The 2019 Masters is off and rolling with major champions all bunched up at the top of the leaderboard and four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods very much in the hunt for another green jacket. Woods shot a 2-under 70, matching his first round score from each of his first three Masters victories.
The story of the afternoon was Brooks Koepka, who answered criticism of his weight loss in dominant fashion as he grabbed a share of the 18-hole lead late Thursday in his first Masters start as a major champion. After a mostly uneventful first nine, Koepka ran off five birdies in six holes to start the second nine and grab the tournament by the throat. But he's not alone. Bryson DeChambeau was equally as impressive, holding T1 alongside Koepka after firing off four straight birdies to end his opening round with a 6-under 66.
In total, there are 20 players within four strokes of the lead. Thursday didn't do much to sort out the top, but it did nearly eliminate several players we were watching heading into the week. Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth Paul Casey all played themselves out of contention. Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia all carded 1-over 73s. All of these world golfers are capable of going low on Friday to make the cut, but as they currently sit outside the top 40 on the leaderboard, it's hard to imagine that any of them have a real shot to win.
When Koepka last played in the Masters, he had one PGA Tour win, no majors and was ranked 25th in the world. Koepka himself pointed to the experience of watching the 2018 Masters at home as a motivating factor in a renewed commitment to the game. Ever since, there hasn't been a better major championship player on the planet, and he seems extra motivated by the talk about his weight coming into the week.
DeChambeau finished with six birdies over the final seven holes, nearly dunking a hole-in-one on 16 and chipping in from off the green.
Phil Mickelson had to pull out all the stops over the second nine during his charge. He rode the wave of good scoring in the afternoon and seemed to be in the zone, carding five birdies over the last seven holes, including being one of the few golfers to get a birdie on the 18th. Mickelson sits a shot back of the leaders at five-under.
There's nothing to be concerned about from a round of 68 from Dustin Johnson, it just seemed as though he was falling behind going head-to-head with DeChambeau down the stretch. Johnson sits at four-under, two back of the leaders.
Fowler (-2) struggled with a couple tee balls early but caught some good breaks, battled a little and kept his card pretty clean with just one bogey. There's room for improvement, particularly on the par-5s, he's still in striking distance on a day where the course was tricky for even the game's biggest stars.
Jason Day (T11, -2) needed to get stretched out for a back injury reportedly suffered while lifting one of his children near the putting green. He responded well to the treatment with a birdie on 2 and then birdies on two more par-5s (No. 8, No. 13) and another on No. 16.