There was intriguing look to the leaderboard after the first round of the 87th Masters, with a three-way tie at the top on comprising Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Brooks Koepka, after the trio fired opening 65s in what saw Augusta National at its most benign.
Australian former world number one Jason Day and American Cameron Young are the closest to the three co-leaders after they shot 67s. While there a host of other big names sitting just off the pace, including defending champion Scottie Scheffler, Shane Lowry, Xander Schauffele and Adam Scott, who are three back after 68s, setting the scene for an exciting next three days as the major players jostle into position.
American 23-year-old Sam Bennett is also among that group on four under after recording the first bogey-free round by an amateur in 30 years, while Justin Rose leads the English contingent after a 69. US Open champion Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton – at two under and one under respectively – were the only other Englishmen to finish under par on the opening day.
Rory McIlroy made another slow start at the season’s opening major, shooting a level-par 72 in a round that featured five birdies, three bogeys and a costly double at the par-4 7th, where he short-sided himself and then chipped into a bunker. It left 33-year-old tied 37th and needing a low round on Friday to keep his dreams of completing the grand slam of major championships alive.
Tiger Woods limped to a two-over 74, with the 15-time major champion looking in constant pain throughout the round. With 53 players on +1 after the opening round, Woods will likely have to shoot around level par to stand a chance of making the weekend. And with stormy weather forecast for the next two days, the luck of the draw could play its part.
With plenty of birdies and a handful of eagles, the opening day of the 2023 Masters certainly delivered. Spanish world no.3 Rahm produced the most eye-catching round after recovering from a four-putt double bogey on the first hole. Once known to lose his temper on the course, the 28-year-old Spaniard showed his increasingly mellower side to quickly forget the shocking start. Instant back-to-back birdies set the tone for an imperious round, knocking in five more birdies and an eagle as he dominated the course with long driving and accurate approaches.
“We forget about the opening green and it was about as comfortable as I’ve felt this year,” said Rahm, whose only major win came at the 2021 US Open.
Norway’s Hovland has long been tipped to win one of the prestigious major titles and, having finished as the lowest scoring amateur at Augusta in 2019, the 25-year-old again demonstrated his ability. One of the best ball-strikers in the men’s game, the world no.9 nine moved into an early share of the lead with an eagle at the par-five second. The perfect start laid the platform for a classy and consistent round, five more birdies by the 13th hole seemingly putting him on course for a commanding lead.
“I hit the ball really well on the front nine but on the back nine I managed to lean on my short game and that’s what it is about in a major championship,” said Hovland. “It’s not rocket science, you have to hit the shots and if you don’t execute it will punish you.”
Hovland and Rahm were among the earlier starters, with Koepka – one of 18 players from the LIV Tour – later joining them at the top of the leaderboard. Four-time major winner Koepka, who won the latest LIV event in Florida last week, answered that emphatically and earned a share of the lead with his eighth birdie of the day on the 18th. Asked if being a LIV golfer provided extra incentive to succeed, he said: “No. This is Masters week, one of four big ones of the year.”
In other storylines, Fred Couples, the 63-year-old American who won the Masters in 1992, became the oldest player to break par at Augusta since Tom Watson in 2015 with a one-under 71, while the field was reduced to 86 players American pair Will Zalatoris and Kevin Na withdrew. Zalatoris pulled out minutes before he was scheduled to tee off, while Na was four over after nine when he walked off citing illness.
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