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Masters: Brooks, Bryson set Augusta ablaze

Joy Chakravarty

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Bryson DeChambeau
Frenchman Bryson DeChambeau shot six-under par 66 aided by nine birdies to share the lead with Brooks Koepka of the US after the first round of the Masters late on Thursday. Photo: Rohit Bhardwaj

Augusta, Georgia: Brooks Koepka proved once again that he saves his best for the Majors and Bryson DeChambeau showed there is a method to his madness as they grabbed joint lead on the opening day of the 83rd Masters Tournament.

The 28-year-old Koepka has five wins on the PGA Tour, three of which are at the Majors. On Thursday, he shot a bogey-free six-under par 66 at Augusta National Golf Club and gave himself a perfect platform to launch a bid for a first Green Jacket. That round included a stretch of six holes from the 10th to 15th in which he made five birdies.

Two groups ahead of him, golf’s ‘Mad Scientist’ DeChambeau had an even better finish. One-under through 11 holes, the 25-year-old made six birdies in his last seven holes and almost holed his second shot from 196 yards for eagle on the 18th.

Just one shot behind the leaders at five-under par was the 48-year-old three-time champion Phil Mickelson. If the American manages to top the leaderboard on Sunday evening, he will become the oldest champion at Augusta, beating the record of Jack Nicklaus, who won the 1986 Masters aged 46 years, two months, 23 days.

England’s Ian Poulter and American Dustin Johnson, who lost his World No. 1 status earlier this week to Justin Rose, were tied for fourth place four-under par 68.

There was a five-way tie for the sixth place at 69, which included the two Asian Tour members in the field—Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and South African Justin Harding.

Former World No. 1 and 14-time Major champion Tiger Woods matched his second-best opening round at the Masters since he started playing in 1995—a two-under 70 tying him for the 11th place.

Rory McIlroy, who came into the tournament as the form player, bogeyed his last two holes and had to be content with a one-over 73 start.

Unlike DeChambeau, who even likes to get a feel of the moisture content in the air and the atmospheric pressure before each shot, Koepka said the secret of his success in the Majors is because he likes to keep things simple.

“I keep pretty much the same routine for all the Majors. It’s very simple. There’s no added stress during the week. It’s pretty much the same people that are staying with me,” said Koepka, winner of two US Opens (2017 and ’18) and the 2018 PGA Championship.

“We’re all very comfortable. We pretty much know each other, like family at this point. I just enjoy the big stage. I enjoy Major championships… that’s what you’re remembered by.

“I was very impressed with putting the ball in the fairway. I drove it and I shaped it, flighted it, and coming into the greens, controlling the spin, trajectory… everything there was about as good as I could have hit it today,” added Koepka about his round.

DeChambeau, winner of five titles in the past one year, was delighted with his round.

“It’s obviously my best round out here. I was just looking to shoot something in the 60s this week because I haven’t done that yet in my couple times playing here,” he said.

“But what a magical back nine. Wind started to pick up, right around Amen Corner, and it was tough.  It was not easy one bit. But we just stuck to what we knew we should have done, and we did, and was able to execute a beautiful nine‑iron to about five feet on the 12th that kind of jump started my back nine, and I just kept hitting good shots after that.”

Rose, whose position on top of the world rankings can be usurped by four players behind him depending on the results, did not do himself any favours by opening with a three-over par 75. He was in tied 63rd place and way outside the cutline (top-44 and ties advance to the weekend).

Former World No. 1 Jason Day needed on-course medical attention on his back after reportedly hurting himself trying to bend down and kiss his three-year-old daughter before his round. The Australian was seen wincing in pain, but completed the round in a remarkable two-under par 70.

Leading Scores (after Round 1): 66 – Brooks Koepka (USA), Bryson DeChambeau (FRA); 67 – Phil Mickelson (USA); 68 – Dustin Johnson (USA), Ian Poulter (ENG); 69 – Adam Scott (AUS), Justin Harding (RSA), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA), Kevin Kisner (USA), Jon Rahm (ESP); 70 – Tiger Woods (USA), Jason Day (AUS), J.B. Holmes (USA), Gary Woodland (USA), Corey Conners (CAN), Lucas Bjerregaard (DEN), Rickie Fowler (USA), Cameron Smith (AUS), Patton Kizzire (USA), Francesco Molinari (ITA).

Joy Chakravarty (@TheJoyofGolf) has been closely involved with Indian golf over the past two decades and is considered one of the leading golf journalists in Asia. He has covered 18 major championships and more than 100 events on various Tours. He was the first journalist from Asia to be inducted into Association of Golf Writers. A seasoned media manager, Joy is currently responsible for media outreach for various golf tournaments organised by the R&A, Augusta National Golf Club and the MENA Tour. When away from the course, Joy is passionate about increasing awareness and raising the profile of Asian players through various media platforms.