Masters 2021: Matsuyama and Harman share lead as McIlroy and Westwood struggle

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Rory McIlroy needs the Masters to complete a career Grand Slam
Rory McIlroy needs the Masters to complete a career Grand Slam

Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman share the early clubhouse lead on the opening day of the Masters but Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood struggled on Thursday.

Matsuyama, who could become the first Japanese player to co-lead a round at Augusta National, sits alongside American Harman at three under par.

Northern Ireland’s McIlroy finished the day seven shots back at four over par with Englishman Westwood at six over.

Defending champion and world number one Dustin Johnson is at two over par.

World number two Justin Thomas, US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and 2015 Masters winner Jordan Spieth are among the late starters on day one.

Matsuyama, the world number 25, made two birdies had an eagle three at the par-five eighth and looked to be on for a bogey-free round, before a dropped shot at 17 pegged him back to three under.

World number 50 Harman also carded a 69 in a round that included four birdies and just one dropped shot.

Debutant Will Zalatoris is well placed after signing for a 70 that puts him one stroke off the lead at two under par, tied with fellow American Webb Simpson and South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout.

Patrick Reed, the 2018 champion, is also one back after bogeying the 18th, having climbed into a share of the lead with back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th holes.

This is the first major to be played with spectators since the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush, with around a quarter of the up to 50,000 patrons usually welcomed at Augusta National in attendance.

Lee Westwood and Dustin Johnson
Lee Westwood was playing alongside Dustin Johnson on Thursday

The past two Masters have yielded the lowest average scores in the iconic major’s history but firm greens and gusty conditions caused problems for some on Thursday.

Among those was McIlroy, who endured his customary slow start as he carded three bogeys on the bounce through five, six and seven, with his wayward approach on the latter even hitting his dad, Gerry, on the leg.

The Northern Irishman is chasing a career Grand Slam and has begun working with renowned swing coach Pete Cowen in a bid to regain form after sliding to 12th in the world rankings.

He followed that run of bogeys with a birdie at the par-five eighth, but dropped another shot at nine to hit the turn at three over and then found the water at 11 and 13.

The 31-year-old rolled in a birdie from four feet at the par-five 15th to pull one back and finished with three successive pars to post a four-over 76.

American Johnson posted a record winning total of 20 under par when he claimed the Green Jacket in November and is aiming to become only the fourth man to defend his title after Jack Nicklaus (1965-1966), Nick Faldo (1989-1990) and Tiger Woods (2001-2002).

He was able to make the most of soft conditions to win his second major title in the autumn but made a bogey-birdie start to his defence and was one over for the front nine after dropping a stroke on the fifth.

The 36-year-old, who had only four bogeys all week when he won, looked to have kickstarted his round with a chip-in birdie from 17 yards on the 11th and added another birdie at the par-five 13th to get to one under.

But he bogeyed 16 and then watched a bogey putt on 18 lip out from four feet, eventually signing for a two-over-par 74.

Johnson was playing alongside Westwood, who arrived in Georgia with son Sam on his bag as one of the game’s form players, having already carded two second-placed finishes in 2021.

But a double bogey on the third set the tone for the 47-year-old, who was being talked up this week as someone who could break Nicklaus’ record as the oldest Masters champion.

The former world number one is yet to win a major and faces a monumental task if he is to break that duct, with a further six bogeys and two birdies leaving him well off the pace at six over.

Elsewhere, Ian Poulter made seven bogeys and five birdies to finish at two over, with fellow Englishman and 2016 champion Danny Willett and Wales’ 1991 winner Ian Woosnam two further back at four over.

English amateur Joe Long, who tore a glute muscle while surfing with a friend in the build-up to Augusta, struggled on his debut and finished on 10 over par.

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