Golf

Dust-in's the wind

World No.1 Johnson's injured back and swirling gusts add more tension on opening day of the 81st US okMasters

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson was still uncertain to play when the 81st US Masters began yesterday, with swirling winds adding a new twist to what many are hoping will be an epic showdown at Augusta National, even without an injured Tiger Woods.

Northern Ireland's second-ranked Rory McIlroy could be the man who benefits most if Johnson, scheduled for an afternoon tee-off (this morning, Singapore time), eventually decides to withdraw after hurting his back in a fall at his rented house on the eve of the tournament.

Australian world No. 3 Jason Day is also among the top rivals expected to challenge for the title, along with 2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth.

Johnson suffered a serious fall on a stairway, according to his agent, but was still hoping to take part in the tournament and was expected to visit the US PGA Tour's medical trailer for possible X-rays or an MRI exam on his lower back before his tee-off time.

The world No. 1 is the odds-on favourite for the US Masters after winning three events in a row in a faultless build-up to the first men's major tournament of the year.

But McIlroy, another long-hitter like the 32-year-old Johnson, is seen as a serious threat.

In his ninth Masters, he is seeking to complete a career grand slam at Augusta, hoping to make amends for a Sunday back-nine disaster that cost him the title in 2011.

American Daniel Summerhays struck the first tee-shot on hole No. 1, the par-4, 445-yard dogleg know as the Tea Olive, to launch the tournament on a course rain-soaked from overnight thunderstorms.

Cold and windy conditions, with gusts of up to 65kmh, were expected to play havoc with the world's greatest shotmakers for the first two days of the 72-hole showdown.

"It's going to be pretty tough - 20-30 mph winds are not what we're used to around here," Day said.

TOUGH CONDITIONS

"And it's going to be cold, so the ball is not going to be flying very far. Typically, I kind of like those tough conditions. I'm a grinder in that sense. I need to respect it more and not really be too aggressive."

Spieth says it will take time to sort out strategy.

"It's going to take a good five, six holes, I think, before we really understand what this golf course is going to give us," he said.

However, the conditions may suit wily campaigner Phil Mickelson, the five-time Major winner and three-time US Masters champions.

The American would become the oldest Masters champion just two months shy of his 47th birthday, if he wears the Green Jacket on Sunday at Augusta. - AFP

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