Matsuyama, Harman share early clubhouse lead at Masters

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Masters (Getty Images)
Masters (Getty Images)

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama shared the early clubhouse lead with American Brian Harman at the 85th Masters on Thursday while firm and fast Augusta National wreaked havoc upon many of the world's top golfers.

Harman and Matsuyama, who shared second at the 2017 US Open, were on three-under par 69, each seeking a first major title as they chase the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy.

Matsuyama sank a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-5 second hole, rolled in a 25-foot eagle putt at the par-5 eighth and added a birdie at the par-5 13th before a bogey at the 17th.

Harman went birdie-bogey to close the front nine, then the left-hander birdied the par-5 13th and 15th and closed with another birdie.

"I just hung in there early," Harman said. "The course is playing very difficult."

Neither Matsuyama nor Harman has won a US PGA Tour event since 2017.

Will Zalatoris, one of six players in the field of 88 making his Masters debut, shared third on 70 after eagles at the par-5 13th and 15th with American Webb Simpson, the 2012 US Open winner, and South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout.

Mistakes were magnified as the famed course was a formidable challenge.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy struck his father, Gerry, in the back of the leg with an errant iron shot at the par-4 seventh. He made a third bogey in a row on the hole on his way to 4-over through 16.

The world number 12 from Northern Ireland, who would complete a career Grand Slam with a victory, was trying to bend a shot around a tree when he sliced the ball right -- and right into his dad, who laughed about it.

"I should ask for an autographed glove," the elder McIlroy joked.

England's Lee Westwood, trying to become the oldest Masters winner at age 47, was 6-over through 17 with five bogeys and a double bogey in the first 12 holes.

Balls were rolling onto and off the fiery greens in perfect conditions, with severe penalties for those missing the green and then trying to stop a chip shot near the cup.

An exception was top-ranked defending champion Dustin Johnson, trying to become only the fourth back-to-back winner at Augusta National.

After a bogey-birdie start and a bogey at the fifth, Johnson rolled in a chip from right of the elevated green at 11 for birdie then birdied the par-5 13th and made bogey at the par-3 16th to stay on level par.

Johnson fired a course-record 20-under par 268 to capture last November's Covid-delayed Masters in rain-softened conditions.

He could join Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo as the only back-to-back Masters winners, the first since Woods in 2001-02.

Reigning US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, a winner last month at Bay Hill, soared his drive over the green into bushes on the way to a double bogey at the par-3 fourth and he followed with a bogey at the fifth.

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, playing despite right knee surgery last month, reeled off three bogeys in a row starting at the par-3 12th and opened with a 74.

Third-ranked Spaniard Jon Rahm, who only arrived Wednesday after being with his wife for the birth of their first child, birdied the par-5 15th to reach 1-under.

Second-ranked Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA Championship winner, was a late starter but a bogey at the par-5 second was a sign the Players Championship winner would be tested.

Thomas, who has finished progressively better in every Masters start through fourth last year, could overtake Johnson for world number one with a victory.

Augusta National welcomed the first spectators at a major championship since 2019 after Covid-19 forced a ban on fans last year. A limited number of patrons, reportedly about 12,000, were allowed under virus safety protocols.

Festivities began with a poignant first-tee tribute for 86-year-old Lee Elder, the first Black golfer in Masters history, who served as an honorary starter with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

"It was one of the most emotional experiences I've ever been involved in," Elder said. "It's something I'll cherish the rest of my life."

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