Koepka sets pace at Masters, Mickelson and Woods in mix
Despite having won three of the last six majors he contested Brooks Koepka was not on many Green Jacket radar screens when he arrived at Augusta National this year.
He is now.
A golfer who prefers to let his play do his talking, Koepka delivered a bogey free six-under 66 that was highlighted by a back nine charge featuring four successive birdies to grab a share of the first round lead alongside Bryson DeChambeau.
While DeChambeau, nicknamed the professor, is seen as the brains of the PGA Tour the muscular Koepka is viewed as the brawn having used to spend hours in the weight room.
Koepka, however, has recently cut back on his gym time and paid more attention to his diet.
His weight loss coincided with an equally noticeable drop in form that saw the 28-year-old slip into a pre-Masters slump, missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer and finishing outside the top 55 at both the Players Championship and WGC Dell Match Play.
"I lift too many weights and I'm too big to play golf and then when I lose weight, I'm too small," said Koepka. "I don't know what to say. I'm too big and I'm too small.
"I don't care what anybody else says. I'm doing it for me, and obviously it seems to work."
Tiger Woods enjoyed some decent form.Getty Images
Playing in the last group, Koepka was back to his imposing and intimidating self having what he described as the best ball striking round he has ever had at a major championship.
While Koepka has found it difficult to earn the recognition he feels he deserves there is no denying he is a golfer built for the big stage.
Of his five PGA Tour wins, three have been at majors.
After watching last year's Masters from his couch recovering from a wrist injury, Koepka has returned a major monster successfully defending his U.S. Open crown last year and winning the 2018 PGA Championship.
"I get to whatever major championship it is and just when I arrive there, I just get a good feeling," said Koepka.
"I don't know how to explain it. I'm just dialed in and I'm focused the entire week.
"I keep pretty much the same routine for all the majors.
"I just enjoy the big stage. I enjoy major championships that's what you're remembered by."
It was deja vu for Phil Mickelson at the Masters on Thursday, after the 48-year-old posting a five-under-par 67, a repeat of his first-round performance at Augusta National in 2010, the last time he picked up a Green Jacket.
Mickelson gave the younger challengers a run for their money, finishing one stroke behind co-leaders and fellow Americans Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau.
Mickelson, however, said he set less lofty goals for the first round of his latest Masters bid, saying after the round that he was "just hoping to shoot in the 60s."
The five-times major winner made back-to-back bogeys at the start of the back nine, a stumble that perhaps could have rattled a less experienced player.
"After going in the water at 11 to hit that close and have an easy bogey and then to make a six-footer for bogey on 10 after a terrible drive, those were almost momentum maintainers, if you will, that kept me in it," Mickelson said.
He went on to make five birdies in the last seven holes, completing seven on the day.
Mickelson, who last won a major at the Open in 2013, would be the oldest Masters champion in history if he wins this year.
Tiger Woods missed a couple of short putts early in the first round before charging up the leaderboard at the Masters on Thursday, at times reminding everyone of his former glories.
Fourteen years since his last Masters triumph, 14 times major winner Woods birdied the 13th and 14th holes to tie for the lead at Augusta National.
Yet a couple of poor drives down the stretch, along with a judgement error, left the four-times Masters champion to card a slightly disappointing two-under-par 70.
He was one stroke off the clubhouse lead, held by Australian Adam Scott, Spaniard Jon Rahm and South African Justin Harding.
"Played well today, hit a lot of good shots," Woods said.
"If I missed, I missed in the correct spot. I had simpler up-and-downs because of that.
"I missed a few (putts) for sure, misread a couple and hit a bad one at six. Other than that it was a good solid day."
Scores from the PGA Tour Masters Tournament
- -6 Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 66
- Brooks Koepka (USA) 66
- -5 Phil Mickelson (USA) 67
- -4 Dustin Johnson (USA) 68
- Ian Poulter (England) 68
- -3 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thailand) 69
- Justin Harding (South Africa) 69
- Kevin Kisner (USA) 69
- Jon Rahm (Spain) 69
- Adam Scott (Australia) 69
- -2 Lucas Bjerregaard (Denmark) 70
- Corey Conners (Canada) 70
- Jason Day (Australia) 70
- Rickie Fowler (USA) 70
- J.B. Holmes (USA) 70
- Patton Kizzire (USA) 70
- Francesco Molinari (Italy) 70
- Cameron Smith (Australia) 70
- Gary Woodland (USA) 70
- Tiger Woods (USA) 70
- -1 Tony Finau (USA) 71
- Tommy Fleetwood (England) 71
- Charley Hoffman (USA) 71
- Matt Kuchar (USA) 71
- Bernhard Langer (Germany) 71
- Kevin Na (USA) 71
- Thorbjørn Olesen (Denmark) 71
- Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa) 71
- 0 Branden Grace (South Africa) 72
- Emiliano Grillo (Argentina) 72
- Billy Horschel (USA) 72
- Viktor Hovland (Norway) 72
- Si Woo Kim (Korea Republic) 72
- Andrew Landry (USA) 72
- Marc Leishman (Australia) 72
- HaoTong Li (China PR) 72
- Keith Mitchell (USA) 72
- Webb Simpson (USA) 72
- Kyle Stanley (USA) 72
- Kevin Tway (USA) 72
- Jimmy Walker (USA) 72
- Bubba Watson (USA) 72
- Mike Weir (Canada) 72