Hoffman takes Masters lead with first round 65

Jordan Spieth got over the water. Dustin Johnson didn’t make it to the first tee.

And veteran Charley Hoffman stole the show from all the pre-tournament favorites.

Hoffman, ranked No. 52 in the world, rode the wild wind and a hot putter to 7-under-par 65 and a four-shot lead over William McGirt in the first round of the 81st Masters Tournament.

The 40-year-old Hoffman, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, birdied five of his final seven holes.

The four-shot advantage is the second-largest first-round lead in Masters history. The highest margin is five by Craig Wood in 1941. The only other four-shot lead was by Jack Burke Jr. in 1955.

Hoffman’s stellar play, coming on the toughest first-round scoring day (74.978) since 2007’s 76.188, overshadowed the early week’s storylines.

Spieth, whose quadruple-bogey 7 on the 12th hole in the final round last year cost him a shot at a second consecutive green jacket, returned to par it Thursday. But he made another quad – a 9 on the par-5 15th hole – for 75, his highest Masters round by a shot.

Johnson, the current U.S. Open champion and world No. 1, came to Augusta riding a three-tournament victory streak, but he withdrew with lower left back pain suffered from an afternoon fall on the stairs of his Augusta rental house Wednesday. Johnson warmed up for his 2:03 p.m. starting time but said he couldn’t make his normal swing.

“It sucks. I want to play,” he said. “I’m playing probably the best golf of my career, and this is one of my favorite tournaments of the year. I look forward to it every year. To have a freak accident happen yesterday afternoon, it sucks.”

Tough was the word to describe Thursday’s opening round. Hoffman (65) and McGirt (69) best braved the windy conditions in a first round that tied for the fewest sub-70 scores since 2007.

Lee Westwood, the 43-year-old Englishman who tied for second last year and is looking for his first major championship, shot 70. Eight players had 71s, including 46-year-old Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia.

According to Augusta National, the winds were between 15-20 mph, gusting to 30-35 mph.

“The tough part here is that a lot of it’s shielded,” Spieth said. “And so trusting how much is up there when obviously if you’re five yards off on this golf course you could be in a very, very bad location.”

Hoffman admitted it was “a tough day with the wind,” but his scorecard didn’t show that. His nine birdies were one more than he made in all of his 72 holes in last year’s Masters, when he tied for 29th.

At different times in his news conference, Hoffman described his round as “fantastic” and a “dream” round.

He needed only 25 putts, tying him for the fewest in the round. One of those putts was on No. 13, allowing him to save par after hitting his second shot in the water and keep his momentum going.

He said Augusta National “visually fits my eye. I like to see putts that break.

“It just feels good when I’m on the greens and on the tees and hitting shots into the green. I don’t know if it just makes me focus a little bit more out here, but I definitely feel comfortable on this property.”

Hoffman’s 5-under 31 on the back nine left playing partner Chris Wood wondering what happened.

“I was toe-to-toe with him for 11 holes, and then he’s got a putt on the last hole to shoot 8-under and you’re grinding away to shoot 2-over,” said Wood, who did shoot 74. “He looked like birdieing every hole coming in.”

The way Hoffman handled the wind didn’t surprise Wood.

“I played with him last week in Houston and it was very windy there and he was very impressive,” Wood said. “We thought he could do well in an Open. Conditions like this, they probably don’t get much tougher around here.”

Hoffman contended for three rounds in the 2015 Masters until a final-round 74 dropped him into a tie for ninth.

“I’m going to feed off that the rest of the week,” he said. “Today you just sort of go with it. There wasn’t, I wouldn’t say, a ton of pressure today. You’re just trying to make ends meet, really. Just want to start hitting the fairways so you can hit the green and have the ability to make the putt.”

Hoffman, who is riding a recent shot of self-belief he received from respected friends in the golf world, wants to see what he’s got the rest of the way.

“Obviously I’m going to sleep on the lead at a major championship here at Augusta National is not going to be the easiest thing,” he said. “I look forward to it, and I look forward to the challenge the next three days.”