Justin Rose had not played for five weeks because of a back injury and, instead of competitive golf, prepared by sitting in his trophy room at home, visualising how he would play Augusta National.
Yet even in his wildest fantasies, he would never have envisaged shooting a seven-under 65 to take a four-shot lead.
And Rose would surely have required industrial strength hallucinogenics to picture playing the last 11 holes in nine-under on a day when the Masters did not so much as bite back as gleefully devour so many big names.
Dustin Johnson a 74, Rory McIlroy a 76, Bryson DeChambeau a 76, Lee Westwood a 78. It verged on carnage. But Rose hit the treacherous fast-and-firm layout running and by the end was in full sprint, with one of the greatest stretches in British golf history.
Yes, it was only Thursday, but that closing three hours should always be recalled. The 40 year-old was two-over after seven holes and seemingly highly unlikely to trouble the clubhouse leaders - American Brian Harmon and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama. But then Rose emerged in full and outrageous bloom.
The 2013 US Open champion caught a break on the par-five eighth, when his approach bounced kindly off the bank on the left before coming to rest within 15 feet. Rose holed for an eagle and proceeded to soar.
His tee shot to four feet on the famous par-three 12th was class, his approach to kick-in distance on the 17th probably even better. Rose was in the zone, a zone nobody else came close to entering all day.
“I guess the good news is I don’t know what happened, and that’s often when you play your best golf,” he said. “You get into that nice bit of flow or whatever we look for. I didn’t panic - that was the most important thing. Obviously being two-over through seven, even though I saw a few red numbers on the board, I still knew that this was a day not to play yourself out of the tournament.
“The course had a lot of teeth to it, but the pins were relatively fair, so good golf shots were rewarded. Listen, to be nine-under from my last 11... well, you can never quite see that coming here. You have to respect this course so much more now then you had to five months ago.”
Didn’t they just. Remember, remember the gift of November. The green jackets certainly did as they set up the National in brutal fashion to exact pay-back for the 2020 Masters.
From very soft to very, very hard. Alister MacKenzie’s creation munched huge chunks out of some of the game’s biggest names on a first day when a US Open broke out in Georgia. McIlroy’s worst opening to this major featured him hitting his father with an errant shot on the seventh. And golf says that Pa is your friend?!
The consolation for McIlroy was that he was not alone in his Masters mediocrity. Johnson, trying to become just the fourth reigning champion to defend the title successfully, double-bogeyed the last. “Obviously, that stings, but I’ll go to the range and hit a few balls,” Johnson said. “The conditions are definitely different from November.”
Pros are minded to be respectful about the playing conditions at Augusta - the denizens are not known for their liberal attitudes towards freedom of speech - but at least one could not resist pointing out that the putting surfaces might be a tad OTT.
“I walked on that first green today and I thought, ‘what's happened here?’ It looked like glass,” Ian Woosnam said, after his commendable 76. “If it dries out, it wouldn't surprise me to see them have to put some water on the greens. This is about as fast as I've seen it.”
There were not too many smiling. After his back-to-back runner up placings at Bay Hill and The Players last month, Westwood carried so many hopes of finally furnishing his CV with that missing major, but now a made cut seems an achievement. Westwood’s countryman Tyrrell Hatton fared more notably, with a 71, while Tommy Fleetwood made a hole-in-one on the 16th in a 74.
What a day. Regardless how harsh the examination, there are always those who find a way through the wreckage to post an impressive number and as well as Rose's majesty, Harman, the diminutive left-hander, highlighted that when the balls are running as freely as this, Augusta it is not necessarily a bomber’s paradise.
“There’s still plenty of room in the game for a guy like me,” the world No 50 said. “I don't make any bones about not being able to carry it 300, but I don't think you have to, especially when it is like this.”
The day began with Lee Elder, the first black man to play in the Masters, joining Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as an honorary starter. Elder, 86, was not well enough to take a swing, but raised his driver to acknowledge the heartwarming cheers, bit his lip to hold back the wave of emotion, then sat down. "I think that having Lee there was the right thing to do, a nice thing to do," Nicklaus said.
That was a tough first day for everyone bar Justin Rose
His 65 was as good as you're likely to see this weekend and gives him a four-shot lead at an Augusta that showed its teeth today.
Spieth finishes on one-under
He was in the trees a lot early one but three-under for the back nine got his challenge back on track.
The final group are on the 18th
Spieth gives himself a chance of a birdie after a fine approach, Smith's tee shot hits a tree and he has a three-wood approach to the two-tier green that hits one of the fans (sorry, I mean patrons...) and gives him a tricky up and down. And Morikawa has a long uphill putt for birdie.
Thomas ends on one-over
Thanks to a par on the last - he nailed a good par-save putt of six-feet. The American started off badly - three-over through nine - then got it back somewhat on the inward nine.
Playing partner Tony Finau is two-over after a 74., with Louis Oosthuizen, who complete that threeball finishing with a four-over 76
DeChambeau finishes with a par...
...so that's a 76 - four over. He holed some good putts today so it's not an exaggeration to say it could have easily been much worse.
But to sum up the round for the American - it didn't really go to plan, did it?
Matthew Fitzpatrick ends with a 74
The highly fancied Englishman had an up and down round but is by no means out of it on two-over.
If he's a bit down he can at least take some consolation by beating one of the pre-tournament favourites Patrick Cantlay, his playing partner, who shot a seven-over 79. Another fancied player Sung-jae Im ended up with a five-over 77 - most of the damage done with a nine on the par-five 15th.
DeChambeau's approach goes long on 18
He only has 132 yards to the pin BUT again he goes long and over the back and leaves himself a tricky up and down for par.
A reminder of the leaderboard
1. Rose -7
T2. Harman -3 , Matsuyama -3
T.4. Zalatoris -2, Simpson -2 , Reed -2, Bezuidenhout - 2
Something works for DeChambeau
The muscle man smacks a 340-yard drive on 18 beyond the bunkers on the left - one of the plans he came up with the 'tame' Augusta. In practice that shot hit the trees and went about 80 yards or so.
Can he make that powerful drive count? There have been few birdies on the last today...
'Phil' is three-over after his round
'Phil' - or just Mickelson to you and me - ends with a birdie on the last. Playing partners Fleetwood and Scottie Scheffler both par and end on two-over and one-over respectively.
Thomas moving back in the right direction
He birdies 16 - he was close to another ace on that hole (to go with his one in 2019). He's now on one-over for his round.
Smith taps in for his eagle
On 15 - they all count but that was an elegant eagle compared to Spieth's fortuitous one. The Australian is back to one-over now.
Meanwhile their playing partner Morikawa pars and stays on level par.
Speith eagles 15
That was boom or bust for the American and he knows it...
He chips in from over the green and had it not hit the pin that was going into the water (his expression suggests he's only too aware of this...). So from possibly going to two-over he's now at one-under and well in this tournament.
Cameron Smith plays a beauty to 15
That was close to an albatross (or double eagle if you're American...) on the par five. The Australian become the first man to shoot four rounds in the 60s in November and he's currently three-over so could do with tapping that putt in for the eagle.
Justin Thomas is...
...on two-over through 15.
He's one-under for the back nine so far and the erratic nature of his front nine has gone. He can win from way back, as he proved at The Players recently.
Rose doesn't have the record for best first-round lead
That goes to Craig Wood who held a five-shot lead after the first 18 holes in 1941...he went on to win three days later.
Tyrrell Hatton finishes on one-under
Anything near or under par is well in this tournament. That was a resilient round from the Englishman - he started off two-over after three but three birdies on the bounce from 13 got him back under par.
Bryson continues to battle
DeChambeau (I've put the harsh DeShambles moniker to bed for the night) birdies 15 to move back to four-over. He looks beaten up out there, not even a hint of a smile when that ball dropped.
First-round leader Justin Rose speaks...
On how he turned his round around from the eighth onwards...
"I don't know what happened and that's when you tend to play your best golf!"
On being two-over through seven...
"At two-over I saw lots of red numbers so knew I didn't have to panic and not panicking was key today."
On knowing Augusta so well...
"The experience helps a lot, especially on tough day like today. This was the Augusta National that had it's teeth."
Guess who has the most birdies or better at the Masters since 2011?
Yep, it's Justin Rose (of course it is...the answer to any question I ask you in the next 30 mins will be Rose, btw...)
ROSE - 179
MCILROY - 169
FOWLER - 156
BUBBA WATSON - 153
SCOTT - 149
As recently as two hours ago...
...many were saying something like eight-under could well win this come Sunday evening.
There's a long way to go but Rose has hit the seven-under mark already. That's clearly an outlier as only two others have broken 70...That, as much as anything or any words, reveals what a brilliant opening round the former world No.1 had.
Rose looks down in the rest
1. Rose -7
T2. Harman -3
T2. Matsuyama -3
T.4. Zalatoris -2
T.4 Simpson -2
T.4 Reed -2
T.4 Bezuidenhout - 2
Rose finishes with a seven-under 65 - simply sublime
He pars the last to finish one of the rounds of the year. Only two other players have broken 70 today and he was a further four shots better than them (Harman and Matsuyma).
What a back nine - six-under - and final 11 holes - nine-under.
His playing partner and Open champion Shane Lowry finishes with a 71 to be one-under.
Rose's approach on 18 goes...
...well, of course it hits the green and stay there. He'll have a (tricky) putt for another birdie and a five-shot lead.
Tommy Fleetwood holes his tee shot at the 16th!
He aced one at the recent Match Play and he's now joins Shane Warne (yep, not only his he one of the greatest cricketers ever, the Aussie also has a hole in one at Augusta on his CV...) in acing the 16th at Augusta.
The Englishman moves to two-over
...this will surely go down as one of the greatest back nine (disaster at 18 permitting) in Masters history.
On a day when everyone is struggling Rose has made it look so simple. Six-under through eight with the last to go
Rose remarkable run continues
He moves to seven-under - YES, your eyes are not deceiving you ROSE IS FOUR CLEAR ON SEVEN-UNDER - that news definitely deserves both caps lock and bold action...
A fine approach to the 17th left him with a three-foot putt for birdie. Awesome.
He was two-over after seven and since then is nine-over for the next 10 holes.
Phil Mickelson is in trouble on the 15th
'Phil' - as all Americans have to address him by law (they don't, but they love their golden boy so much that it's always a shock when US journalists refer to him as plain old 'Mickelson'...) - is playing over the water on the par five in four. That's down to his approach being embedded in the hazard (it neither went in the water nor crossed it). He's two-under for the day and needs an up and down to stay there. He misses the putt and is down to three-over
Meanwhile, another US golden boy, Spieth finds the trees at 13 - that's another block and trip to the woods to add to his collection today.
Rose is six-under
He birdies the 16th to move three clear at the top on a jaw-dropping six-under.
He's five-under on the back nine and eight-under for his past nine holes. On any day that's spectacular around Augusta but today, when so many are struggling to break par, let alone 70, is remarkable.
1. Rose -6
T2. Harman -3
T2. Matsuyama -3
T.4. Zalatoris -2
T.4 Simpson -2
T.4 Reed -2
T.4 Bezuidenhout - 2
DeChambeau looks like a stroppy teenager out there
He's forced to lay up on the par-five 13th (a hole that for him is a par-four (that's according to him...)) and he looks like he'd rather be anywhere but one of the finest, most beautiful golf courses in the world.
Rose has a great chance to go to six-under
All thanks to a near perfect tee shot on 16 - he aimed right of the pin (and water) and moved the ball off the slope to leave himself with an eight-foot putt.
Meanwhile, Spieth is over the water on 12 (something he didn't manage in 2016 (something I'm sure people like me never fail to remind him of...sorry Jordan...)). Phew...He's on one-over through 11.
Rose moves to five-under
Well done that man!
He nails the birdie putt on 15 and is now two-shots clear at the top.
To think someone (clue: it's me...) thought three-under would lead at the end of the day.
Lowry in the water on 15
He was through back in two BUT his chip won't stop on the green and dribbles into the water guarding the green at the front.
The greens are speeding up and that shot was Exhibit: A in terms of evidence. If Lowry is struggling to stop the ball on them them most of the world's best would.
He plays the shot again and gets it to within a foot and a half.
Rose, on the same hole, plays his third from the bunker on the right and he has a putt to move to five-under and two clear in the lead.
I've resisted calling him DeShambles so far
But it's another bogey on the 12th for DeChambeau.
He decided to putt from off the green and it left him with a tricky downhill putt which he misses. He's down to five-over now and you feel he'll have to birdie at least one of the the upcoming par fives.
He hasn't looked good from the start today, he looks forlorn out there and not enjoying himself.
Spieth is gutsy, isn't he?
Not sure why I've put in the question mark - I am going to call it: Yes, he is gutsy.
Having made the seven on the ninth he bounces back with a birdie on the scary 10th.
He's back to one-over.
DeChambeau makes par on 11
BUT his tee shot on 12 is less than ideal - as in it's long and into the bushes.
He has a massive break as it rolls back to the green.
Shoots an opening round 74 - it doesn't sound great - two-over - but it is, not least because it's his first round at the hallowed course.
Rose makes a great par save on 14
Which is great because (i) it means he's still sole leader and (ii) has the par-five 15th to try and extend his lead.
Jon Rahm speaks..,
On his round of 72...
"I didn't have the pace of the greens all day. But I was able to play a great round."
On the birth of his first son, Kepa (not named after the Chelsea keeper, BTW...)at the weekend...
"It's a great feeling and something that makes you smile every time."
DeChambeau was so far...
...to the right with that drive on 11 that he had a clear approach to the green. That's a bit of real estate (yes, I'm using American terms...apols...) where Tiger Woods spent a bit of time on his way to victory in 2019...
Anyway, DeChambeau is on the green in two!
Yep, you've guessed correctly - DeChambeau finds the trees on the right (most if not all his misses have been on the right...) having tried to smack the life out of his drive on 11.
He shouts: "This [new] driver isn't doing what it's supposed to". What's that phrase about a workman and his tools..?
Rose takes the sole lead on four-under
He taps in for birdie on the 13th to take the outright lead. He's birdied four of his past five holes.
1. Rose -4
T2. Harman -3
T2. Matsuyama -3
Back to the army golf of Spieth
Having been deep in the trees and under fire from his ball hitting said trees he's made a SEVEN on nine- for a while it looked as if he'd make a stupendous five but he three putted from 10 feet. e's back to two-over
Meanwhile, MacIntyre chips in for birdie on 17 - HURRAH for the debut-boy Scot! That moves him to two-over!
Rose has a great chance to go to four-under
He has a two-footer for birdie on 13...can he take the sole lead at Augusta?
DeChambeau pars the 10th
He still has opportunities to play himself back into the tournament with the par fives to come. He's still on four-over
If you go down to the woods today...
...you might find Jordan Spieth. A horrendous tee shot on the ninth is so way right that he can only just make out the green of the fairway...that's the block that affected his game for so long.
He attempts a miracle recovery, through and past about 12 trees, and it hits one of them smack in the face. As all us mere hackers have endured before he has his next shot further away BUT it's an easier shot to get to the fairway.
He gets to the front of the green and he has a chance of an unlikely bogey.
We're not seeing much of Justin Thomas
And that's because he's not doing too well (a bit like a lot of pre-tournament favourites).
If he was tearing it up we'd likely see every breath and step the American ace takes (the US directors are a bit partial to their own heroes when they're doing well, when they're doing badly, not so much.)
Thomas is three-over through nine holes.
Rose in the (joint) lead
A tee shot worthy of a gold medal on the famous 12th (Golden Bell) sets up a birdie for the former world No. 1. He's now top of the leaderboard.
T1. Harman -3
T1. Matsuyama -3
T1. Rose -3
Tommy isn't rocking
We’ve seen nothing of the popular Fleetwood - he’s currently three-over through 10 after bogeys at the second, fourth and sixth…He needs something from the par fives to get a shot or two back…
Rose on a roll
A word on the final group
The strongly fancied trio of Spieth, Smith and Morikawa aren't having it all their own way.
Spieth is one-under, Smith two-over and Morikawa one-over through eight
DeChambeau is four-over after the front nine
Butch Harmon said he won't be a factor this week and so far the wise old coach is being proved right.
Rose does well to escape 11...
...with a par. From trouble on the left in the pine straw the former world No.1 saves par on the brutally tough par-four.
He stays on two-under.
Justin Thomas is three-over through seven
That's not the start many - including the bookies - expected.
He only pars the par-five eight and stays six shots back of the lead.
Reed ends with a round of 70
That's a dropped shot from the middle of the fairway on 18. He'll be disappointed but shouldn't be, most of the field would love a two-under score after today.
Casey ends his round on one-over - he parred the last after a bogey (his fifth on the back nine) on 17.
As Rose rises Lowry falls...
Lowry loses ball off the 10th tee (a la Rory 10 years ago - well wide right) he ends up with a double bogey and is back to level par.
Rose, on the other hand, birdies the tough par four and is at two-under. That's back-to-back birdies for the Englishman who arrived in search of some form.
DeChambeau drops another shot
It's not going according to plan for the muscle man. He is a quick learner but based on the first eight holes he's not learning quickly enough from his November humbling. He's not finding enough fairways and out of position off the tee is struggling. He's back to four-over
Dustin Johnson speaks...
On today's round...
"I felt like I played pretty well, but didn't score that great."
On how the course is playing compared to November...
"The strategy off the tee is the same, the only difference is where you're try to land the ball."
On how he views the tournament...
"It's not a terrible score - I am still right in it, I need to play a bit better."
Your leaders are...
T1. Harman -3
T1. Matsuyama -3
T1. Reed -3
T.3 Bezuidenhout -2
T.3 Simpson -2
T.3 Zalatoris -2
T.3 Rose -2
T.3 Im -2
T.3 Lowry -2
Champion Golfer of the Year...
...is Shane Lowry and he's moved to two-under thanks to a birdie on the ninth.
His friend Rory McIlory ends his rounds with a par to finish on four-over. The 'dreaded poor first round in a major' curse continues for the former world No.1. He bounced back well in November BUT it would be a shock to see him do that again this time around (at least based on today's toils...
Rahm bogeys the last to end at level par - good start for the new dad.
Reed moves to the top of the leaderboard
Thanks to a birdie on 17 to join Matsuyama and Harman.
T1. Harman -3
T1. Matsuyama -3
T1. Reed -3
T.3 Bezuidenhout -2
T.3 Simpson -2
T.3 Zalatoris -2
DeChambeau in more trouble
He's not at the races at the moment - like so many pre-tournament favourites - he finds the trees on the right with his drive on the eighth. He's venting his frustrations and is three-over through seven.
That there are only two scores under 70 so far...anything near par is more than decent today and I'd suggest tomorrow as well.
DJ ends on two-over
That's thanks to a double bogey on the last after being out of position off the tee. He then finds himself in trouble on the green and he three-putts. At level par he was looking good - just three shots back. But that will leave a sour taste in the mouth...a closing double bogey...he had only four bogeys on his card in November...
Meanwhile, a torrid round for Lee Westwood is over - one of the pre-tournament favourites closes with a par to end on six-under.
Rose is smiling
And it's not hard to work out why. He's followed his eagle on the eighth with a birdie on nine to move to one-under.
Meanwhile, Leishman drops his third shot in as many holes - he fails to make an up and down on the taxing (that's being very kind) 11th...he falls to one-under
Reed moves up the leaderboard
Reed - the 2018 champion birdies 16 to move to two-under.
Schauffele drops a shot at 17th having found trouble off the tee. He's back to level par.
Chaos for Casey
The Englishman is three-over on the back nine - he's bogeyed the 11th, 13th, 14th and 15th and then bounced back with a birdie on the 16th. It's not dull...
He's now level par for the day.
Simpson and Bezuidenhout end their rounds
And they will be both pleased with their days - they card two-under 70s to lie tied for third.
Elsewhere, Thomas is on two-over through six - having bogeyed five and made a great par save on six.
A quick word on Bezuidenhout - he's not expected to win BUT has won on tough courses such as Valderrama so you never know...
Augusta is showing its teeth
And I reckon the current clubhouse leaders will still at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the day.
Leishman does well to make bogey on 10
In the space of six shots the Australian has gone from being sole leader to tied for third on two-under. He bogeys the tough 10th.
T1. Harman -3
T1. Matsuyama -3
T.3 Leishman -2
T.3 Bezuidenhout -2
T.3 Simpson -2
T.3 Zalatoris -2
DeChambeau stops the rot
The muscle man stops the bleeding on the sixth having gone over the back with his tee shot. He stays on three-over.
Schauffele shows nerves of steel
Xander Schauffele has seven top 10s in majors and is many people's tip to win come Sunday. He has a tough, quick putt for par on 16. Can he knock it in? Yes, he can - he stays at one-under. That's the sort of putt that makes round, especially on a day like today.
For Rahm and McIlroy it's a pair of pars on the famous par-three.
Elsewhere, Rose eagles the eighth to go back to level par.
No one is finding it easy today
Leishman having looked serene and in control until the ninth green is now in trouble on the tricky 10th. His drive flirts with the trees on the left, leaving him with a tough approach.
Speith bogeys the fourth to fall back to level par.
DJ back to level par
He bogeys the 16th after a three putt - he was high on the top ledge of the famous green and three-putted.
Meanwhile, McIlroy gets a shot back on the par-five 15th. He's now at four-over.
Rahm has moved to one-under, he, like Rory, birdies 15.
DeChambeau spending time in the trees
Having opened up with pars on the first three holes, his tee shot on the par-three fourth found the trees. The best he could do having stabbed out from the undergrowth is is a double-bogey five.
He's in trouble again the next hole - his drive is in the trees on the left, the next shot is in the trees on the right - he does well to escape with a bogey.
He's three-over through five.
Matsuyama joins Harman as joint clubhouse leader
That was a fine round by the talented Japanese star. No one from Japan has lead or co-lead at the Masters. that may change by the end of the day.
No sooner do I say Leishman is sole leader than he...
...drops a shot at the ninth...he missed the par putt from no further than a foot and a half.
T1. Harman -3
T1. Matsuyama -3
T.1 Leishman -3
T.2 Bezuidenhout -2
T.2 Simpson -2
T.2 Zalatoris -2
Ladies and Gentleman, I give you your current leader
Simpson double bogeys 16
After that trip to the water the solid and steady American records a double bogey - he's back to two over and a tie for fourth.
That leaves Aussie Marc Leishman sole leader on four-under.
American duo under par
Spieth and Morikawa make their birdies at the inviting (not many holes yo can say that about at Augusta) par-five second. They're both at one-under.
Matsuyama back to three-over
With a great birdie opportunity on 17 the co-leader three putts. OUCH...The birdie putt shaved the cup but left him with the dreaded five-footer back up the green. He misses that and from thinking about being five-under on the 18th tee he's back to three-under
But Simpson - leading with Leishman on four-under - puts his tee shot on the famous par-three 16th in the drink...
Koepka back to two-over
It hasn't been a great day for the four-tie major winner. He was four-over through 14 but back-to-back birdies on 15 and 16 have him back on two-over. Not a bad score at the moment and quite impressive with the American just back from knee surgery.
Still three-way tie at the top
T1. Matsuyama -4
T1. Leishman -4
T.1. Simpson - 4
Feel for McIlroy
We knew he wasn't coming into the tournament with anything close to his A-game but it's somewhat of a shock/downer/(insert dejected-type words here) to see him struggle so much. Off the tee, on the fairways and on the greens he's seemingly second-guessing himself and on this course you cannot do that.
He ends up making a six and is back to five-over
McIlroy looks dejected
That's because he's found Rae's Creek on 13...
DJ is looking good
He's found the going tough and isn't anywhere near his best form but he's just one of 16 players under par at the moment and that will be a more than good-enough round with which to open his title defence and launch a bid and a second consecutive green jacket.
He'll join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods as the only men to defend their title at Augusta if successful come Sunday evening.
Thomas bogeys the six
He had to up and down it from long and right of the green - that all stemmed from a horrid tee shot that went deep into the trees and bushes on the left. With his length a six on the second will feel like at least a double bogey.
He's one-over through two.
Rory fans look away now...
He's bogeyed the 11th - his tee shot was so far right it missed the trees and had a shot in the 'Tiger channel'. But that does of luck disappeared when his approach went into the water. He left the green with his fifth blemish of the day. He's back to four-over.
Opening pars for Spieth, Cameron Smith and Collin Morikawa
A trio of fancied players have opened up with pars on the less-than-easy par four opening hole.
A catch up with Paul Casey
He was joint leader at one stage on three-under but he's just bogeyed the 10th to fall back to two-under.
DJ under par for the first time
A tap-in birdie on the famous 13th means he's under par for the first time this round - he's two-under for the back nine.
Meanwhile, Westwood pars the scoreable par five - he doesn't look his normal cheerful self. He's stuck on six-over.
Tough conditions for the opening round
How do I know? Well, everyone is either on the fairways or in the clubhouse and there are currently only 16 players under par.
The final group is out
Jordan Spieth - winner of the Texas Open on Sunday, his first title in four years - has just bisected the fairway. Can he win his second green jacket?
Tony Finau has missed his putt on the first and it's an opening birdie for the American.
Thomas pars the first
That was down to a fine chip - no up and down is ever guaranteed around Augusta - that left him just a four-foot putt. He's levels after the first
Three on four-under
T1. Matsuyama -4
T1. Leishman -4
T.1. Simpson - 4
Leishman and Simpson have both joined Matsuyama on four-under. They may not be the most famous names but that's a talented trio and all have shown enough around Augusta to suggest they can stay at or near the top for a wee while.
Justin Thomas is out on the course
Many people's favourite to be dressed in green come Sunday is off an running - his opening tee shot is in the trees on the left. His next shot leaves him greenside on the right.
DJ misses birdie putt at 12
BUT he won;'t mind that - if you're offered a three on both 11 and 12 you say 'thank you' and move swiftly to the 13th. The defending champion is on level par.
It's more bad news for Westwood - his approach to Golden Bell - aka the par-three 12th - is in the front bunker and he end's up with a one-putt bogey having hit his bunker shot over the back of the green. He's now on six-over BUT has two par fives coming up so you never know he could claw some of those shots back...
Brian Harman is the clubhouse leader
The lefty is in the clubhouse - without his caddie (they're still not allowed in) with a three-under score of 69.
Read more on how Rory McIlory hit his own father
Yep, it's been confirmed McIlroy's errant shot on the seventh hit his Dad's calf...
Our very own James Corrigan has the news of the 'attack' from Augusta.
DJ chips in from 'Larry Mize country'
The defending champion's approach is right of the green (where Ben Hogan always aimed - he said if he hit the 11th green he knew he'd pulled his tee shot as he always aimed right to take the water out of play). But that's all good as he plays a delightful, delicate chip (from near where Larry Mize broke Greg Norman's heart in the 1987 playoff) that trickles in. He's now back to level par.
Westwood, in the same group, makes a fine par save - a 20-footer from the edge of the green. He stays at five-over.
Matsuyama makes his move
1. Matsuyama -4
T2. Leishman -3
T2. Bezuidenhout -3
T2. Casey -3
T.2. Simpson - 3
Matsuyana has birdied the 13th to take the sole lead once again, this time on four-under. Meanwhile Webb Simpson - a man who has a game for most courses - has joined the group on three-under.
Better from Ian Poulter
The Englishman was five-over through 12 but he's birdied the par five 13th and 15th and has followed that up with a birdie on 16 - he's now two-under.
Bogey for McIlroy on the ninth
Wow...he had a decent look at birdie after a great drove and fine approach were turned into a dreaded THREE-PUTT. He attacked the first putt, that left him a six-footer coming back which again went long...
He looks fairly beaten up after that opening nine. BUT no one is running away with it or looking like they're going to post a low-opening round so he has to regroup and steady the ship. He's on three-over
More woe for Westwood
He went out in 40 and any thoughts of Tiger Woods going out in 40 then coming back in 30 (in the first round of his Masters win in 1997) have been hit into the trees as he bogeys the tricky 10th.
He's now on five-over.
I say five-way tie because...
...Paul Casey has eagled the eighth to go to three-under. He started well in November but faded at the tournament progressed. Can he stay there until Sunday?
T1. Casey -3
T1. Kim -3
T1. Leishman -3
T1. Bezuidenhout -3
T1. Matsuyama -3
Quick out the blocks from Leishman
The Aussie, who has done well (without winning, obviously) at Augusta before has birdied three of the first four holes to lie in a five-way tie for the lead on three-under
Perfect drive on the ninth...
...for McIlroy. He's struggling at the moment but he's got a pin-high 15-foot putt for another birdie on the tricky ninth green. Make that who knows what he'll do on the back nine - he'll certainly feel better having apparently hit his Dad on the seventh.
McIlroy bounces back on the next hole
After a fairly wayward and challenging first seven holes the Northern Irishman gets his first birdie of the round. He gets a four on the par-five eighth. He's back to two-over
Here's a look at that shot on the seventh.
Rory apparently hit his dad!
Back to that bogey on seven for McIlroy. His approach, after a wayward drive into the trees, was so far right that he reportedly hit his own father, Gerry, in the calf...
Gerry is reported to have said: "I should get an autograph."
Four tied for the lead!
Will Zalatoris has eagled the par-five 15th - not the 'shot heard round the world' a la Gene Sarazen in 1935 (his memorable two from 235 yards) but great nonetheless.
He moves to three-under joining Matsuyama, Bezuidenhout and Kim on top of the leaderboard.
Favourites are finding the going tough
DJ, Westwood, McIlroy - to name three - are toiling in these tougher (compared to the soft setting of November's Masters) conditions.
Augusta is playing firm and fast and that, as Phil Mickelson, once said is it's one big defence to modern technology.
McIlroy drops another shot
That torrid tee shot on seven was costly. He left himself a 50+foot putt for par and he leaves himself a six-footer for bogey. He makes that but it's three blemishes in a row for Rory. He's on three-over. (Which is what veteran and 1991 winner Ian Woosnam is on through 17)
Meanwhile Westwood recovers well on eight to birdie - he back to three-over. DJ misses a putt left and it's a three-putt par for him - something mere mortals like me and you would be fine with, the world No.1? Not so much...He's on one-over.
It's only his second Masters but...
...Christiaan Bezuidenhout is joint leader and enjoying his round on the hallowed fairways. The South African is now level with Matsuyama on three-under at the top of the leaderboard, after birdieing the par-five eighth.
For obvious reasons there's no Tiger at Augusta this year
BUT after the release of the report into the car crash that caused significant injuries to his legs there are serious questions arsing from both the crash and his 'kamikaze' behaviour.
In the trees on seven for Rory
After back-to-back bogeys the last thing McIlroy would have wanted was a wayward next tee shot. Alas that's exactly what's happened. It's not obvious where it's gone - if he's lucky he will have a shot...it's a big if, though...
McIlroy losing ground?
Woe for McIlory and Westwood
McIlroy bogeys the fifth - his approach is short of the green and he cannot get up and down.
The very next hole - the par-three sixth - his tee shot is left of the green and he's left with a 10-foot putt for par after a delicate chip. Can he save par? Nope, is the answer. That was all down to the tee shot which for a player of his immense ability was very poor to say the least. He's now two-over after back-to-back bogeys.
Meanwhile, Westwood is in the bunker shy of the seventh green. He leaves himself and uphill putt for par but misses and that's not the start he wanted - four-over through seven.
Kevin Kisner to two-under
The highly rated American birdies the oh-so tough 10th to go to two-under. A perfect drive and decent approach left a 30-foot putt which he nailed into the back of the cup.
1. Matsuyama -3
T2. Kisner -2
T2. Bezuidenhout -2
T4. 14 on -1 (including Casey, Reed, Rahm and Kim)
Paul Casey into the group on one-under
Meanwhile, Paul Casey has started well - he's one-under through three after a birdie on the third - could this be his year?
He's never been shy at saying Augusta suits his game and won in Dubai this year, which is what Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia did the year they ended up wearing green jackets.
Great save for DJ
The defending champions makes a great par-save putt after difficulty off the tee on the sixth. He stays at one-over. Westwood had a good look at birdie but his putt missed low to the left - he stays at three-over.
Matsuyama goes into the lead!
The highly fancied Japanese has eagled the par-five eighth and goes to three-under. One ahead of Kim, Conners and Bezuidenhout
Trouble for DJ at the sixth
DJ isn’t looking too sharp at the moment - he’s just fired his tee shot at the par-three sixth over the pin and through the back, down the slope. He’s got a horrible up and down now to try and not drop another shot.
Another shot goes for Westwood and DJ
The English favourite is on the right fringe with his drive and short with his approach at the par-four fifth. He cannot get it up and down he's now back to three-over.
Playing partner and defending champion Johnson similarly slips up and he's back to one-over.
Steady for McIlroy
Rory has opened up with four pars in his opening four holes. It hasn't been all plain sailing, however, he was off line with his drive on the third (in the trees on the right).
On the third he had a 25-foot birdie putt that fell one revolution short.
Ten currently under par
T1 Kim -2 (9)
T1 Conners -2 (9)
T1 Bezuidenhout -2 (5)
T2 Thompson -1 (16)
T2 Kisner -1 (8)
T2 Matsuyama -1 (7)
T2 Ancer -1 (7)
T2 Schauffele -1 (3)
T2 Reed -1 (2)
T2 Rahm -1 (3)
Highly fancied Americans Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele have enjoyed good starts.
Hovland showing real character
Westwood has a chance to get back one of the shots lost on the third, but his putt from 15 feet or so behind the flag stick goes just to the right at the last and he has to settle for a par.
Dustin Johnson also pars and stays at level through four.
Quick word on Hovland who having shot a seven on the par-four first is back to level par for the round. The Norwegian has birdied three of the following five holes.
Ryder Cup stars in early strife
Ian Poulter has bogeyed the seventh, eighth and ninth - he’s now at three-over.
That’s the score Sergio Garcia finds himself on after blemishes on one, two and four…
Not the start that pair would have wanted or expected.
Double bogey for Westwood
Having been in trouble from the tee on the short (a relatively simple) third the Englishman scores a six. Not ideal but that won't faze him and he's plenty of time to put together a decent opening round.
Playing partner DJ suffers no such problems, parring to stay at level par.
Rahm is loving fatherhood
Well, the new dad's not got fed up of sleepless nights yet and he's one-under through two having birdied the second.
Westwood in trouble at the third
He takes an iron off the tee but he blocks it right into the pine straw and trees. His next shot sees the ball hit a tree and he's still on the pine straw to the right of the green, some 40 yards or so away. His chip is short of the green and it will be tough to save par from there.
Rory McIlroy level through two
McIroy makes no mistakes on the first - he left himself with a knee-trembling five-footer for the par but sunk it without any bother.
His drive on the second, however, is in the trees on the right. He plays a great recovery and is on the green in three with a decent look at birdie. His putt misses and he stays at level par.
Bezuidenhout joins unheralded leaders
T1. Ancer -2 (5)
T1. Kim -2 (7)
T1. Bezuidenhout - 2 (3)
T2. Stenson -1 (10)
T2. Kisner -1 (6)
T2. Day -1 (5)
T2 Connors -1 (6)
T2. Matsuyama -1 (4)
T2. Simpson -1 (3)
T.2. Harman -1 (8)
The South African birdies the second and third to join Ancer and Kim on two-under. He's already had two wins (in his homeland) this season.
DJ bounces back with a birdie
The par-five second has always been a decent chance to get a birdie and the American makes no mistake. Great drive was followed by an approach to the back of the green - two-putts and he's back to level par.
Westwood was out of position after his drive, he gave himself a birdie putt but as with the opening hole his attempt doesn't drop - he stays at level par.
Early signs of a much tougher set up?
It's early days so far but no one is opening with a barrage of birdies. Signs of the firmer greens and fairways?
Hovland pars the third - he stays at one-over.
Langer is level par - I would write remarkable but considering his fine performance in November it shouldn't come as a shock to see him up near the top of the leaderboard on the opening days.
Kim join Ancer on top of the leaderboard
T1. Ancer -2 (4)
T1. Kim -2 (7)
T2. Kisner -1 (6)
T2. Day -1 (5)
T2 Connors -1 (6)
T2. Matsuyama -1 (4)
T2. Bezuidenhout - (2)
Kim has birdied the par four seventh to join Ancer atop of the leaderboard.
Bubba Watson has a steady start
He's had chances but misses a birdie chance at three to stay level par, with Koepka on the same score.
Hovland after that triple-bogey start has bounced back well - he's birdied the second and third to get back to one-over. Great character shown by the impressive youngster.
Early pacesetter Swafford has bogeyed the 12th to fall back to level-par.
McIlroy starts his challenge
He's been missing both sides of the fairway (the dreaded two-way miss) but he gets off to a fine start as his drive flies up the middle. Phew...
He's come in without too much expectation and that could work in his favour - if he can avoid the poor first-round form of late (he's 28-over in major first rounds since 2015) then who knows... (he's 64-under in rounds 2—4)
DJ opens with a bogey
To state the obvious, that's not the start the defending champion wanted. He got a flyer with his approach and was unable to get up and down.
Westwood has a putt for birdies but it shades the hole and he'll open with a par.
Quick leaderboard update
1. Ancer -2
T2. Stenson -1
T2. Kim -1
T2. Conners -1
T2. Kisner -1
T2. Day -1
T2. Matsuyama -1
Swafford has dropped back to level par with his second bogey in three holes. Was on -2 after nine.
And with that I am handing over to Greg Wilcox to take you through the rest of the action.
Sergio Garcia starts with a bogey
And then sends his drive on the second well down the right into the pine needles. He has the right angle towards the fairway and the green but not sure how much of a shot he will have...
Henrik Stenson joins the leading group on -1
But he doesn't stay there too long, as Mexican Abraham Ancer birdies the par-four third to go to -2 and into the outright lead. Sunk a seven-footer after a handy approach into the green from 120-odd yards.
Meanwhile, Bubba Watson misses a chance for a birdie on the par five second. Just. Hovland has a chance to get a shot back after his nightmare triple on the first. Has about 12 feet to go, uphill... drains it! Back to +2 for the Norwegian.
English amateur (and British Amateur champion) Joe Long is struggling
He started off with four straight pars before a triple bogey on the fifth was followed by two bogeys. Sandy Lyle has also slipped back to +7 after 10.
Seven men tied for -1 in the co-lead
They are: Swafford, Kim, Connors, Kisner, Day, Matsuyama and Ancer. Poulter has just bogeyed the sixth to move out of that group.
Dustin Johnson and Westwood off the tee on the first
Westwood nails his drive, defending champion goes a bit to the left but should be okay.
Here are the upcoming groups:
15:30 D Johnson, L Westwood (Eng), T Strafaci
15:42 X Schauffele, J Rahm (Esp), R McIlroy (NIrl)
15:54 P Reed, D Berger, P Casey (Eng)
16:06 V Singh (Fij), M Laird (Sco)
16:18 L Mize, J Walker, B Gay
16:30 C Ortiz (Mex), M Hughes (Can), B Wiesberger (Aut)
16:42 M Weir (Can), CT Pan (Tai), R MacIntyre (Sco)
16:54 J M Olazabal (Esp), M Wallace (Eng), L Griffin
Watson makes his par on the first, too
Solid, after finding the bunker with his drive.
Cink drops one at the eighth to drop back to +1. Nobody really tearing it up at the moment, but that is to be expected. And we obviously only have a handful of players to have played more than five holes.
And just as I post that...
Swafford drops a shot at the 10th to go back to -1, so no outright leader any more. Hovland has a 12 footer for a double bogey which would be a good get from where he was, but no... he misses. A seven on the first.
We have a few more players under par now, so here is a quick scoreboard update
1. Swafford -2 (9)
T2. Jones -1 (8)
T2. Kim -1 (4)
T2. Kisner -1 (4)
T2. Day -1 (2)
T2 Champ -1 (2)
Cink, Stenson, Langer, Harman, Poulter, Schwartzel, Willett, Matsuyama are all level. Lyle briefly got a shot back to go to +5 but is propping up the field at +6 again. Woosnam back to +3.
What does Bubba do from the bunker?
He finds the green, which he will be pretty pleased with. Brooks Koepka feeds it into the pin, stopping dead in front of the pin about 15-20ft away, below the hole.
Hovland in the trees and I have no idea where that went. Think it sounded a bit woody on the way through, perhaps a bit overambitious with his approach. He has ended up further away from the fairway this time and with an even worse angle... to the green. If you can even call it that. He plays out to the fairway for three. A poor start.
Bubba Watson about to get his campaign going
Leftie, three wood in his grip, heading towards the bunker... does it end up there? It does. Partner Brooks Koepka is heading that way but avoids trouble with a lucky bounce. Young Norwegian Viktor Hovland pulls his drive to the left, ending up in the pines. Not ideal...
Si Woo Kim moves into the joint lead at -2 after three
Kevin Kisner is -1 after a four on the second. Poulter just rolls his birdie putt past the right lip of the hole so stays even after four. was a tough putt, in fairness, from about 40 feet but he read it well, only missing by a smidgen.
Back of the field update
Woosnam not exactly too far away, though he has slipped back to two over after six.
Frittelli is +4 after seven and Sandy Lyle has just parred the seventh to stay at +6. The quadruple bogey, bogey, bogey run after a par, birdie, part start has made a bit of a mess of his scorecard.
Charl Schwartzel makes birdie on the second
On in three, one putt for four. He is now the fourth player currently under par. Actually the fifth as Si Woo Kim does exactly the same on the same hole.
Poulter drops back to level with a bogey on the par four third.
Swafford has left himself a six-footer for birdie but pushes it and misses. Frustrating. He goes out in two-under. Michael Thompson, his partner, is level at the same stage.
Hudson Swafford with a decent chance to go three under
He is onto the green of the par five ninth in two, though with a monster 85ft putt to for eagle. A birdie is far from guaranteed, mind you.
2016 winner Danny Willett makes a bogey on the first
Misses a putt from about 10ft, just misreading the line a little. Cink has a tough read for par on the fifth and just taps the ball, sending it gently rolling towards the hole – it makes it in, well read, sir. He stays level par.
Poulter sinks that putt to go to -1 after two
The third player under par.
Poulter could not quite make the green in two on the second
But he sticks his third to within seven feet to leave a decent chance of birdie. Bernhard Langer has made his way back to even after bogeying the second, with a nice birdie on the third after a fantastic shot into the green which left him barely 4ft for a three.
Swafford still leading the way
Currently -2 after six after another couple of pars. Cink has slipped back to even after four so it is just Swafford and Jones that remain under par. Woosnam holding steady at +1 after four after his opening-hole bogey.
Lyle now at +5 after five
He followed up his seven with a five on the par four fifth, driving into the trees, playing out onto the fairway for two and then onto the green for three. He had five or so feet to save his par but failed...
Poulter leaves himself 294 yards on the par five second
He is just on the fairway, I believe, and just in front of the bunker on the right. Good chance to get some momentum going here.
Well, thankfully Sky have begun their TV coverage of selected groups
But we have Paul McGinley wittering on about Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. I preferred when I had 17 different tabs open to bring you updates.
Ian Poulter begins his day with a standard par
He left himself a 20-footer for birdie from off the green but lolly gagged a foot or so short.
Stenson birdies the par five second to go back to level after two
Partner Munoz cannot do the same so stays at +1.
It does not get any better for Sandy Lyle
In fact it has just gotten much, much worse. Into the bunker on the par three third, he thins his second through the green. That ball is presumably lost, so has to drop one through the back for a shot penalty, his fourth then goes just through the green on the other side (though was not awful by any means).Then he three putts from just off the green to make a quadruple bogey seven. +4 after four now.
Langer makes par on the first
Whilst Cink goes to -1 with a birdie on the the par five second.
Current leaderboard is something like this:
Most other players are on evens, with Woosnam, Munoz and Stenson all +1. The lone player on +2 is Frittelli.
We will have a live scoreboard for you at some point in the very near future when it is worth displaying it (i.e. when more than 14 players have played more than four holes).
The next few tee times
14:00 B Harman, I Poulter (Eng), B Todd
14:12 C Schwartzel (Rsa), Si Woo Kim (Kor), C Conners (Can)
14:24 D Willett (Eng), J Niemann (Chl), K Kisner
14:36 J Day (Aus), M Wolff, C Champ
Bernard Langer has just teed off on the first. He is on the fairway with 190 to the pin.
Bogeys for Stenson and Munoz on the first
Their partner Robert Streb makes a par however.
Lyle makes a bit of a mess of the third and drops back to evens
Went through the green with his second, left his third well short and then missed the putt from about 15ft.
Swafford into the outright lead
For what it's worth at this stage, which is not much. He's -2 after four after birdieing the par three fourth. Stuck it dead to about seven feet and drained the putt. Still, would rather be -2 than +2, that is for sure.
Lyle birdies the par five second after a delightful third
From the middle of the fairway, feeds it into the green with a 3/4 swing, a bit of check as it approaches the hole and ends just three feet from the cup. Sinks the putt and goes to -1 for the day. Lovely stuff.
Frittelli makes his second bogey of the day in just two holes to go to +2.
Woosnam finds the rough on the second with his drive
277 yards down the right, 323 to the pin. Next shot should just be about getting it onto the fairway as close as possible, but even a 210-yarder out of the rough means it's 120 to the pin and that is no guarantee of a birdie. Far from it.
Though having seen the replay it's only just in the light cut of rough so he should be able to give it a fair old whack towards the green. He does exactly that, 208 yards, on the fairway leaving 117 for his third.
Stewart Cink and Jim Herman, in Woosnam's group, both make pars on the first
Swafford makes a par on the third after his approach slid off the back of the green. He stays -1 after three to keep hold of this very, very early lead. A decent putt from off the green left him just a tiddler for par.
What can Woosie do with his second on the first hole?
Not a lot, really. Short and right of the green, with 33 yards to the pin still. Not an awful shot but it will be a tough shot into the green from there, though he does have a lot of it to work with.
He does not get up and down from there, either, so starts with a bogey.
Hole locations (pin positions?) for round one
Ian Woosnam opens with a decent drive on hole one
255 yards down the left of the fairway, 188 to go, opening up the green. On the second, Swafford put his pitch to within 10ft for three and sunk his birdie put for four. Playing partner Thompson also made a birdie to go back to level par after two.
Lyle begins with a par
As does playing partner Jones. Frittelli just missed his par putt from 15ft so records an opening bogey.
Hole 2: Swafford has a big swing off the tee
Flies right past the bunker, through someone's legs and onto the pine needs on the right. 329 yards. His approach to the575-yard par five second ends up just short of the green. Thompson is short of the green in two as well but doesn't quite make the greenside bunker on the right.
Sandy Lyle on the tee
33 years on from his Masters triumph. He misses the fairway but is just short of the bunker, with 175 to the pin. Also in his threeball are Jones and Frittelli, who have driven to differing sides of the fairway.
Frittelli's approach from the right ends short of the green, leaving him and up-and-down to make par. Jones plays to the centre of the green, leaving a 15ft putt for birdie. Lyle makes the green in two, too, but has a 30ft putt for his three.
Swafford leaves his putt for birdie five feet short
But finishes off for an opening par. Thompson pitches onto the green to about eight or nine feet but misses his par put and has to settle for a bogey.
Michael Thompson and Hudson Swafford in the first group
Swafford hits his drive 302 yards on the left of the fairway, just in the first cut of rough. Thompson's ends up with 150 or so to the pin but on the other side of the fairway – or is it in the bunker? Yes, it is.
He plays out from there right and back of the green with 22 yards left to the pin. Could struggle to make par.
Swafford, on the left, fires his approach shot across the greenside bunker and to the middle of the green, 30ft away from the hole.
Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus get the Masters officially under way
Augusta set to bite back at the big hitters
Good afternoon, and welcome to our coverage of the first day's play from the 2021 Masters at Augusta National, Georgia. If it seems like the last tournament here was only a few months ago, then that is because it was – it was postponed and eventually took place in November, with Dustin Johnson the eventual winner. He is again favourite to take the Green Jacket, but if he does not, then on whose shoulders might he be placing it on Sunday evening?
Alongside him are a host of the usual suspects: Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and, of course, the big hitting Bryson DeChambeau.
Our Golf Correspondent, James Corrigan, says that whoever triumphs this week will have conquered the "genuine Augusta", different to the conditions that the field faced in mid-November, 2020.
As the governing bodies prepare to rein in the boom squad — the likes of Bryson DeChambeau who, with their 350-yard plus carries, are threatening to reduce Amen Corner to a few “Hail Marys” — Mother Nature has stepped up to the plate to ensure it will rather more intriguing than the drive, wedge and putt that typified Johnson’s glory in November.
No disrespect to the world No 1 — and it is eminently possible that he becomes just the fourth in history after Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Sir Nick Faldo to defend their Masters title successfully — but whoever prevails on Sunday will have conquered the genuine Augusta.
"The fact that Dustin was 20-under was a combination of his extraordinary play and that at the same time, admittedly, the golf course was soft,” Fred Ridley, the Augusta chairman said. “But that really had nothing to do with the way the course is playing right now. We have had ideal weather and this is the first year probably going back to 2013, when we actually came into the week with the course playing firm and fast, as it is right now. We have it right where we want it."
Play is about to get under way and we will have rolling updates throughout the first day's action and, of course, the following three. One of sport's greatest competitions is back where it belongs.