Viktor Hovland, Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka share Masters lead

Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Network

Brooks Koepka, who plays for LIV Golf, has a reputation for thriving in big events.

He picked a good one for a strong start Thursday.

Koepka joined Norway’s Viktor Hovland and Spain’s John Rahm with opening-round 7-under-par 65s to share the Masters lead at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga.

“There’s quite a few big events,” Koepka said. “We’ve got a lot of golf to play over the next three months. It would be a good time to start peaking.

“It’s the Masters. You’d better show up.”

Koepka and Rahm both recorded birdies on three of the last four holes.

Rahm put it into gear for stretches and looked like the golfer who many experts projected to be in the final pairing Sunday.

“It’s still a long way to go. I’m mostly super happy with what I’ve done,” Rahm said. “I’m really happy I started the way I did and gave myself a solid start to the week.”

Hovland’s strong start came under the glare of playing in a threesome with Tiger Woods, who was at 2 over by the round’s end.

The leading trio matched the most golfers at 65 or better after the first round in Masters history.

Hovland sank a 25-foot eagle putt on the second hole. Wearing a multi-color shirt that helped him stand out along with the splendid start, Hovland added birdies on Nos. 6, 8 and 9. Hovland’s 31 on the front nine was the best nine-hole score since Lee Westwood’s 31 in 2020.

“It’s not like you can just step up and have that handed to you,” Hovland said. “So I definitely had some things go my way.”

Hovland had never shot a round in the 60s at the Masters. The bogey-free round resulted in his best single-round score in a major.

“If you want to win this tournament, you can’t be scared about playing with Tiger,” Hovland said of the added attention.

Rahm overcame a double-bogey 6 on the first hole — where he needed four putts — to reach 3 under after an eagle on No. 8.

“If you’re going to make a double-bogey, might as well do it on the first hole (when you have) 71 holes to make it up,” Rahm said.

Koepka, who was the 2019 Masters runner-up to Woods, has won four majors, but never the Masters.

Cameron Young and Australia’s Jason Day are tied for fourth place at 5-under 67.

Young birdied the first three holes to emerge atop the leaderboard for a stretch during the morning. Young, the 2022 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and Open Championship runner-up, saw his momentum stall with a bogey at No. 6.

“Last year, I didn’t understand how anybody made a birdie out here,” Young said. “This year, I kind of just got off to obviously a nice start and was really comfortable the whole day.”

Defending champion Scottie Scheffler, who’s ranked No. 1 in the world, and Xander Schauffele, who was the other member of the threesome with Hovland and Woods, checked in at 4-under 68 along with five others: Sam Burns, Gary Woodland, Australia’s Adam Scott, Ireland’s Shane Lowry and reigning U.S. Amateur champion Sam Bennett.

Scheffler had an eagle on the second hole. Lowry posted consecutive birdies on Nos. 7-9. Bennett didn’t have a bogey, and his 32 across the first nine holes was the lowest mark for an amateur in tournament history.

Woods, a five-time Masters champion, had three bogeys before his first birdie on the eighth hole. He had two birdies and two bogeys on the backside on his way to his worst opening round at the tournament since 2005.

“(This) was the opportune time to get the round under par and I didn’t do that,” said Woods, who said he’s accustomed to coping with a sore right leg.

One of the compelling storylines could involve Fred Couples. Thirty-one years after winning the tournament, Couples opened at 1 under.

“I actually played really, really well,” Couples said. “… If you hit it really, really well, (the course) played pretty easy for it to shoot 70 or 71 or 72.”

Meanwhile, the tournament that’s deep in tradition had another eye-turning situation with Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland answering questions live on television while on the ninth fairway; Max Homa did the same later in the round. Homa finished at 1-under 71 and McIlroy shot an even-par 72.

There were 88 entrants, but by mid-morning Kevin Na had withdrawn with an illness after nine holes. He had three straight top-15 finishes in the Masters.

Later, Will Zalatoris, the 2021 runner-up, withdrew with an injury, reportedly his back, before beginning his round.

–Field Level Media

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