In the Masters on Thursday, Brooks Koepka fashioned out a new persona that unmistakably looked familiar.
This wasn’t about his unexpected switch to LIV Golf last year or even his victory four days prior, which gave him the first multiple champion on the Saudi-funded circuit. He only had the appearance of “Big Game Brooks,” a player known for giving it his all during major league games.
On the first round at Augusta National, Koepka had company and was in full flight. He shared the lead with Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland after birdying his final two holes to finish at 7 under par.
When Koepka attempted to make a comeback from knee surgery three weeks prior at the Masters, he was unable to squat to read putts. He had reason to assume that his major league streak of four victories over three years, which he felt so limited by last year, was about to become a distant memory.
He is regaining his confidence.
Everything changes as soon as you feel good, according to Koepka.
Rahm, on the other hand, remained. Ignore the fact that he fell from a near-certain No. 1 position to No. 3 in just one month. The Spaniard used a masterful display of shotmaking to recover from a four-putt double bogey on the first hole.
Hovland played flawlessly to join them at the top of a leaderboard that is adorned with red numerals and the menacing “weather warning” symbols that are expected to have a significant impact this week. A poor prognosis has received almost as much attention as the performance of 18 players from the Saudi-backed LIV Golf organization under the high-pressure conditions of a major over 72 holes with a cut.
Koepka carried the flag, but he was delighted just to have strong legs.
Rahm kept his composure. On his walk to the second tee, he was thinking of the classic Seve Ballesteros remark, “I miss, I miss, I miss, I make,” who famously four-putted at Augusta National once and uttered those words. He took four putts from 40 feet.
Rahm stated, “If you’re going to double or four-putt, you might as well do it on the first hole Because you’ve got 71 holes to make it up.”
He did that. The lowest score ever recorded by a player who started with a double bogey at the Masters was the Spaniard’s 65, which included seven birdies and an eagle.
Koepka won the 2019 PGA Championship, giving him a five-year Masters exemption. This was his fourth major victory in the space of three years. It expires the next year, and LIV’s access to Augusta is constrained because he is not receiving any points toward the global ranking. Straightforwardly and carefree, he replied, “If you win, you’re OK.”
Hovland was one of the first to begin. The high points were a 25-foot eagle putt on the second hole and playing the final 13 holes at 7 under par before cooling off. The Norwegian star was notable for other factors as well. Due to an early bloom, the azaleas are beginning to lose their color. Hovland atoned for it by wearing a shirt.
It’s obviously a bit out there, according to Hovland. Yet I believe these are preferable to the pink pants I wore last year. Thus, we are progressing.
The comparatively soft greens and the warm, muggy weather made it possible for nearly everyone to shoot well. Jason Day and Cameron Young were 67 years old.
Scottie Scheffler, the defending champion, was in the group at 68 alongside major champions Shane Lowry, Adam Scott, and Gary Woodland, as well as Xander Schauffele and U.S. Amateur champion Sam Bennett. He was attempting to become just the fourth player to win back-to-back.
Tiger Woods was absent from the red team, so he must now worry about getting a chance to wear the red shirt on Sunday. He has never missed the cut in the Masters as a professional, so he will need to put in some effort if he wants to continue that record.
Woods was frequently limping and had a couple lip-outs. Although he played alongside Hovland and Schauffele, Woods observed a lot of birdies but only made one over the course of 14 holes. He started off strong but finished with a bogey for a 74.
It was his best Masters start since 2005. He ended up winning that year, but Woods is now 47 years old, has hardware keeping his right leg together, and has had five operations on his back. He claimed to be hurt. He appeared the part.
“The majority of the guys are squatting today. The time was now, according to Woods. “I’ll hopefully be a little bit better and sharper tomorrow and kind of inch my way through it,” the student said.
Not just Woods failed to seize the opportunity. In order to complete the career Grand Slam, Rory McIlroy needed to win the Masters. However, he made a double bogey from the trees on the par-4 seventh hole and added three more bogeys to negate his strong performance. He finished with a 72, which is already seven strokes off the pace set by a top leaderboard.
Rahm had three PGA Tour victories in his first five starts, all against top-notch competition, a month ago when he was playing so good it seemed impossible for him to lose. He quickly fell from No. 1 to No. 3 as Scheffler and McIlroy gained ground.
Take his opening round, with the four-putt double bogey, as proof that his game is sharp and his desire to become the next Spaniard to win the Masters is burning bright.
It was encouraging that he could recollect a lighthearted passage from Ballesteros so quickly after a disastrous beginning. On each of them, he believed his putting stroke was effective. He then continued. Rahm only missed one green while hitting every fairway. On the par-5 eighth hole, he blasted a 4-iron from 249 yards that touched the ridge side of the green and dropped down to 4 feet for eagle. He finished with an 8-iron to 3 feet on the 18th hole, making birdies on four of his final six holes.
Rahm said, “The one on 18 takes the cake. The 18th hole’s drive, second shot, and tap-in for birdie were all flawless. Getting a walk-off birdie is unusual in these area, so those two swings were about as good as they could have been.
It’s all about feeling good for Koepka.
He switched from supporting the PGA Tour to LIV for a variety of reasons, including his health and a nine-figure signing incentive. Koepka claims that around the conclusion of last year, he began to feel healthy once more. He had just won when he got to Augusta.
With nine games left on Sunday, “get myself in contention,” he remarked. “It is the main objective.”