Thursday, April 6

Charley Hoffman Fires 65, DJ Withdraws

ODD. THAT'S HOW I FEEL ABOUT Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club. Maybe it's mostly because of the bizarre nature of the last 24 hours for Dustin Johnson, currently the best golfer on the planet.

DJ will not play in this year's Masters. He withdrew shortly before his 2:03 p.m. tee time because he slipped and fell on steps at his Augusta rental home and landed on the small of his back. (Stocking feet and wet stairs are a dangerous combination.)

Johnson got treatment all night and showed up for his pre-round warm-up. But he was in obvious pain and couldn't make his normal golf swing. Nor could he tee his golf ball. His withdrawal put a damper on on the first day of the Masters. I hope this freak injury will have no lingering effects on Johnson, whether physical or psychological. If nothing else, it disrupts his recent run of exceptional play that resulted in three victories. That can't be good.

For the rest of the field who had to play Augusta National today, the conditions were tough. The weather was cool and breezy. The scores tell the story. Normally mediocre or worse, 74s and 75s were more like par on Thursday.

For example, Jason Day shot 74. Masters champions Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott shot 75. (Spieth's 75 included a 9 on No. 15.)

Ernie Els had 72. Rory McIlroy, one of the pre-tournament favorites, also carded even par.

However, Charley Hoffman was a man on fire. His 65 included nine birdies.

"I was hitting all my spots," Hoffman said.

Other players in red numbers were William McGirt (69), Lee Westwood (70), Russell Henley (71), Kevin Chappell (71), Andy Sullivan (71), Matthew Fitzpatrick (71), Phil Mickelson (71), Justin Rose (71), Jason Dufner (71) and Sergio Garcia (71).

Tomorrow, cut day, is forecast to be another windy day at Augusta National. There's a long way to go. The players will need to be patient. And beware of stairs.

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