|-7 P Casey (Eng); -5 W Simpson (US), X Schauffele; -4 L Westwood (Eng), L Oosthuizen (SA), H Matsuyama (Jpn), P Reed (US)|
|Selected others: -3 J Rahm (Spa), T Finau (US); -2 B DeChambeau (US)|
Englishman Paul Casey has set the early clubhouse lead at seven under par during the first round of the Masters.
Casey’s bogey-free 65 at Augusta featured five birdies and an eagle.
Defending champion Tiger Woods also looked back to some of his best form with a 68, while pre-tournament favourite Bryson DeChambeau battled back after early struggles to shoot 70.
An electrical storm saw play suspended for three hours, so many players will not complete their rounds on Thursday.
One of the potential problems Augusta National faces during this unprecedented staging of an autumn Masters is daylight, with no leeway for play to continue late into the evening.
Players were already scheduled for a two-tee start, from the first and 10th in the opening two rounds, to allow for the shorter days after the tournament was moved from its usual April slot because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and world number one Dustin Johnson are among the later starters who will be back on Friday morning to finish up.
Americans Webb Simpson and Xander Schauffele sit two off Casey’s lead at five under par at the halfway stage on day one.
England’s Lee Westwood is a further stroke back alongside Woods, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, South African Louis Oosthuizen and 2018 champion Patrick Reed.
Casey achieved his best major finish earlier this year when he tied for second at the US PGA Championship in August and enjoyed a blistering start at Augusta.
The 43-year-old birdied his opening hole, the par-four 10th, and was four under after seven and then took the lead with an eagle at the par-five second.
He hit a stunning approach to four feet and holed the putt to move to six under par, before adding another birdie at the par-three sixth.
“I know this golf course better than most, my first Masters was 2004. It’s a golf course I love to play,” said Casey, who admitted the absence of patrons made Augusta a different test.
“What I desperately want is people pouring through the gates to watch myself and others play golf, but until that happens I’ll make the most of it.”
Fellow Englishman Westwood made five birdies on the front nine but the former world number one dropped a shot at the short 12th before parring his way home.
Woods soars as DeChambeau grinds
Five-time champion Woods’ best finish in the six events he has played since golf returned following the lockdown is tied 37th at the US PGA Championship.
But Woods at Augusta is a different animal, and the 44-year-old set about his quest for a record-equalling sixth Green Jacket in controlled fashion.
The 15-time major champion, starting on the 10th tee, carded three birdies in his opening seven holes and added another as he hit the turn to post his career-best opening round at the Masters.
“There was a lot of difference: both tees, then we had a long weather delay and got out on a golf course with no patrons,” said Woods.
“It was so different, not only the sight but the energy – there are no roars. But we are able to compete for a Green Jacket this week which earlier this year seemed improbable.
“I understand how to play this golf course. It’s a course that allows for experience.”
Despite Woods returning to Augusta as the defending champion, all the hype in the build-up was around US Open champion DeChambeau and his big-hitting approach.
The American’s coach, Mike Schy, said earlier this week that “softer” fairways would suit his charge but DeChambeau was wayward off the tee early on and struggled to find any.
He was forced to produce an impressive par save at 11, his second hole, after lashing a drive into the pines on the left but could not dig his way out of trouble after again finding the trees at 13, making a double-bogey seven after over-hitting his approach and then duffing a chip.
DeChambeau found some composure when his round was threatening to unravel by sinking successive birdies at the par-five 15th and par-three 16th and then finished strongly with birdies at eight and nine to leave himself at two under.
The world number six opted not to use the 48-inch driver he has been testing recently, saying afterwards he felt he could clear all the bunkers with his usual 45-inch model.