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Charley Hoffman blitzes the field with a 65, takes four-shot lead in the Masters

The biggest shot on the first day of the Masters might have been the one that was never taken.

The most memorable shot — take your pick, there were plenty of them — was by a 40-year-old journeyman from San Diego who seemed to be playing a different game on a different course.

Charley Hoffman was meandering through the early part of Thursday’s first round at Augusta National Golf Club when the world’s No. 1 player, Dustin Johnson, was awarded a “did not start” designation after failing to recover from a freak fall Wednesday.

But something happened when Hoffman approached the par-three sixth hole at one over par. He birdied from 19 feet. In fact, he birdied all four par threes, a sharp contrast to his nine over on those holes in his previous three appearances.

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“For lack of any better words, it was a dream,” Hoffman said. “I mean, you hit the shots that you’re sort of looking at, and then the hardest part is to convert the putts. I was able to do that and I got some good numbers coming down the stretch.”

Hoffman followed the sixth hole with birdies on eight (nine-foot putt), nine (nine foot), 12 (11 foot), 14 (22 foot), 15 (24 foot), 16 (two foot) and 17 (four foot).

Hoffman is known as a good wind player, even though he’s quick to point out he’s had his problems there.

“I’ve had success in the wind, which is nice,” Hoffman said. “San Antonio [last year], Bob Hope [in 2007] , it was blowing a ton that final round. I’ve played well but I’ve also played horrible in the wind. I’ve had no success at the British Open. You’d think if I was a great wind player, I’d have some success over there and I haven’t had any.”

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Hoffman has been on the Tour since 2006, having won four tournaments. He qualified for the Masters by winning last year’s Valero Texas Open.

He has four-shot lead over William McGirt, who at 37 is playing the Masters for the first time. McGirt won at Memorial last year to qualify.

McGirt and Hoffman were the only players to break 70, and Hoffman’s first-round margin was the largest since 1955.

Lee Westwood was at two under . There are eight players at one under, including Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia.

Gusts approaching 40 mph confounded golfers and completely eliminated those who like to hit it high. Fans were bundled up with their caps pulled low to keep them from blowing away.

McGirt was the leader among those who were playing mortal golf and had to take the wind into consideration.

“I was not upset to see it blowing,” McGirt said. “I love it when it plays tough. I’m not the kind of person that’s going to get in a shootout with anybody. If it’s going to be 20-, 22-under par, then I’m playing for about 15th.”

The average score on Thursday was 74.978, about 10 strokes higher than Hoffman. There were three eagles, 223 birdies, 407 bogeys and 10 scores you don’t want to talk about, most notably a quadruple-bogey nine by Jordan Spieth on No. 15.

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The field appeared to be as wide open as a West Texas highway after Johnson pulled out of the tournament about 2 p.m. local time.

Johnson was still hoping he could play when he showed up about an hour before his tee time and went through his warmup regimen, looking mildly uncomfortable after hitting each ball.

He walked to the putting green near the first tee, took a few practice swings, turned around and headed back to the clubhouse, his Masters over.

Johnson hurt his lower back Wednesday at the house he was renting. It was raining and Johnson went to move the car in anticipation of his son, Tatum, coming home from day care.

“I was just wearing my socks,” Johnson said. “So I just slipped going down the stairs. It actually would have been better if it had been the first set of stairs … but it was only three [stairs], so I landed right on the bottom.”

Johnson didn’t sleep most of the night, alternating heat and ice on his lower back. He wouldn’t know how the injury would affect him until he got to the range.

“As I was making some swings on the range, it was about 80% [but the back was] so tight, I couldn’t make a good backswing. And every time right at impact it would just catch. … It hurts.”

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Johnson, not a doctor, thinks he’ll be OK in two days.

“It’s tough, I want to play,” Johnson said. “I look forward to this tournament every year. And to have a freak accident happen [Wednesday] afternoon after I got back from the course, it’s tough.”

The cut at the Masters is the low 50 scores, plus anyone within 10 shots of the lead. Hoffman may have blown that out of the water. Most of the big names can recover to make the cut in the field of 93.

Hoffman will have a lot to think about before he returns to the course.

“Going to sleep on the lead at a major championship here at Augusta National is not going to be the easiest thing,” Hoffman said. “I look forward to it and I look forward to the challenge the next three days.”

Hoffman will be in one of the earlier groups Friday with a 10:01 a.m. EDT tee time. The wind is expected to still be blowing, the question is, will Hoffman be in the upper stratosphere or will he have come back to earth?

john.cherwa@latimes.com

@jcherwa


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