Johnson joins Masters lead after round of record scoring

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Dustin Johnson tees off on the 18th hole during the first round of the Masters golf tournament Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Dustin Johnson made four birdies and a par that felt just as good Friday morning for a 7-under 65 and a share of the lead, finishing off a first round of record scores on rain-softened Augusta National at the first Masters in November.

Dylan Frittelli ran off four straight birdies on the back nine to match Johnson at 65. The pair tied Paul Casey, who played his bogey-free round of 65 on Thursday.

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The opening round was delayed nearly three hours at the start by heavy rain, and with limited daylight in November, there was no way to complete the round. The second round began immediately, and that won't finish until Saturday morning.

Greg Norman still holds the record for lowest opening round, a 63 in 1996, the year he lost a six-shot lead to Nick Faldo in the final round. This record was more about sheer numbers.

There were 53 rounds under par in the 92-man field and 24 rounds in the 60s, both Masters records for any round. The previous mark was 47 rounds under par in the second round of 1992 (83-man field). The previous record for most scores in the 60s for any round was 20. That was done three times, most recently in the final round last year.

The Masters was postponed from April to November because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not all the Bermuda grass has gone dormant, and there are traces mixed in with the rye grass that turns Augusta green in the winter. Plus, the rain made the greens so soft that balls are landing and sticking — sometimes becoming embedded.

Justin Thomas, a wizard with the wedge around the greens, hit a number of beautiful pitch shots on his way to a 66. This is his fifth Masters, and not only his lowest score, but the first time he has shot par or better in the opening round. Sungjae Im also had a 66, while Cameron Smith and Justin Rose joined the group at 67.

Defending champion Tiger Woods opened with a 68 that he completed on Thursday. It matched his lowest start in the Masters, but Woods knew when he finished it was a day to make birdies because of the soft conditions.

Everyone was going low. And they kept going low on Friday, even as the hum of motors from the sub-air system could be heard across the golf course.

Woods wound up in the group tied for 10th, which amazingly included 63-year-old Bernhard Langer. The two-time Masters champion still competes hard at Augusta National, and not even a longer course because of soft conditions stopped him.

But it wasn't easy for everyone.

Rory McIlroy, who has won his four majors during wet weeks, couldn't take advantage. McIlroy was even par at the turn when play was halted Thursday night. He started with a bogey on No. 10. He drove into the azaleas bushes well left of the 13th fairway, found it, took a penalty drop and made bogey.

He hit into the water on the par-3 16th and had to make a 25-foot putt to escape with bogey. He wound up with a 75, leaving him 10 shots behind and in danger of being on the wrong side of the top 50 and ties who make the cut. Maybe that missing piece of the career Grand Slam will have to wait until at least April.

Johnson, meanwhile, keeps looking every bit like the No. 1 player in the world. He holed birdie putts from the 15-foot range on the 12th and 15th, plopped his tee shot down to a foot on No. 16 and finished with another 15-footer on the 18th. Just as pleasing was the 14th.

Johnson was in the trees to left and had to punch it under the limbs toward the green, but the slope took it to the far edge of the right. The pin was on the left. The putt is more uphill that it looks, and Johnson hammered it from 90 feet away and the grain and slope allowed it to slow to about 18 inches past the cup. He kept momentum and kept a clean card.

Because of the delays, the cut would not be made until Saturday morning, and the Masters was hopeful of getting back on schedule by the final round.


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