McIlroy happy with 'great score' par at Masters

The American golfer Charley Hoffman has a four shot lead after the opening round of the US Masters at Augusta.

Hoffman took a 4-shot lead Thursday over William McGirt for the largest gap at the top after the first round at Augusta in 62 years.

In a somber tribute to Arnold Palmer, who died in September, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne escorted Palmer's widow to the first tee for the honorary start. Two years ago, he played in the next-to-last group on Sunday but closed with a 74 to finish 10 shots behind victor Jordan Spieth.

You can look at seven-under and by the end of the week that might be the victor. "I hope I can just keep it going".

Spieth said the bogey blowout put him under pressure for the following three days.

It was his first visit, in completion, to the famed hole since his Masters meltdown a year ago when he twice plopped his ball in Rae's Creek and took a seven, costing himself back-to-back titles. His caddie, Brandon Antus, is a Latrobe native. "I am really happy with that", he said. "It's something I've always wanted to do".

He was able to get that up and down to record his first birdie of the day.

Thanks to Johnson's exit, it's anybody's tournament now, so why not Charley Hoffman? I might have made a bogey or whatever, but you never really lose confidence. "I hit it in the right spot".

Belgium's Thomas Pieters, who was part of Europe's 2016 Ryder Cup team, started in outstanding fashion to reach 5-under at one point but he faltered along Amen Corner to eventuall slip back to even par.

One man who thrived in the conditions was three-time former Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who fired a 71 for a share of fourth place. Only 11 of the 93 players finished under par. "Anything at par or better is phenomenal".

Meanwhile world number one Dustin Johnson withdrew from the Masters minutes before he was scheduled to tee off.

"It's tough, I want to play", Johnson said. "I'm playing probably the best golf of my career and this is one of my favorite tournaments. And to have a freak accident happen after I got back from the course, it's tough". He has made the cut in all three of his prior attempts in Augusta, and in 2015 he finished tied for ninth.

With the help of nine birdies in 14 holes, including 2s on all four of Augusta par-3s, Hoffman conquered winds of more than 20 miles per hour and delivered a first-round 65 (7 under).

Jordan Spieth put to bed his quadruple-bogey in the final round of the 2016 Masters, but replaced it with a quad at the par-5 15th on Thursday. Curiously, in each instance, he immediately followed the gaffe with a birdie on the ensuing hole. "There are still 36 more holes left to go - a long way in this tournament and I know what can happen, good and bad around this golf course.", McIlroy said.

QUOTEWORTHY: "We've had two fabulous years and when you have a bit of a downturn, it feels like the world is coming to end".

  • Angelo Rivera