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Hoffman soars to first-round lead

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AUGUSTA, Ga.—In the toughest opening round at the Masters in 10 years, it all felt so easy to Charley Hoffman.

For the better part of three hours, in a ferocious wind that made the Georgia pines creak, he had the right yardage for the perfect club to hit every shot he wanted.

And then he made the putts—so many that it felt as though he never missed.

Hoffman made seven birdies over his last 11 holes for a seven-under 65.

It was 10 shots better than the average score yesterday at Augusta National. And his four-shot lead was the largest for the opening round at the Masters in 62 years.

“For lack of any better words, it was a dream,” said Hoffman.

It was even more surreal for Dustin Johnson. And he didn't even get to play.

Johnson, No. 1 in the world and playing the best golf of his life, was a few minutes away from his tee time when his head overruled his heart.

He left the practice green and took a sharp turn away from the first tee toward the clubhouse to withdraw because of a freak injury to his back.

“My heart is in it and wants to play,” Johnson remarked.

“[But] the more I thought about it, I just wasn't going to have a chance.”

Johnson still was trying to digest the last 24 hours, as shocking as any for a No. 1 player going into a major.

He was in his rental home Wednesday when he went to move his car in a downpour because his two-year-old son was on his way back from day care.

Wearing only socks, he slipped on the hardwood steps and crashed onto his left elbow and lower back, calling for his brother to help him up.

Even as he tried to warm up yesterday, he slowly shook his head because of the pain he felt when he struck the ball.

“To have a freak accident happen, it sucks," Johnson said. "It sucks really bad.”

Not having Johnson around didn't make the Masters any easier.

With gusts approaching 40 m.p.h., Hoffman and Masters newcomer William McGirt (69) were the only players to break 70 yesterday.

Hoffman didn't have reason to believe he would be one of them after he three-putted his third hole for bogey.

He also three-putted the fifth hole for bogey—both putts affected by the wind.

“After that, I can't remember missing a putt,” Hoffman said.

Lee Westwood, who has the credentials as the best player to have never won a major, ran off five-straight birdies late in the afternoon and salvaged a 70.

Only eight other players broke par—a group that included Phil Mickelson, Olympic gold-medallist Justin Rose, and Sergio Garcia.

Rory McIlroy, needing only a green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam, used a nifty short game to stay in the mix.

He saved two tough pars after missing the green in the wrong spots on Nos. 10 and 11, ran off three birdies in the middle of the back nine, and closed with another good par save for a 72.

The wind was so strong that it blew golf balls some six feet on the greens as Adam Scott and defending champ Danny Willett were getting ready to putt.

Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C. shot three-over in his Masters' debut while 2003 winner Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ont., was four-over.

Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., also in his debut, shot 79 yesterday.

The par-five 15th hole, historically the easiest at Augusta National, was the ninth-hardest yesterday because of strong gusts and a back pin.

No need to explain that to Jordan Spieth. One shot spun back into the water. Another shot went well over the green.

He made a quadruple-bogey nine and shot 75.

“If you catch the wrong gust at the wrong time, then you look stupid, like I did on 12,” Thomas Pieters said.

“But that's just Augusta, I guess.”

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