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AUGUSTA, Ga. — How windy was it Thursday at the Masters?
“I’ve got whitecaps in my beer,” a fan was overheard saying. He waited in line a few minutes at an Augusta National Golf Club concession stand to get his beverage, then saw the foam get blown to South Carolina or somewhere.
OK, how windy was it, really?
It genuinely looked like geysers of sand were shooting into the air as the wind tried to empty out certain bunkers. Zach Johnson backed off a putt on the 17th green and crouched in the center of the green with his caddie, Damon Green, as they tried in vain to shield themselves from the sand blowing at them.
“At 17, that hurt,” Johnson said later. “That was bad. I was picking sand out of my teeth and my lips and my mouth. It stuck on my face because of my sunscreen.”
The wind was a steady 20-25 mph with gusts of 35-40. If you were wearing loosefitting headwear, it didn’t stay on your head for long.
Dustin Johnson, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, withdrew from the tournament Thursday afternoon because of a back injury he suffered at his rental home in Augusta the day before. “It sucks,” he said.
Most of the 93 players who did compete in Thursday’s first round might have at least thought the same about the playing conditions. The course was fine. The wind was hostile.
Among the tormented was Cedar Rapids’ Zach Johnson, who had a 5-over-par 77 that epitomized frustration. His trip through Amen Corner produced no hallelujahs. He went bogey-bogey-bogey on holes 11 through 13, sandwiching a lipped-out par putt on 12 with balls hit in the greenside pond at 11 and in the tributary to Rae’s Creek on 13.
Johnson was 6-over at that point. He averted a total mess by finishing the round with four pars and a 25-foot birdie putt on 18.
Before he struck that putt, the wind moved the ball about a foot. Johnson didn’t see the ball move, but playing partner Louis Oosthuizen did, and everything was properly corrected before the 2007 Masters champion surmised and sank the putt.
It was fitting Johnson and Oosthuizen were in the same threesome (with Adam Hadwin), because they were in a 3-man playoff that Johnson won at the 2015 British Open, Thursday’s wind was reminiscent of the gusts that year’s British featured.
“The wind just picked up from No. 11 on,” said Oosthuizen, who also shot 77. “It was just very difficult.”
“Very inconsistent,” Johnson said about the weather. “Very difficult. Very … just difficult considering what you have to play. In other words, Augusta National.
“You look at the hourly forecasts starting at 9, 10 o’clock, it was 20 miles an hour going to 25. That’s the wind, that’s not the gusts. That’s not normal.
“I’ve rarely seen that on any of my apps that I use for weather. That’s difficult to manage.”
But these being the world’s best players and all, a few managed quite nicely. One was otherworldly.
Charley Hoffman is 40. He has four PGA Tour wins and has had a nice career, but the best he’s ever finished in a major tournament was tied for ninth (with Zach Johnson) two years ago.
Hoffman shot a 7-under 65 Thursday, four shots better than anyone else. After his round ended not long after 2 p.m., the clubhouse leader was Russell Henley at 1-under. Oosthuizen said he didn’t expect anyone to finish much better than that. He would have been right were it not for Hoffman, who claimed the largest first-round Masters lead since 1955.
Johnson, meanwhile, made it to just nine of the 18 greens in regulation. That doesn’t put a 65 within dreaming range.
“I’m certainly not pleased,” Johnson said, “but I do know considering what’s coming (the relentless winds the players with afternoon tee times faced) and what’s going to be here tomorrow (expected similar winds), that I’m certainly not out of it.”
But he said that not knowing Hoffman, his practice partner here Wednesday, would end the blustery afternoon with one of the best rounds ever seen here.