Mark SchlabachESPN Senior Writer3 minutes of reading
AUGUSTA, GA. — Past Masters champion Patrick Reed has heard all the jokes about LIV Golf League members not being able to compete for the green jacket this week because they no longer play serious golf and only shoot 54 rounds in tournaments.
“Last time I checked, I was the one wearing the green jacket,” said Reid, the 2018 Masters champion.
The 17 LIV Golf League players who competed in the first round of the 87th Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday had mixed results. Four-time major champion Brooks Koepka led the first round with a 65-under par. Reigning Open Championship winner Cameron Smith is 2 under, while past Masters champions Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Reed are 1 under. .
Some former major champions now play in the LIV Golf League. Bryson DeChambeau was 2 over, Louis Oosthuizen was 4 over and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson was 5 over.
“I’ll be playing Augusta National at the Masters, and whatever I shoot, it’s an amazing day,” said Mickelson, who missed last year’s tournament. “Trying to enjoy the day and not stress too much.”
Koepka, who finished second at the 2019 Masters behind Tiger Woods, joins Norway’s Viktor Hovland and Spain’s Jon Rahm after 18 rounds.
“It was really good,” Koepka said. “I want to finish it with two birdies. Ride it tomorrow and Sunday, that’s the whole goal.”
Not long ago, Koepka, 32, might have wondered if he would return to this level. In March 2021, Koepka slipped and dislocated his right knee at his home in Florida. He said he broke the knee cap trying to put it back in place. He tore his medial patellofemoral ligament, which connects the kneecap to the femur.
“My leg was sideways and out,” Koepka said. “My leg was amputated, and when I got it back on, because the knee cap was already broken — it went in really well. It went in really easy.”
Koepka played in the 2021 Masters less than a month after surgery and missed the cut. He also missed weekends last year. He said surgeons said it would take 18 months to fully recover.
Koepka had eight birdies and one bogey in the round. Koepka won last week’s LIV tournament in Orlando, Florida.
“I don’t think I’ve reinvented anything,” Koepka said. “I’m healthy, so I can go the way I want. If your body doesn’t allow you to do the things you want to do, it’s frustrating, and suddenly you develop a lot of bad habits. Then you try to get out of being unhealthy, it takes a while, and then suddenly you get out of those bad habits. Have to. When you break free, it’s kind of nice.”
Mickelson, a three-time winner at Augusta National, was last a contender at the Masters in 2015 when he tied for second. He had six birdies in the first round, including a memorable one on the par-5 second hole. After hooking his 336-yard drive into the trees on the right, Mickelson hit his driver back into the pine straw. His second shot went left across the fairway and came to rest on a cart path. After a drop, Mickelson hit a flop shot 76 yards to 5 feet for a birdie putt.
Mickelson said two poor swings led to a double bogey on the par-4 11th and another bogey on the par-3 16th.
“I hit a lot of good shots today and had a chance to shoot a low round,” Mickelson said. “But the problem I’m dealing with is this: I’ll take two swings and it’ll cost me four shots on 11 and 16. I’ve got to keep working on eliminating that. I’m hitting good enough shots to make some. Good numbers, I’m having fun, hitting the shots again and enjoying a good drive. “
Mickelson hit 11 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens.
“You have to be a little sharper on one or two swings, because the penalty for one foul in major championships is pretty severe,” Mickelson said. “I’m not shooting myself in the foot either. Gotta come out with a good round tomorrow.”