Masters Leaderboard: Viktor Hovland, Joe Rahm and Brooks Koepka Tied at the Top

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The gallery is packed from the start, as it's almost always on the first tee of the Augusta National Golf Club. And, as is almost always the case when Tiger Woods scouts at the Masters Tournament, there was hardly anyone there for the rest of his group, Viktor Hovland or Xander Schauffele.

They probably should – especially for Hovland, the only man of the three who has never won a major tournament or finished as runner-up. Either way, at the end of the day, he'll be in a tie for the lead.

“If you get a little too cocky and you want to push some places you probably shouldn't, it will punish you very quickly,” Hovland, who scored a seven-under par 65, said of the course. He leads with Joe Rahm and LIV Golf player Brooks Koepka. “So you know a good score is out there, but you can't force it. You just have to let it happen, and if you have a couple of putts to make, you have to do it, and then you can get into a rhythm.”

But, he warns, “That's one thing, you push too hard, and it will backfire.”

He clearly learned a lot in his first three Masters appearances. But before a waterlogged weather system threatens to turn the hills of Augusta National into their slickest and most slippery, especially on Saturdays, the trails are less threatening than usual. The winds are calm, as they shake the pines altogether, and the high humidity keeps the trails gentle.

Under those conditions, Hovland almost certainly would not have ended Thursday as the runaway solo leader, and he did not. Rahm, who endured a frustrating March after winning three PGA Tour events in January and February, overcame a double bogey on the first hole to also finish on 65. And Koepka, who won the LIV Golf event over the weekend, birdied two holes. final. to get its share of prominence, lending the second-year circuit a dose of credibility one might need and crave in equal measure.

“It's fully focused on this and trying to come out of here with a green jacket,” said Koepka, one of the main performers on the LIV circuit funded by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund to considerable condemnation and skepticism.

Koepka, a four-time major tournament winner, caught the attention late Thursday of the tournament's Competition Committee, whose chairman said officials had “questioned” Koepka and others “about the possible incident at No. 15.”

“All involved maintain that no advice was given or solicited,” chairman James B. Hyler Jr., said in a statement. “As a result, the committee decided that there was no violation of the rules.”

Outside of Koepka, LIV, whose 54-hole competition sparked widespread debate about whether its players would be ready for the rigors of a major 72-hole tournament, had a mixed day. Cameron Smith, the reigning British Open champion, opened with a tee shot that ended closer to the ninth fairway than the first. However, as the sun set, he signed for a two-under par 70. Phil Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion, was under par, as was Dustin Johnson, the 2020 winner.

But Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters winner who missed the Augusta National cut only once in his career, bogeyed six holes or worse to score 77. Louis Oosthuizen put together 76, and Bryson DeChambeau, who hit a six-shot US Open victory in less than three years then, ending in 74th place.

Still, for all the bittersweet theatrics that have seeped into men's golf when LIV burst onto the scene last year, many things about the inaugural Masters of the LIV era seem like so much else.

Fans – excuse us, patrons – clutched sweaty plastic cups more conspicuously than some of the players. A woman asleep at the base of a tree near the 11th fairway, and a little deeper into Amen Corner, Larry Mize, the 1987 champion playing his last Masters, approached the 12th tee box to a soft ovation. Woods, a 15-time grand prize winner, was, as ever, an attraction, by design or chance.

“You're right on time: you can see Tiger teeing off,” said a gallery keeper at the No. 4 junction. 7 to an old man wearing a hat from the 2007 PGA Championship. (Woods won that tournament to be exact.)

He's looking at Woods, yes, his run to a two-over-par 74. But he's also looking at the work of Hovland and Schauffele, who will finish at four under on a day when he feels he has proper possession.

Hovland's move to the top of the leaderboard started with the second hole, a 575-yard par-5 played as the easiest hole at last year's Masters. His tee kick thundered into the middle of the fairway, leaving him about 209 yards from the pin, by his estimation. He gripped his 6-iron and expected the ball to drop around the leading edge of the court.

It went farther, landing close enough for Hovland, who at times struggled to conquer the nitty-gritty of the short game, to make a putt for the eagles. He then birdied five holes, including a newly extended 13th, and had no bogeys.

“Around here, it's never a regular golf shot except maybe a par-3 because everything is a different lie,” said Patrick Reed, the 2018 winner.

Because of this, you need to have complete control over what your club does, especially what you try to do through impact, added Reed, the LIV player who shot 71 on Thursday. “I feel that Viktor has always done very well. If he goes and his putter starts working, he'll go out and do what he's doing on this golf course right now.”

Rahm summoned a similar consequential magic at the eighth hole, which he named Yellow Jasmine which demanded 570 yards.

Rahm stood on the tee box and hit, he estimated, “almost as hard as I could.” He thought he had about 267 yards left to the hole and envisioned hitting a 4-iron draw. A proper bounce, he thought, might put him at the back of the field.

Then he hit it lower than he wanted.

“It was done about 8 and clear on a perfect line and released up to 3 feet,” he says. “I wish I could be that close, but realistically, it doesn't usually happen that often. I'm glad it happened. I mean, it was a really good swing, and for it to end that close is a huge bonus.

Eagle. The leaders will take a two stroke lead over Cameron Young and Jason Day, who are fourth, until Friday.

Augusta National may not be so easy in the days ahead. The tournament's official forecast warns that rain will threaten much of Friday, when thunderstorms could disrupt afternoon play. The outlook for Saturday was even sadder, with two inches of rain and gusts of winds at 25 miles per hour.

Koepka said his appointment was at 8:18 a.m. Eastern time at No. 1 – 30 minutes earlier than originally planned – could be his biggest advantage on Friday.

“I thought I might be able to get a few more holes out than anyone else before it started to get dumped,” he said.

Many people will catch up.

Scottie Scheffler, the world's top-ranked golfer and winner of last year's Masters, missed a birdie putt at No. 18 and ended his day at four under. Rory McIlroy hit a 72, the first time since 2018 he's played the first round at Augusta as equal or better.

The cut comes Friday night, weather permitting, with a top 50 finish, plus the tie, leaving DeChambeau, Watson and Woods more vulnerable than most after their first-half performances.

“Most of the people are going down today,” said Woods. “Today is the day to do it.”