Under normal conditions Augusta National keeps you off balance. Thursday was far from normal.
The tornadoes that roared through Alabama and South Atlanta on Wednesday had become little more than a lightning show by the time the storms made it to Augusta. But the wind behind that cold front turned the first round of The Masters into a major-championship nightmare.
At its worst the wind blew 25 mph and gusted up to 40. Patrons and players had to go home Thursday night and wash bunker sand out of their hair and ears. Nick Faldo said par was 75.
That made Charley Hoffman’s 65 not just impressive but almost inconceivable. Hoffman, a low-ball, low-spin puncher of the golf ball, made nine birdies. He made 2s on all four par-3s, birdied four of the last five holes, and opened a four-shot lead.
How great was it?
Only two players, Hoffman and William McGirt (69), broke 70. Only 11 players broke par, and only one player, Sergio García, played all 18 holes without a bogey.
Hoffman’s 65 was 10 better than the field average and came within two shots of the Augusta National course record, set by Nick Price all the way back in 1986 and matched by Greg Norman 10 years later. It was almost a 64. Hoffman hit what looked like a perfect birdie putt on 18 that hung on the low edge of the hole.
Only one other player, Thomas Pieters, got to 5 under all day. Pieters did it through the first 10 holes. Then, 20 minutes after hitting a tee shot a foot inside the first cut on No. 11, Pieters was back to minus-2 and had dumped his first ball into Rae’s Creek. He finished at even par with six birdies, two bogeys and two doubles.
That was typical.
People forget that Hoffman shot 67-68 at Augusta National two years ago and played Saturday’s third round with eventual winner Jordan Spieth. He has been there. And he’s 40 years old with enough experience and scar tissue to hold himself together when things inevitably go a little south.
Winds and cooler temperatures are expected through Friday before things calm down and heat up, just in time for a glorious Masters weekend.