Dustin Johnson, the world’s No. 1 golfer, withdrew from the Masters minutes before he was scheduled to tee off Thursday after injuring his lower back in a freak accident.
Johnson warmed up at the driving range and was at the first hole for his scheduled 2:03 p.m. tee time at Augusta National, before walking off the tee box and into the clubhouse.
Johnson said he wanted to play, but didn’t think he could compete after he strained his back falling on small staircase at his rental home in Augusta on Wednesday afternoon.
“It sucks. I want to play. I'm playing probably the best golf of my career and this is one of my favorite tournaments of the year,” Johnson said during a brief meeting with reporters. “I look forward to it every year and to have a freak accident happen after I got back from the course, it sucks. It sucks really bad.”
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Johnson, a Columbia native who played at Coastal Carolina, had won all three events he’d entered this year to claim the No. 1 ranking. He arrived at Augusta as the prohibitive favorite to win his first green jacket.
Johnson said he was wearing socks and going down a set of three steps to move his car Wednesday afternoon when he slipped and fell, landing hard on his left side. He said his left elbow was bruised and swollen, but his lower back took the brunt of the fall.
He iced his back and took anti-inflammatories and, despite a bad night of sleep, was hopeful he could play. After hitting balls at the range, Johnson took a couple of swings near the practice green and knew he couldn’t go.
“I just can’t swing the club,” he said.
Three who mattered
Charley Hoffman: The Las Vegas native reeled off five birdies on the back nine to take the first-day lead with a 7-under 65, four strokes ahead of former Wofford golfer William McGirt.
Phil Mickelson: The three-time Masters champion made eagle at 2 and finished 1 under. If Mickelson doesn’t implode Friday, he’ll be a threat when the weather improves this weekend.
Sergio Garcia: Still lugging the “Best Player Never to Win a Major” tag, the 37-year-old Spainard had 17 pars and one birdie on his way to a 1-under 71.
▪ The wind made Augusta’s pristine grounds at times look like a baseball stadium on a breezy day, with sandwich wrappers and other debris getting whipped across fairways.
▪ Definition of a logjam: Not long after the final group teed off at 2:03 p.m., a group of 14 players were tied for the lead at 1 under.
▪ Oklahoma sophomore Brad Dalke is built like a linebacker -- not surprising given his father played football for the Sooners. Dalke, who committed to Oklahoma when he was 12, qualified for his first Masters by finishing second to Aussie Curtis Luck at the U.S. Amateur.
▪ South Carolina coach Frank Martin, fresh from his Final Four run, was among those in the galleries. ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit and quarterback coach George Whitfield, who worked with the Panthers’ Cam Newton before the 2011 draft, were hanging along the third fairway.
▪ Jordan Spieth’s 9 at No. 15 was his second quadruple-bogey in as many rounds at Augusta. Spieth said he should have been thinking par at 15. Instead, he picked the wrong wedge for his approach, which hit the false front and spun back into the water. The 2015 Masters winner managed a birdie on the next hole and is 3 over.
▪ Reigning champion Danny Willett had a rough start, with a double bogey at No. 1 and a bogey at 2. But Willett birdied the third hole and kept things together to card a 1-over 73.
▪ Willett wasn’t the only player to have trouble on the 445-yard No. 1, which played much longer because of the wind. It was statistically the toughest hole of the day, yielding one birdie and 43 bogeys or worse.
▪ Patrons received an “Arnie’s Army” badge Thursday in honor of Arnold Palmer, the four-time Masters champion who died in September at 87. Officials held a moment of silence for Palmer before the start of the tournament.
They said it
“I could see on the board his name was taken down. ... As a friend of his and somebody who's played a lot of golf with him, it must really not be good for him not to tee it up.” – Spieth on Johnson.
“That was exciting. But I knew that there were still a lot of tough holes left out there and just trying to make pars was kind of the goal.” – Mickelson on his eagle.