn’t have the same drama as DeChambeau’s, but his back nine – also of 31 strokes – was equally impressive.
Koepka, who successfully defended his US Open title last year and then added the US PGA to his CV, produced a run of four straight birdies from the 12th to the 15th and only missed out on extending that streak when edging the hole with his putt on the 16th. Koepka was the only player to avoid a bogey in the first round.
The field was a packed one for much of the opening round, only for those late finishers to break clear as the wind eased and receptive greens rewarded good approach shots. When the dust had settled, DeChambeau and Koepka’s shared lead was by one over Mickelson with Ian Poulter and Dustin Johnson a stroke further back.
And one of those in contention, just like the old days, was none other than Tiger Woods: the four-time champion, whose last green jacket was back in 2005 and who has endured a litany of injuries in the decade-plus since then, signed for a 70, where he had the likes of Rickie Fowler – who stuck to his task brilliantly after a difficult opening – for company.
“It was tricky, the winds as of right now it puffs up, it goes down, it switches directions, and it’s typical of this golf course, it just kind of swirls out there and it’s hard to get a bead on exactly what it’s doing at all times,” explained Woods of the difficulty facing players in assessing the wind direction and committing to club selection.
Jason Day aggravated a back injury when stooping to kiss his daughter by the putting green prior to his round. The Australian required on-course physiotherapy and managed to defy the muscle spasms to open with a 70, although he went for a medical assessment after signing his card.
Collated first round scores in The Masters, Augusta National, Augusta, Georgia United States of America (USA unless stated, Irish in bold, par 72):
66 Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau
67 Phil Mickelson
68 Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter (Eng)
70 Jason Day (Aus), Francesco Molinari (Ita), Lucas Bjerregaard (Den)
Tiger Woods, Gary Woodland, J.B. Holmes, Cameron Smith (Aus), Patton Kizzire, Rickie Fowler, Corey Conners (Can)
71 Bernhard Langer (Ger), Charley Hoffman, Matt Kuchar, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Tony Finau, Kevin Na, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Thorbjorn Olesen (Den)
72 Kyle Stanley, (a) Viktor Hovland (Nor), Andrew Landry, Branden Grace (Rsa), Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Si Woo Kim (Kor), Haotong Li (Chn), Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Marc Leishman (Aus), Mike Weir (Can), Jimmy Walker, Billy Horschel, Keith Mitchell, Kevin Tway
73 Xander Schauffele, (a) Alvaro Ortiz (Mex), Patrick Cantlay, Martin Kaymer (Ger), (a) Takumi Kanaya (Jpn), Charles Howell III, Justin Thomas, (a) Jovan Rebula (Rsa), Rory McIlroy (NIrl), Sergio Garcia (Spa), Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa), Sandy Lyle (Sco), Patrick Reed
74 (a) Devon Bling, Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman (Rsa), Eddie Pepperell (Eng), Henrik Stenson (Swe)
75 Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn), Matt Wallace (Eng), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Alex Noren (Swe), Aaron Wise, Danny Willett (Eng), Justin Rose (Eng), Adam Long, Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth
76 Keegan Bradley, Shugo Imahira (Jpn), Stewart Cink, Michael Kim
77 Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), (a) Kevin O’Connell, Larry Mize
78 Jose-Maria Olazabal (Spa), Shane Lowry (Irl), Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Fred Couples
80 Vijay Singh (Fij), Ian Woosnam (Wal)
81 Paul Casey (Eng)
82 Angel Cabrera (Arg)