Brooks Koepka once again enhanced his reputation as a man for the big occasion by claiming a share of the first-round lead at the Masters, with Bryson DeChambeau also setting the pace on day one following a sensational finish.
Koepka has been a winner in three of his last six starts in major championships and the big-hitting American once again excelled on Thursday, coming home in 31 for a 66.
Yet he was denied sole possession of first place as DeChambeau also got to six under, birdieing each of his last four holes with some truly dazzling play.
In a stunning end to his round, DeChambeau came agonisingly close to an ace at the 16th, having chipped in from off the green at the 17th and then struck the flag with his approach to the last, the ball stopping inches from the hole.
16th hole:7 inches from an ace
17th hole: Chip-in for birdie
18th hole: Hit the flagstick
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 11, 2019
Three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson also came on strong over the closing holes to shoot 67 and trail the leading pair by one, with fellow afternoon starters Dustin Johnson and Ian Poulter rounding out the top five at four under.
Prior to this year’s opening major, Koepka had displayed mixed form while hitting the headlines courtesy of some dramatic weight loss, which prompted pundit Brandel Chamblee to accuse the 28-year-old of “reckless self-sabotage” on the eve of the tournament.
However, the U.S. Open and US PGA champion of 2018 gave the best possible answer to those who had questioned his change in physique.
Koepka, who missed the Masters through injury 12 months ago, was only one under at the turn, but he birdied the 10th and then surged to the top of the leaderboard with four birdies in a row from the 12th.
Adam Scott, Jon Rahm, Justin Harding, Kevin Kisner and Kiradech Aphibarnrat all carded 69s to sit three off the pace, while Tiger Woods made a solid start and was one further back. Woods opened with a 70 en route to three of his previous four Masters wins and would have improved on that score this time around had he been more clinical with the putter.
Open champion Francesco Molinari, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day were among those alongside Woods at two under. The Australian’s round was particularly impressive given he was clearly hampered by a back injury and needed prolonged treatment on only the second hole.
Pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy endured a frustrating start in his latest bid to complete a career Grand Slam. The four-time major winner recorded five birdies, but also had six bogeys – including dropped shots at each of the final two holes – in a one-over 73.
McIlroy’s score was matched by defending champion Patrick Reed and Justin Thomas, while Jordan Spieth – a perennial contender at Augusta in every year since his debut in 2014 – and Justin Rose fared even worse with rounds of 75.