The Masters: No dream start for defending champion Johnson

By Sports Desk April 08, 2021

Defending champion Dustin Johnson failed to hit the ground running in testing conditions when he started the defence of his Masters title on Thursday.

Johnson donned the green jacket for the first time last November, finishing the tournament on a record-breaking 20 under par.

The world number one made only four bogeys as he blew the field away in the 2020 major at Augusta, but he dropped two shots in his opening five holes five months later, with patrons returning under blue skies.

Birdies were at a premium when the tournament got under way on much quicker, firmer greens than those seen in last year's tournament.

Two-time major champion Johnson started by dropping a shot after running through the first green with his second shot. Although he hit straight back with a birdie at the par-five second, Johnson was back at one over after failing to sink a par putt at the fifth.

Hideki Matsuyama led the way on three under through eight holes after draining an eagle putt at the eighth, with Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Si Woo Kim just a shot behind.

New father Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed and Paul Casey were among a host of players on one under following early birdies.

The recently in-form Lee Westwood was struggling on three over through six after a double bogey at the third, while Rory McIlroy dropped to one over with a dropped shot at the fifth and Brooks Koepka was level par eight holes into his first round.

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  • The Masters: Rose happy to still be in contention after falling behind at Augusta The Masters: Rose happy to still be in contention after falling behind at Augusta

    Justin Rose remains hopeful of overhauling Hideki Matsuyama for his first green jacket after struggling in the penultimate round of The Masters.

    Rose had set the pace heading into the third round at Augusta, but the one-time major champion fell four strokes adrift of red-hot challenger Matsuyama on Saturday.

    Consecutive birdies to begin the round appeared to have Rose on track to maintain his advantage but back-to-back bogeys on the fourth and fifth holes saw the two-time Masters runner-up come unstuck.

    One shot ahead during the weather delay, Rose fell away when play resumed – the Englishman signing for a second successive 72 in Georgia.

    "I didn't play well enough today, simple as that really," said Rose as he eyes his maiden Masters crown.

    "I think all in all, to have a shot tomorrow, I'm delighted. I have that freedom to take a run at it, and of course I'd love to kind of stay with it just a little bit better.

    "I've been playing with the lead the whole week, and obviously there's been an hour of golf where Hideki has moved out there in front.

    "You know, all the guys chasing at seven under are all capable of that little run that Hideki has had, so it's all up for grabs tomorrow."

    Rose added: "I was pretty happy just to be able to walk into the clubhouse before I dropped another shot."

    Rose heads into Sunday's final round level at seven under alongside 2019 runner-up Xander Schauffele, Marc Leishman and Will Zalatoris.

    Schauffele improved 10 positions thanks to a third-round 68, which included an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys.

    "It's moving day. It's Saturday," Schauffele said of playing alongside Japan's Matsuyama, who gained six shots in seven holes to seize control. "You want to play with someone who's going to shoot seven-under. You hope that it's yourself, and if not, you chase.

    "You'd rather play with someone that's shooting 65 than shooting 74. It was nice to chase after him. He's an incredible iron player. This is a great course for him. I think he has a great record out here at Augusta National, and obviously he showed it this afternoon."

    Leishman (70) – who finished tied for fourth in 2013 – enjoyed a strong finish, with two birdies from his final bogey-free six holes leaving him in a mix to become just the second Australian to win a green jacket after Adam Scott (2013).

    "Obviously if Hideki plays well, he can control his own destiny," Leishman said. "But a lot can happen around here. I've seen it. I mean, I played with Scottie the year he won. I've seen what can happen.

    "I've had bad rounds here myself and I've had good rounds. You can make up four shots fairly quickly, but you have to do a lot of things right to do that."

  • The Masters: Matsuyama embracing new experience with Japanese star poised to make history The Masters: Matsuyama embracing new experience with Japanese star poised to make history

    Hideki Matsuyama is embracing the new experience of leading a major as the Japanese golfer stands on the brink of history following a red-hot performance at The Masters.

    Matsuyama seized control of the tournament at Augusta, where the five-time PGA Tour champion earned a four-stroke lead thanks to his flawless third-round 65 on Saturday.

    After inclement weather halted proceedings, Matsuyama – chasing his maiden major title – jumped out of the blocks and gained six shots in seven holes to blitz the field in Georgia.

    Matsuyama heads into Sunday's final round as the player to beat at 11 under through 54 holes, ahead of Xander Schauffele, March Leishman, Justin rose and Will Zalatoris, while looking to become the first Japanese man to win a major event.

    "This will be a new experience for me, being a leader going into the final round in a major," said Matsuyama, who was one under before the weather delay.

    "All I can do is just relax as I can tonight, prepare well and just do my best tomorrow."

    Matsuyama – making his 87th start since his last victory at the 2017 WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational – posted the first bogey-free round this week and his best score in 37 rounds at The Masters.

    The 29-year-old, who birdied the seventh hole on a bogey-free front nine, was red hot following the turn, birdieing the 11th and 12th.

    Unstoppable, Matsuyama eagled the 15th before following that up with back-to-back birdies at the 16th and 17th as he soared to 11 under through 54 holes.

    "During the rain delay, or right before the rain delay, I probably hit the worst shot I've hit this week," he said. "And during the rain delay, I just figured, I can't hit anything worse than that. And so maybe it relieved some pressure."

    "Before the horn blew, I didn't hit a very good drive, but after the horn blew for the restart, I hit practically every shot exactly how I wanted to," continued Matsuyama.

    Matsuyama was off the pace at the start of the day but turned the tables to soar to the summit.

    Asked what he would have thought had he been told he would end the day four strokes lead, Matsuyama added: "Maybe I wouldn't have believed it, but I did play well today.

    "And my game plan was carried out, and hopefully tomorrow I can continue good form."

    Matsuyama has been paired with 2019 Masters runner-up and former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Schauffele in the final round.

    Of the last 30 Masters champions, 25 have come from the last pairing.

  • The Masters: Red-hot Matsuyama masters Augusta to seize lead in flawless display The Masters: Red-hot Matsuyama masters Augusta to seize lead in flawless display

    Hideki Matsuyama produced a flawless seven-under-par 65 as his stunning late blitz earned a four-stroke lead heading into the final round of The Masters.

    Matsuyama – chasing his maiden major title and Japan's first in men's golf – made a huge splash on moving day at Augusta, where the 29-year-old seized control following a weather delay on Saturday.

    After inclement weather halted proceedings, Matsuyama jumped out of the blocks and gained six shots in seven holes to leave overnight leader Justin Rose in his tracks.

    Matsuyama – who birdied the seventh hole on a bogey-free front nine – was red hot following the turn, the five-time PGA Tour champion birdieing the 11th and 12th.

    Unstoppable, Matsuyama eagled the 15th before following that up with back-to-back birdies at the 16th and 17th as he soared to 11 under through 54 holes.

    Matsuyama – making his 87th start since his last victory at the 2017 WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational – posted the first bogey-free round this week and his best score in 37 rounds at The Masters.

    Xander Schauffele and Marc Leishman also made their moves to join Rose and Will Zalatoris in a share of second spot heading into Sunday's final round.

    Runner-up in 2019, American Schauffele improved 10 positions thanks to a third-round 68, which included an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys.

    Leishman (70) – who finished tied for fourth in 2013 – enjoyed a strong finish, with two birdies from his final bogey-free six holes leaving him in a mix to become just the second Australian to win a green jacket after Adam Scott (2013).

    The penultimate day did not go according to plan for Englishman Rose, who signed for a second consecutive 72 in Georgia.

    It was a mixed day for Rose as the one-time major champion split three birdies and as many bogeys, while American Zalatoris (71) is also seven under overall.

    Highlighted by an ace on the sixth hole, Corey Conners posted a four-under-par 68 to be outright sixth, five strokes behind Matsuyama.

    Former world number one and 2015 champion Jordan Spieth – who ended his near-four-year title drought last week – will begin Sunday six shots off the pace following his 72.

    Another former Masters winner, 2018 champion Patrick Reed, is four strokes further back after shooting a two-under-par 70 to be level alongside Justin Thomas (75) and last year's runner-up Cameron Smith (73).

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