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Koepka, DeChambeau snag first-round lead

AUGUSTA, Ga. — If you signed up for big names adorning the top of the Masters leaderboard in Thursday’s opening round, your wish was Augusta National’s command.

Brooks Koepka, winner of two of the past three major championships, shares the lead with Bryson DeChambeau at 6-under par after the two posted rather dominant 66s.

All week, the pre-tournament talk seemed like it was about everyone but Koepka.

Then Koepka made this first round about Keopka.

He called Thursday, “probably the best ball-striking round I’ve had in a major championship,’’ which is pretty heavy stuff considering what he’s done in the majors the last nine months.

“I just enjoy the big stages,’’ Koepka said. “I enjoy major championships. That’s what you’re remembered by. Whenever I walk on the grounds, when I get to whatever major it is, when I arrive there I just get a good feeling. I don’t know how to explain it. I’m dialed in the entire week.’’

Koepka missed last year’s Masters with a wrist injury, so since the last time he played the Masters, he’s won three majors.

“I have an understanding of how to handle the bigger tournaments, understanding how to deal with pressure a little better,’’ he said. “Sometimes maybe I was a little bit too aggressive in majors. I let things go a lot easier and on the next shot in majors.’’

When it looked as if Koepka was about the separate himself from the field, DeChambeau went on a furious run at the end of his round with birdies on each of his final four holes.

Phil Mickelson
Phil MickelsonReuters

DeChambeau, who carded nine birdies, nearly had a hole-in-one on the par-3 16th hole. He chipped in for birdie on 17. And then his approach shot on 18 hit the flag stick and left him a 6-inch kick-in for birdie. That ended a stretch of birdies on six of his final seven holes.

“Man, I should have pulled the pin,’’ DeChambeau said when he watched the replay of his shot on 18, a joke considering how much of an advocate he’s been about the new rule allowing the pin to stay in while putting.

DeChambeau revealed after his round that he’s never had a hole-in-one — whether in competition or in a recreational round. The 66 was the lowest round in a major in DeChambeau’s career — by three shots.

Phil Mickelson, winner of three green jackets, is in third after shooting a 5-under 67, the same score he posted in the first round in 2010, his most recent Masters victory.

Dustin Johnson, the world’s No. 2 ranked player, and the colorful Ian Poulter are next at 4-under.

Among those at 3-under are past champion Adam Scott and Jon Rahm. Tiger Woods is 2-under after shooting a familiar opening-round score of 70. In three of the four Masters Woods has won, he shot 70 in the first round.

Woods is well aware of his history around Augusta, the fact that in all four of his Masters victories (1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005) he shot 70 or higher in the first round.

“I’ve shot this number and won four coats, so hopefully I can do it again,’’ Woods said. “I felt like I played well and I did all the things I needed to do to post a good number. I drove it well, hit some good iron shots, speed was good on the greens. I feel very good. I feel like I played well and I controlled my golf ball all day.”

Woods last won the Masters in 2005 and last won a major in 2008.

“The whole idea is to try and peak for four times a year,’’ Woods said. “I feel like my body’s good and my game’s good. It’s sharp.’’

Other players tied with Woods at 2-under are reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day.

When Poulter birdied 15, there were nine players tied for the lead at 3-under par. Moments later, Koepka birdied No. 13 to get to 4-under and seize the lead by himself.

A few minutes after that, Poulter, playing in his 14th Masters, carded a birdie on No. 16 to tie Koepka for the lead at 4-under. That’s when Koepka began to pull away, and then DeChambeau would follow.

It all left Friday’s second round — and surely the weekend — set up for an intriguing boat race.

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