The National Times - Double-bogey bookends drop Aussie Smith from Masters lead

Double-bogey bookends drop Aussie Smith from Masters lead

Double-bogey bookends drop Aussie Smith from Masters lead
Double-bogey bookends drop Aussie Smith from Masters lead

While Tiger Woods fought off pain to walk around Augusta National, none of his rivals managed to run away with a huge lead Thursday at the 86th Masters.

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South Korea's Im Sung-jae fired a five-under par 67 to grab a one-stroke lead after the opening round while a host of contenders stumbled with chances to match or better him.

Australia's Cameron Smith made eight birdies but opened and closed his round with double bogeys to stand second on 68.

"I just really had to get into a groove," Smith said. "Started getting on a bit of a trot and started seeing those good iron shots go pretty close."

Smith blamed "tricky" gusting winds for the mishaps that kept him from a more special round.

"Those couple of double bogeys really didn't have too bad a shots in them," he said. "It's not like I was scratching it out of the trees. Got my second shot into a reasonable spot and just misjudged the wind on both wedges, just left myself in a bit of a tough spot. Other than that, it was just really solid."

Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler and US compatriot Dustin Johnson, the 2020 Masters champion, shared third on 69 with 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett of England and Chile's Joaquin Niemann.

Woods, making an astonishing return after a car crash 14 months ago caused severe right leg damage, was only four strokes adrift after battling his way around the hilly 7,510-yard layout with a 71.

That's partly because Smith, a 28-year-old from Brisbane, fell from 6-under with a three-putt double bogey from 46 feet at 18, the day's hardest hole.

"The wind blowing behind your back is never a nice thing there," Smith said. "And the tee shot is so demanding."

Sixth-ranked Smith, who could jump to world number one with a Masters triumph, became the first player in history to shoot four rounds in the 60s at Augusta National in the same event when he shared second in 2020.

Smith, who won his fifth career US PGA title last month at the Players Championship, was red hot at times.

Smith chipped in from 21 feet to birdie the par-4 fifth, and dropped his tee shot inches from the cup to set up a birdie at the par-3 sixth.

He rolled in an eight-foot putt for birdie at the par-5 eighth, sank a five-footer to birdie the ninth and added an 11-foot birdie putt at the par-3 12th.

Then came his late birdie binge, set up by an approach to four feet at the par-4 14th, another to nine feet at the par-5 15th and a tee shot to five feet at the par-3 16th.

- No strokes for No. 1 -

Willett closed the front nine with back-to-back birdies and completed a par-5 birdie sweep by shaving strokes at the 13th and 15th holes.

"Just a really good clean round in what's really tricky conditions," Willett said. "It's always nice to get a good start around this place."

Scheffler, who won last month's WGC Match Play to seize the top ranking, missed the 18th green and left a 15-foot par putt short to miss a share of the clubhouse lead.

"The ranking was really cool. It was a special honor, but it didn't give me any strokes on the field this week," Scheffler said. "Anything under par out there is a pretty good round."

Niemann fired his low Masters round in his third Augusta National start.

"I hit the ball amazing," he said. "I think the key for me this week is going to be hit the driver good. That's what I did today."

Johnson birdied the par-5 second and par-4 seventh then had back-to-back birdies at nine and 10 before taking his lone bogey at the 17th and chipping from 66 yards to inches from the cup at 18 to rescue par.