Major glory awaits for one man at Kiawah Island on Sunday, when the winner of the US PGA Championship will be confirmed.

With such a stacked field it is hard to pick out the most likely victor, but that has not stopped Stats Peform's team of expert writers from having a go.

Last year it was Collin Morikawa who prevailed, snapping American compatriot Brooks Koepka's run of consecutive wins.

Who will it be this time?

IT'S OFFICIAL, RORY IS BACK! – Peter Hanson

Okay, I'm officially calling it – Rory McIlroy is back! At the back end of 2019 and the start of 2020, the Northern Irishman was flying. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Then there were some questionable decisions to start trying to match the bombs Bryson DeChambeau can nail off the tee. Then there were some ugly results – including missed cuts at the Players Championship and the Masters. But forget all that, McIlroy – just six weeks on from starting work with renowned coach Pete Cowen – was back in the winners' circle at Quail Hollow last weekend, his first title since November 2019. A McIlroy in full swagger is a joy for any golf fan, and crucially he knows how to get it done at Kiawah Island having won the first of his two PGA Championship titles at the South Carolina course back in 2012 – doing so by eight strokes, a record for the tournament. It's time for Rory to finally get that fifth major.

SCHAUFFELE HAS GOT THIS ONE – Russell Greaves

If you have this notion that Xander Schauffele always seems to be in contention at the majors, it's because he is. His tie for third at the Masters this year represented an eighth top-10 finish at a major for Schauffele, with two of those coming at the US PGA. His record is one of remarkable consistency, with only one missed cut across 14 entries in the sport's four headline events. Schauffele is one of the most adaptable players out there, as evidenced by his PGA Tour-leading sand save percentage of 69.35. At just 27, it seems inevitable he will eventually clinch a title at one of those quartet of tournaments.

HIDEKI WILL DOUBLE UP – Ben Spratt

Hideki Matsuyama had been waiting a long time for his breakthrough triumph at Augusta last month, with seven top-10 finishes at majors without reaching the winner's circle before that Masters victory. "It was a relief, really," he said last week. But having got that monkey off his back and shown he is good enough in his approach play that a poor putting game need not be a hindrance, Matsuyama can no longer be written off so easily. The Japanese will be heading to Kiawah Island full of confidence and ready to win. A second straight success would really lay down a marker.

IT'S RAHM TIME – John Skilbeck 

Sooner or later, or so goes the theory, Jon Rahm will win a major. Let's tilt towards sooner then, because Rahm is top of the PGA Tour's ball-striking chart this season, fourth in terms of finding greens in regulation and top 20 in average driving distance and scoring average. On a course set to measure over 7,800 yards, those ingredients in his game look more than useful, but Rahm will need to putt well too and that is not a given. He is down in a share of 192nd for putts per round this season, so needs to get something going with the short stick. He is developing a reputation as a Masters specialist, with four successive top-10 finishes at Augusta, and the Kiawah Island conditions will be a world away from those in Georgia. But this breakthrough at a major is going to happen sooner or later, isn't it?

RAHM'S THE ONE FOR ME – Chris Myson 

Aside from a tie for fourth at the 2018 US PGA Championship, Rahm has not made a huge impact at this event. But he is rightly among the favourites for victory this week on the back of his tie for fifth place at the Masters and his continued consistency on the PGA Tour. With six top-10 finishes to his name at major championships, Rahm has proven he can get himself into contention at the biggest events. And he comes into the latest major in form. While the world number three is yet to win this year, he has missed the cut just once in 10 events. Rahm says the recent birth of his son Kepa has helped to take the pressure off his pursuit of a first major, an occasion which is surely not far away.

Hideki Matsuyama's history-making Masters triumph has changed the face of golf, according to the 29-year-old's former caddie.

Matsuyama claimed the famous green jacket on Sunday, becoming the first Japanese man to win a major tournament in the process.

His victory came in thrilling fashion, Matsuyama seeing off competition from Will Zalatoris, Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele to finish 10 under par at Augusta.

Before Matsuyama's achievement, female stars Hinako Shibuno (2019 Women's British Open) and Chako Higuchi (1977 LPGA Championship) were Japan's previous golf major winners.

Daisuke Shindo caddied for Matsuyama between 2013 and 2018, and he believes Matsuyama's win will lead to a change in the sport not only in Asia, but across the globe.

"He has made history, not only in Japan but also Asia and the world. I think it was a moment that changed the world of golf. I think it was such a great achievement," Shindo told Stats Perform News.

"I think that is huge. We grew up watching Tiger Woods when we were young. I grew up watching Jumbo Ozaki and Shigeki Maruyama. I still admire them now.

"I think it was a great inspiration for all the children who saw Hideki win the Masters, and not only the children but also the professional golfers.

"I think Hideki's victory had a great impact on people who don't play golf. For the past a couple of days, I've been hearing 'golf, golf' anywhere all over town. It's amazing. I've never heard ordinary young people talking about golf. I think it's amazing."

Shindo also backed Matsuyama to win another major this year, as he believes his ex-university classmate has finally delivered on his promise after previously managing five PGA Tour wins.

"Every player is really hard on themselves. That's why they keep the position as top athletes," Shindo added.

"But if you're too hard on yourself, you're not going to be able to relax and you're going to get frustrated. Golf is a sport [in] which you have to accept mistakes, but it's very important to find a balance. I think Matsuyama accepted his mistakes this time and played golf in a very positive way.

"Even in a tough situation, he didn't panic, and even when the flow of the game was bad, he was always patient. He didn't look frustrated, he wasn’t shaken at all and looked calm.

"I still play golf and have dinner with Hideki when he comes back to Japan. We are more like brothers in arms than former partners.

"I was really happy. I saw how he was always fighting, with all the pressure from Japanese supporters. At the moment Hideki was finally rewarded, I really cried."

One certain way to cement golf's growing popularity in Japan would be with a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, with Shindo foreseeing a rise to world number one.

"I think it has boosted the confidence of not just Matsuyama but all the members of 'Team Matsuyama'," Shindo said.

"It's a great way to build momentum as a team. Now Hideki has that confidence. I think the team will be strong when that happens. I am confident that he will win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

"For Hideki, it's better for him to have a little pressure. He is such a strong and big guy. I think he's going to do well at the Olympics and he's going to be number one in the world ranking.

"When I was on tour with him, his highest ranking was two, but I think he will rise to number one."

Hideki Matsuyama's maiden major triumph has elevated golf to a new level, according to Gary Player.

Matsuyama entered the history books as he became the first Japanese man to prevail at a major after winning The Masters on Sunday.

The 29-year-old, with five PGA Tour titles under his belt prior to his Augusta triumph, held his nerve to win by one shot and claim the famed green jacket.

Matsuyama (2011) became the third Masters champion in the last five years to have previously earned low amateur honours, following in the footsteps of Tiger Woods (2019, low amateur in 1995) and Sergio Garcia (2017, low amateur in 1999).

Having clocked up seven top-10 finishes across golf's four headline tournaments, Matsuyama catapulted himself into esteemed company with his Georgia glory and Player, a nine-time major winner, knows there is a huge gap between winners and also-rans. 

And he feels Matsuyama's success has taken the sport "up a notch".

"Now you see there are lots of ifs and ands, but finishing second, only your wife and your dog knows about it – that's if you've got a good dog," the South African, who donned the green jacket three times, told Stats Perform News.

"So now he comes along and he wins the Masters in great style and I said to him, 'I'm very happy that you won because you can be president or prime minister of Japan and I won't need a visa!'.

"No, his play was exemplary, he kept his cool, and what wins golf tournaments is not long driving as we are brainwashed about, it's the putter and the mind.

"I'm so happy he won because I want to see people win golf tournaments where golf is going to be the benefactor.

"More clubs will be sold around the world now and golf went up a notch. I always wanted to have the best world record as a global golfer, not just in America only, so for me to see an international player win, I'm always happy to see anybody win but it's going to do golf so much good. I can't tell you.

"If this wasn't during COVID you would have had people flying over from Japan the night before, the press people. He would have had 60 representatives of the media in Japan because they've been thirsting and hungry and starved for a major championship winner. And a golfing nation of that status has been deprived of that, and there they've got it at last. Thank goodness."

Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama said he admirers countrymen and MLB stars Yu Darvish, Kenta Maeda and Shohei Ohtani after becoming the first Japanese man to win a major.

Matsuyama made history with his one-stroke victory ahead of Will Zalatoris in a tense finale at Augusta on Sunday.

A five-time PGA Tour winner before this success, Matsuyama withstood a wobble and the threat posed by Xander Schauffele (72) and Zalatoris (70) to complete a history-making performance in Georgia, where he carded a final-round 73 to claim the green jacket.

Matsuyama was asked about his golfing heroes after the memorable achievement, but the 29-year-old instead listed his baseball idols – Los Angeles Angels two-way sensation Ohtani, four-time All-Star and San Diego Padres ace Darvish and Minnesota Twins pitcher Maeda.

"You know, the people that I admired were a lot -- were mainly baseball players: Darvish, Ohtani, Maeda," Matsuyama told reporters.

"As far as golf, not so much. Hopefully now others will, like you said, be inspired for what happened here today and follow in my footsteps."

"It's been a struggle recently," added Matsuyama, who had last won on the PGA Tour in 2017. "This year, no Top 10s, haven't even contended. So I came to Augusta with little or no expectations. But as the week progressed, as I practiced, especially on Wednesday, I felt something again. I found something in my swing.

"And when that happens, the confidence returns. And so I started the tournament with a lot of confidence."

Matsuyama (2011) – who finished 10 under – became the third Masters champion in the last five years to have previously earned low amateur honours, following in the footsteps of Woods (2019, low amateur in 1995) and Sergio Garcia (2017, low amateur in 1999).

With his final-round 73, Matsuyama became the eighth player (nine instances) to claim The Masters despite an over-par final round – Trevor Immelman was the last to do so in 2008.

It came after Matsuyama – four strokes clear at the start of the day – had extended his lead to five at the turn, before his title bid threatened to turn sour as Schauffele closed in and Zalatoris loomed.

After finding water at the par-five 15th hole, Matsuyama took the penalty and cleaned up for bogey as Schauffele continued to heap pressure on the Japanese hopeful, cutting the lead to two shots with his fourth consecutive birdie.

But Schauffele's pursuit of a maiden major collapsed when the American – seven back at the 12th tee before rallying – also found water before sending his next shot into the crowd.

Matsuyama had a routine par to move three shots clear with two to play, but he dropped another shot, his lead down to two ahead of Zalatoris as an ill-timed triple-bogey sent 2019 runner-up Schauffele down to equal third alongside Jordan Spieth – four shots behind.

That was the breathing space Matsuyama needed as Japan's new poster boy held his nerve, doing what he needed to do during the final two holes in front of an appreciative crowd on the 18th, where not even a bogey could wipe away the champion's smile.

"Xander had just made three birdies in a row at 12, 13 and 14. I hit the fairway at 15, hitting first, with Xander having the momentum," Matsuyama said as he discussed his approach on the 15th and 16th holes. "I felt I needed to birdie 15 because I knew Xander would definitely be birdieing or maybe even eagling.

"But it didn't happen. And so I stood on the 16th tee with a two-stroke lead, and unfortunately for Xander, he found the water with his tee shot and I played safe to the right of the green at 16."

"I can't say I'm the greatest. However, I'm the first to win a major, and if that's the bar, then I've set it," Matsuyama said when asked if he is the greatest male golfer out of Japan following his success.

Hideki Matsuyama hopes his history-making Masters triumph will pave the way for more Japanese success among men.

Matsuyama made history as he became the first Japanese man to win a major tournament after claiming The Masters by one shot in a thrilling finale at Augusta on Sunday.

A five-time PGA Tour winner before this success, Matsuyama withstood a wobble and the threat posed by Xander Schauffele (72) and Will Zalatoris (70) to complete a memorable performance in Georgia, where he triumphed at 10 under par overall following a 73 to get his hands on the green jacket.

Matsuyama (2011) became the third Masters champion in the last five years to have previously earned low amateur honours, following in the footsteps of Woods (2019, low amateur in 1995) and Sergio Garcia (2017, low amateur in 1999).

After replicating the major success of countrywomen Hinako Shibuno (2019 Women's British Open) and Chako Higuchi (1977 LPGA Championship) on the men's circuit, Matsuyama said: "Hopefully I'll be a pioneer in this and many other Japanese will follow.

"I'm glad to be able to open the floodgates hopefully, and many more will follow me."

Matsuyama – four strokes clear at the start of the day – had extended his lead to five at the turn, but his title bid threatened to turn sour as Schauffele closed in and Zalatoris loomed.

After finding water at the par-five 15th hole, Matsuyama took the penalty and cleaned up for bogey as Schauffele continued to heap pressure on the Japanese hopeful, cutting the lead to two shots with his fourth consecutive birdie.

But Schauffele's pursuit of a maiden major collapsed when the American – seven back at the 12th tee before rallying – also found water before sending his next shot into the crowd.

Matsuyama had a routine par to move three shots clear with two to play, but he dropped another shot, his lead down to two ahead of Zalatoris as an ill-timed triple-bogey sent 2019 runner-up Schauffele down to equal third alongside Spieth – four shots behind.

That was the breathing space Matsuyama needed as Japan's new poster boy held his nerve, doing what he needed to do during the final two holes in front of an appreciative crowd on the 18th, where not even a bogey could wipe away the champion's smile.

"My nerves really didn't start on the second nine," Matsuyama said. "It was right from the start today. Right to the very last putt."

With his final-round 73, Matsuyama became the eighth player (nine instances) to claim The Masters despite an over-par final round – Trevor Immelman was the last to do so in 2008.

Asked what moment he realised he was going to win The Masters, the 29-year-old added: "Hitting the fairway with my tee shot at 18."

Hideki Matsuyama's breakthrough Masters triumph will "impact the entire golf world", according to 15-time major champion Tiger Woods.

Matsuyama made history as he became the first Japanese man to win a major tournament after claiming The Masters by one shot in a thrilling finale at Augusta on Sunday.

A five-time PGA Tour winner before this success, Matsuyama withstood a wobble and the threat posed by Xander Schauffele (72) and Will Zalatoris (70) to complete a history-making performance in Georgia, where he triumphed at 10 under par overall following a 73 to get his hands on the green jacket.

Matsuyama (2011) became the third Masters champion in the last five years to have previously earned low amateur honours, following in the footsteps of Woods (2019, low amateur in 1995) and Sergio Garcia (2017, low amateur in 1999).

Five-time Masters champion and American superstar Woods – who is recovering after a near-fatal single-car collision in February – congratulated the 29-year-old Matsuyama via social media.

"Making Japan proud Hideki. Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment for you and your country," Woods wrote on Twitter.

"This historic Masters win will impact the entire golf world."

Matsuyama – four strokes clear at the start of the day – had extended his lead to five at the turn, but his title bid threatened to turn sour as Schauffele closed in and Zalatoris loomed.

After finding water at the par-five 15th hole, Matsuyama took the penalty and cleaned up for bogey as Schauffele continued to heap pressure on the Japanese hopeful, cutting the lead to two shots with his fourth consecutive birdie.

But Schauffele's pursuit of a maiden major collapsed when the American – seven back at the 12th tee before rallying – also found water before sending his next shot into the crowd.

Matsuyama had a routine par to move three shots clear with two to play, but he dropped another shot, his lead down to two ahead of Zalatoris as an ill-timed triple-bogey sent 2019 runner-up Schauffele down to equal third alongside Spieth – four shots behind.

It was Schauffele's first triple-bogey in a major championship – a run of 1,042 holes.

That was the breathing space Matsuyama needed as Japan's new poster boy held his nerve, doing what he needed to do during the final two holes in front of an appreciative crowd on the 18th, where not even a bogey could wipe away the champion's smile.

Hideki Matsuyama made history as he became the first Japanese man to win a major tournament after claiming The Masters by one shot in a thrilling finale at Augusta.

Matsuyama was on the cusp of history heading into Sunday's final round, the 29-year-old carrying a four-stroke lead as he looked to replicate the major success of countrywomen Hinako Shibuno (2019 Women's British Open) and Chako Higuchi (1977 LPGA Championship) on the men's circuit.

A five-time PGA Tour winner before this success, Matsuyama withstood a wobble and the threat posed by Xander Schauffele (72) to complete a history-making performance in Georgia, where he triumphed at 10 under par overall following a 73 to get his hands on the green jacket.

Will Zalatoris (70) earned outright second position, two strokes ahead of former world number one and 2015 Masters winner Jordan Spieth (70) and 2019 runner-up Schauffele.

Matsuyama – four strokes clear at the start of the day – had extended his lead to five at the turn, but his title bid threatened to turn sour as Schauffele closed in and Zalatoris loomed.

After finding water at the par-five 15th hole, Matsuyama took the penalty and cleaned up for bogey as Schauffele continued to heap pressure on the Japanese hopeful, cutting the lead to two shots with his fourth consecutive birdie.

But Schauffele's pursuit of a maiden major collapsed when the American – seven back at the 12th tee before rallying – also found water before sending his next shot into the crowd.

Matsuyama had a routine par to move three shots clear with two to play, but he dropped another shot, his lead down to two ahead of Zalatoris as an ill-timed triple-bogey sent 2019 runner-up Schauffele down to equal third alongside Spieth – four shots behind.

It was Schauffele's first triple-bogey in a major championship – a run of 1,042 holes.

That was the breathing space Matsuyama needed as Japan's new poster boy held his nerve, doing what he needed to do during the final two holes in front of an appreciative crowd on the 18th, where not even a bogey could wipe away the champion's smile.

Matsuyama (2011) became the third Masters champion in the last five years to have previously earned low amateur honours, following in the footsteps of Tiger Woods (2019, low amateur in 1995) and Sergio Garcia (2017, low amateur in 1999).

Elsewhere, Jon Rahm (66) and Marc Leishman (73) shared fifth position at six under, while one-time major champion Justin Rose had to settle for seventh – five shots off the pace – following his final-round 74 as 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed (69) surged into a tie for eighth.

Hideki Matsuyama held a five-shot lead as he hit the turn in the final round of The Masters.

Matsuyama went into the last 18 holes four strokes ahead and in the box set to claim the first major title of his career.

Amid windy conditions at Augusta National, the Japanese made a shaky start on Sunday, two-putting for bogey on the first as he paid the price for a wayward tee shot.

He appeared to be in trouble again on the next after finding the bunker with his approach, but he sent an exquisite shot out of the sand to four feet and made no mistake with the putt to birdie the par-five second.

Matsuyama performed similar recovery work on the eighth. He sent his approach off the edge of the green but an excellent third shot left him with just three feet for another gain.

That restored his overnight advantage and a wondrous approach on the ninth saw that lead extended, with Will Zalatoris, who had threatened to erase Matsuyama's margin with a birdie-birdie start, struggling to keep pace.

Zalatoris, making his first competitive start at The Masters, bogeyed the eighth and the 10th but, at eight under, still stood as Matsuyama's closest challenger. 

Justin Rose, Marc Leishman and Xander Schauffele had been four adrift after Saturday's play but all fell further back on Sunday.

Rose and Leishman were each five under through nine, with Schauffele within seven shots of Matsuyama on six under.

Hideki Matsuyama is embracing the new experience of leading a major as the Japanese golfer stands on the brink of history following a red-hot performance at The Masters.

Matsuyama seized control of the tournament at Augusta, where the five-time PGA Tour champion earned a four-stroke lead thanks to his flawless third-round 65 on Saturday.

After inclement weather halted proceedings, Matsuyama – chasing his maiden major title – jumped out of the blocks and gained six shots in seven holes to blitz the field in Georgia.

Matsuyama heads into Sunday's final round as the player to beat at 11 under through 54 holes, ahead of Xander Schauffele, March Leishman, Justin rose and Will Zalatoris, while looking to become the first Japanese man to win a major event.

"This will be a new experience for me, being a leader going into the final round in a major," said Matsuyama, who was one under before the weather delay.

"All I can do is just relax as I can tonight, prepare well and just do my best tomorrow."

Matsuyama – making his 87th start since his last victory at the 2017 WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational – posted the first bogey-free round this week and his best score in 37 rounds at The Masters.

The 29-year-old, who birdied the seventh hole on a bogey-free front nine, was red hot following the turn, birdieing the 11th and 12th.

Unstoppable, Matsuyama eagled the 15th before following that up with back-to-back birdies at the 16th and 17th as he soared to 11 under through 54 holes.

"During the rain delay, or right before the rain delay, I probably hit the worst shot I've hit this week," he said. "And during the rain delay, I just figured, I can't hit anything worse than that. And so maybe it relieved some pressure."

"Before the horn blew, I didn't hit a very good drive, but after the horn blew for the restart, I hit practically every shot exactly how I wanted to," continued Matsuyama.

Matsuyama was off the pace at the start of the day but turned the tables to soar to the summit.

Asked what he would have thought had he been told he would end the day four strokes lead, Matsuyama added: "Maybe I wouldn't have believed it, but I did play well today.

"And my game plan was carried out, and hopefully tomorrow I can continue good form."

Matsuyama has been paired with 2019 Masters runner-up and former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Schauffele in the final round.

Of the last 30 Masters champions, 25 have come from the last pairing.

Hideki Matsuyama produced a flawless seven-under-par 65 as his stunning late blitz earned a four-stroke lead heading into the final round of The Masters.

Matsuyama – chasing his maiden major title and Japan's first in men's golf – made a huge splash on moving day at Augusta, where the 29-year-old seized control following a weather delay on Saturday.

After inclement weather halted proceedings, Matsuyama jumped out of the blocks and gained six shots in seven holes to leave overnight leader Justin Rose in his tracks.

Matsuyama – who birdied the seventh hole on a bogey-free front nine – was red hot following the turn, the five-time PGA Tour champion birdieing the 11th and 12th.

Unstoppable, Matsuyama eagled the 15th before following that up with back-to-back birdies at the 16th and 17th as he soared to 11 under through 54 holes.

Matsuyama – making his 87th start since his last victory at the 2017 WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational – posted the first bogey-free round this week and his best score in 37 rounds at The Masters.

Xander Schauffele and Marc Leishman also made their moves to join Rose and Will Zalatoris in a share of second spot heading into Sunday's final round.

Runner-up in 2019, American Schauffele improved 10 positions thanks to a third-round 68, which included an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys.

Leishman (70) – who finished tied for fourth in 2013 – enjoyed a strong finish, with two birdies from his final bogey-free six holes leaving him in a mix to become just the second Australian to win a green jacket after Adam Scott (2013).

The penultimate day did not go according to plan for Englishman Rose, who signed for a second consecutive 72 in Georgia.

It was a mixed day for Rose as the one-time major champion split three birdies and as many bogeys, while American Zalatoris (71) is also seven under overall.

Highlighted by an ace on the sixth hole, Corey Conners posted a four-under-par 68 to be outright sixth, five strokes behind Matsuyama.

Former world number one and 2015 champion Jordan Spieth – who ended his near-four-year title drought last week – will begin Sunday six shots off the pace following his 72.

Another former Masters winner, 2018 champion Patrick Reed, is four strokes further back after shooting a two-under-par 70 to be level alongside Justin Thomas (75) and last year's runner-up Cameron Smith (73).

Justin Rose surged into a four-shot lead as Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau were among the big names to endure first-round struggles at The Masters.

Rose was two over through seven holes in tough scoring conditions, with quicker and firmer Augusta greens proving a much bigger challenge than when Dustin Johnson won the tournament with a record score of 20 under last November.

The Englishman sparked into life with an eagle at the par-five eighth hole and lit up the back nine to card a magnificent seven-under 65, the lowest Masters round of his career, with patrons allowed back in under blue skies.

Rose, eyeing a maiden Masters title, got on a roll with seven birdies in nine holes before finishing with a composed par to retain his four-stroke advantage.

Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama shared the early clubhouse lead with impressive three-under opening rounds of 69 before Rose stormed clear.

Defending champion Johnson shot a two-over 74 following a double bogey at the 18th, having made a bogey-birdie start before getting in the red for the first time at 13.

Masters debutant Will Zalatoris, Webb Simpson, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Patrick Reed will start their second rounds on two under following encouraging starts, while new father Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele are among a clutch of players at level par.

McIlroy suffered a miserable opening round and is back on four over, facing a battle to make the cut rather than fight it out to complete a career Grand Slam, while U.S. Open champion DeChambeau was four over through 15.

Jordan Spieth was left to rue a triple-bogey after launching a wayward tee shot into the trees at the ninth but was in a share of eighth on one under after chipping in for an eagle at 15, while Justin Thomas was a further stroke back through 15.

Brooks Koepka matched Johnson's 74 just a few weeks after undergoing knee surgery and the previously in-form Lee Westwood is languishing on six over.

Tommy Fleetwood generated a roar from those fortunate enough to be at the 16th to see him make a hole-in-one before he signed for a 74.

Defending champion Dustin Johnson failed to hit the ground running in testing conditions when he started the defence of his Masters title on Thursday.

Johnson donned the green jacket for the first time last November, finishing the tournament on a record-breaking 20 under par.

The world number one made only four bogeys as he blew the field away in the 2020 major at Augusta, but he dropped two shots in his opening five holes five months later, with patrons returning under blue skies.

Birdies were at a premium when the tournament got under way on much quicker, firmer greens than those seen in last year's tournament.

Two-time major champion Johnson started by dropping a shot after running through the first green with his second shot. Although he hit straight back with a birdie at the par-five second, Johnson was back at one over after failing to sink a par putt at the fifth.

Hideki Matsuyama led the way on three under through eight holes after draining an eagle putt at the eighth, with Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Si Woo Kim just a shot behind.

New father Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed and Paul Casey were among a host of players on one under following early birdies.

The recently in-form Lee Westwood was struggling on three over through six after a double bogey at the third, while Rory McIlroy dropped to one over with a dropped shot at the fifth and Brooks Koepka was level par eight holes into his first round.

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