Hoffman stars in swirling winds
McIlroy, Spieth and Day all flop in 'borderline' unplayable conditions at Augusta
Charley Hoffman unexpectedly took a four-shot lead into the US Masters second round yesterday morning (Singapore time), after high winds punished the world's top golfers and favourite Dustin Johnson withdrew injured.
Hoffman, 40, posted a seven-under 65 in conditions described by one former US Masters winner as "borderline" unplayable.
He snatched the lead from second-placed fellow American William McGirt on a day of high drama that saw world No. 1 Johnson pull out following a freak accident.
Hoffman's four-stroke lead is the largest at the US Masters after 18 holes since 1955, when Jack Burke led by the same margin over Julius Boros.
Steady but swirling winds above 20mph (32kmh) with gusts twice that speed sent tee shots and approaches soaring off target and even kept balls rolling on greens.
In the difficult conditions, Hoffman said he set out to shoot for par but "got a little bit lucky".
"For lack of any better words, it was a dream," he said.
I wanted to try and play but I’m not going to be able to compete. It just sucks.World no. 1 Dustin Johnson on the back injury that caused him to pull out of the US Masters
England's Lee Westwood, 43, still looking for a Major title after 75 attempts, was in third place a shot further back on 70 on the 7,435-yard Augusta National course.
Johnson agonised for 24 hours before pulling out after a serious fall on the eve of the tournament left him in pain from a lower back injury.
"I wanted to try and play but I'm not going to be able to compete," he said. "It just sucks."
The reigning US Open champion had hurt himself in a fall down the stairs in a rental house on Wednesday.
Without the world No. 1, Northern Ireland's second-ranked Rory McIlroy and Australian world No. 3 Jason Day were tipped for the title.
However, neither had it their way in the opening round.
Nor did another top contender, 2015 US Masters champion Jordon Spieth, who suffered a repeat of last year's quadruple-bogey disaster.
This time out, he negotiated the 12th hole in regulation but took a nine on the par-five 15th, ballooning his score before sinking a birdie at 16 to limit the damage to finish on three-over 75.
Spieth said the quadruple-bogey blowout put him under pressure for the following three days.
"I feel like I need to snag something tomorrow," he said.
Four-time Major champion McIlroy appeared to be struggling in the wind and was three-over after the front nine.
He opened with a bogey on the first hole and dropped shots on the third and fifth to make the turn in 39.
But on the way back, he sank three birdies to salvage a 72 and a share of 12th place.
One man who thrived in the conditions was three-time former US Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who fired a 71 for a share of fourth place.
"Man, I love it," Mickelson said. "I thought anything at par or better was going to be a great score and it is."
The 46-year-old left-hander will replace Jack Nicklaus as the oldest winner in US Masters history if he can collect a fourth green jacket on Monday morning. - AFP