The Masters: Johnson primed for green jacket defence as Augusta action tees off

By Sports Desk April 08, 2021

The 85th Masters got under way on Thursday with Dustin Johnson waiting in the wings to defend his title at Augusta.

Honorary starters Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Elder signalled the opening of the 2021 tournament, which officially began with twosome Michael Thompson and Hudson Swafford teeing off.

Reigning champion Johnson, who secured his second major with an imperious victory in Georgia five months ago, will tee off at 10:30 local time (14:30 GMT) alongside two-time runner-up Lee Westwood and U.S. Amateur Championship winner Tyler Strafaci.

The world number one has earned top-10 finishes at each of his past five Masters outings and holds the tournament scoring record after his stunning 20-under 268 last November.

Johnson is aiming to become the first man since Tiger Woods in 2001 and 2002 to win consecutive green jackets.

Though Woods is absent as he continues his recovery from a recent car accident, Johnson will face stiff competition from the likes of Jordan Spieth.

The 2015 champion ended a 1,351-day wait for a PGA Tour victory at the Texas Open last week and will head out in the final group to tee off at 14:00 local time (18:00 GMT), along with US PGA Championship victor Collin Morikawa and Cameron Smith.

Rory McIlroy has a career Grand Slam in his sights and his bid to become the sixth golfer to achieve the feat begins with new father Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele for company.

The Northern Irishman is still waiting for a maiden green jacket but boasts a strong record in the event, having finished in the top 10 in six of the last seven editions.

Brooks Koepka will play with Bubba Watson and Viktor Hovland, while Bryson DeChambeau joins Adam Scott and Max Homa.

Justin Thomas, Tony Finau and Louis Oosthuizen form another group, with Sergio Garcia starting alongside Webb Simpson and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, while Patrick Reed will measure himself against Paul Casey and Daniel Berger.

Phil Mickelson, the man with the most major titles (five) in the field as Woods is absent, will appear alongside Tommy Fleetwood and Scottie Scheffler.

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    Rory McIlroy believes he is in a "great position" as he sits within touching distance of the leaders after two rounds at the US Open, while Tiger Woods is set to miss the cut after a disappointing second round. 

    McIlroy ended Friday's action at three-under, keeping himself in contention behind Ludvig Aberg, Matthieu Pavon, Patrick Cantlay and a host of other big names.

    McIlroy, the 2011 champion, was among the early starters and bogeyed two of his first six holes to fall from the lead after starting on the 10th tee.

    However, he steadied the ship on the back nine and the leaderboard might have looked rosier had he not bogeyed his last hole of the day, the par-three ninth, having found the bunker.

    "I was not quite as good with the putter [compared to round one] but still, overall in a great position going into the weekend," McIlroy said to Sky Sports.

    "Some of the hole locations were definitely a little tougher and you sort of had to have your wits about you. I did a pretty good job at keeping some of the mistakes off the scorecard.

    "I wish I had converted a couple more of the chances. I hit the ball pretty well and think I only missed one fairway, so I had plenty of opportunities.

    "I was two over pretty early. My goal going into that second nine was if I could get it back to even for the day, I would have been pretty happy. 

    "Got that birdie on three, I was trying to claw one back there, then ultimately I gave one back again [on nine].

    "With the way the golf course is and the way some of those hole locations are, I don't see anyone running away with it."

    Aberg, Pavon and Cantlay were among the leaders as Friday's action drew to a close, with Bryson DeChambeau one shot ahead of McIlroy, alongside Thomas Detry.

    DeChambeau had a typically eventful round by mixing four bogeys with five birdies, the last of which saw him finish with a flourish on the 18th.

    Detry made a splash as he carded an impressive 67. At one stage, the Belgian held the lead after reaching six-under for the day through 14 holes, though he slipped back slightly with two bogeys in his last four. 

    Hideki Matsuyama went one better than Detry with a four-under 66 at Pinehurst No.2 to ensure he sits in the top 10 heading into the weekend, one shot behind McIlroy.

    Meanwhile, Woods followed up his opening round of 74 with a second round of 73, putting him on course to miss the cut at seven-over.

    One of the shots of the day saw Francesco Molinari avoid the same fate, though, as he sank a hole-in-one on the 18th when he required an eagle to make the weekend.

    PGA Championship winner Xander Schauffele is at one-under after posting a 69, but it was a tougher day for world number one Scottie Sheffler, who faces an anxious wait to see whether he made the cut after ending Friday five-over. 

  • US Open: McIlroy remains in contention as DeChambeau impresses US Open: McIlroy remains in contention as DeChambeau impresses

    Rory McIlroy remains in contention at the US Open despite carding a two-over 72 in his second round at Pinehurst No.2, where Bryson DeChambeau is on the charge.

    McIlroy, the 2011 champion, was among the early starters on Friday and bogeyed two of his first six holes after starting on the 10th tee.

    However, he steadied the ship on the back nine to finish the day at three under for the tournament, two shots behind his fellow overnight leader Patrick Cantlay, who is among the later starters.

    The leaderboard might have looked rosier for McIlroy had he not bogeyed his last hole of the day, the par-three ninth, having found the bunker.

    DeChambeau continued to make good ground as his one-under 69 improved him to four under for the tournament. The American had a typically eventful round by mixing four bogeys with five birdies, the last of which saw him finish with a flourish on the 18th.

    Ludvig Alberg is also at four under and was, like Cantlay, preparing to start his second round just as McIlroy and DeChambeau reached the conclusion of theirs.

    Belgian Thomas Detry was making a splash in round two. He had reached five under through 13 holes, putting him level with Cantlay going into the closing stages of his round.

    PGA Championship winner Xander Schauffele is at one under after posting a 69, but it was a tougher day for world number one Scottie Sheffler, who is five over par after carding a four-over 74 on day two.

    Scheffler now faces an anxious wait to see if he will make the cut.

  • US Open: McIlroy thrilled with 'controlled' and 'disciplined' start at Pinehurst US Open: McIlroy thrilled with 'controlled' and 'disciplined' start at Pinehurst

    Rory McIlroy believes his "controlled" and "disciplined" start will stand him in good stead at the US Open, where he is eyeing a first major triumph in 10 years.

    The three-time major winner opened with a bogey-free opening round of 65 at Pinehurst for a share of the lead with Patrick Cantlay.

    It is a good omen for McIlroy, who has gone on to lift the trophy on all three occasions he has started a major without bogeying - achieving the feat at the 2011 US Open, 2012 PGA Championship and 2014 Open Championship.

    The 35-year-old also equalled his best-ever start at a US Open, having posted 65 on the way to his 2011 victory and second-place finish 12 months ago.

    "It's nice to see your name at the top of the leaderboard after the first day of a US Open," McIlroy, who hit five birdies including two in the last three holes, told Sky Sports. 

    "I felt like I played a really solid, controlled round of golf. I just stayed disciplined and when I got myself in trouble, I took my medicine, two-putted.

    "This is the whole thing about a US Open, it's trying to keep clean scorecards like this. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to keep it bogey-free for the rest of the week. But it's not about how many birdies you make, it's about how many bogeys you don't make.

    "I had a run of pars from the 11th through to 15th where I had chances and wasn't able to convert. But I feel like the patience I showed over those five holes was rewarded with two birdies in the last three - a great way to finish.

    "I went through a run for a while where my starts at major championships weren't very good. I probably got myself a little too worked up at the start of the week.

    "Certainly, the major championships that I've won or the ones that I've played well at, I've always seemed to get off to a good start, and it's nice to get off to another one."

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