AUGUSTA, Georgia – When asked to predict a winner of this week’s 84th Masters, Ian Baker-Finch delivered a stock answer: “Whoever beats Dustin Johnson, if that is possible,” said the former British Open champion and CBS golf analyst.
After the first round, Johnson is tied atop the leaderboard with Paul Casey and Dylan Frittelli after shooting a bogey-free 7-under 65, his lowest round in 35 trips around Augusta National Golf Club by two strokes.
While Casey completed his bogey-free round on Thursday, one of just 48 players in the field to do so before play was suspended due to darkness, Johnson and Frittelli resumed their round early Friday morning and picked up right where they left off.
Johnson, who eagled the second hole and played the par 5s in 4 under, birdied both of the par 3s on the back nine and drained a 10-foot downhill birdie putt at the last to close out his round and record his eighth straight under-par round at the Masters.
Frittelli, a 30-year-old South African playing in his second Masters, did much of his damage during a four-hole stretch beginning at No. 13. He made an eagle there and followed with three straight birdies.
Heavy rain on Thursday morning during a three-hour suspension of play rendered Augusta National defenseless to low scoring. Six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus compared the soft, receptive greens to firing irons at a dartboard.
“There was no wind to speak of, the greens had no fire in them, and everywhere the ball hit just stopped,” he tweeted. “That is hardly Augusta National at its finest or most challenging.”
It added up to the lowest-scoring opening round in Masters history, with 53 players in red figures and 24 in the 60s, both tournament records for any round. Justin Thomas and Sungjae Im trailed the leaders by one after shooting a pair of 66s. Former major winners Justin Rose and Webb Simpson were among a group at 67. Tiger Woods shot one of three bogey-free rounds, a 68, that Golf Channel’s Justin Leonard tabbed, “Tigeresque.”
“I did everything well,” said Woods after a strong start to his title defense.
Among those at 68 was 63-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer and he wasn’t the only graybeard to break par. Larry Mize, 62, shot 2-under 70, his lowest score at the Masters since 2009. It marked the first time two players over the age of 60 ever broke par in a major.
Not everyone fared so well under Augusta’s benign conditions. Rory McIlroy, who needs to win the Masters to complete the career Grand Slam, took penalty strokes at No. 13 and No. 16, and shot 3-over 75.
Due to Thursday’s delay, the second round didn’t begin until 9:35 a.m., and given the amount of daylight available this time of year, it means that the round won’t be completed until Saturday. Players finishing their first round on Friday had a quick turnaround for their second-round tee time. But those who already had gone low weren’t complaining, calling it a chance to keep the momentum going.
“I feel like I’m on a good roll here,” Johnson said. “I’m feeling good with the golf swing. To continue to play is definitely a nice advantage. Obviously, we know how the golf course is playing. We’ve already played nine holes this morning, and just to turn around and go right back out I think is an advantage, and we’re going to finish our round today, so yeah, I definitely think it is an advantage.”