AUGUSTA, Ga. — Past Masters champion Patrick Reed has heard all the jokes about how LIV Golf League members wouldn’t be able to compete for a green jacket this week because they’re no longer playing serious golf and only 54 holes in tournaments.
“Last time I checked, I’m the one with the green jacket,” said Reed, 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. Brooks Koepka, a four-time major champion, grabbed a share of the first-round lead with a 7-under 65. Reigning Open Championship winner Cameron Smith was 2 under and past Masters champions Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Reed were 1 under.
A few former major champions now playing in the LIV Golf League didn’t fare as well. Bryson DeChambeau was 2 over, Louis Oosthuizen was 4 over and Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters champion, was 5 over.
“I get to play Augusta National in the Masters and this is an awesome day no matter what I shoot,” said Mickelson, who skipped the tournament last year. “Just trying to enjoy the day and not put so much pressure.”
“It was pretty good,” Koepka said. “Love to finish with two birdies like that. Just kind of hopefully ride that into tomorrow. You know, putting good, driving it well, just kind of build off all those things and get myself, you know, in contention with nine to go on Sunday, that’s the whole goal.”
Not long ago, Koepka, 32, might have wondered if he’d be back in this position. In March 2021, Koepka slipped at his home in Florida and dislocated his right kneecap. He said he tried to pop the kneecap back into place and shattered it. He also tore a medial patellofemoral ligament, which attaches the kneecap to the femur.
“My leg was sideways and out,” Koepka said. “My foot was turned out, and when I snapped it back in — because the kneecap had already shattered — it went in pretty good. It went in a lot easier.”
Koepka played in the 2021 Masters less than a month after the surgery and missed the cut. He also missed the weekend last year. He said surgeons told him it would take 18 months to fully recover.
Koepka had eight birdies and one bogey during the round. Koepka won the LIV tournament in Orlando, Florida, last week.
“I don’t think I’ve rediscovered anything,” Koepka said. “I just think I’m healthy, so I can move the way I want to. If your body won’t allow you to do the things you want to do, it’s frustrating and all of a sudden you create a lot of bad habits and then try to work out of the unhealthiness, takes a while, and then all of a sudden you have to get out of those bad habits. When you break free, it’s kind of nice.”
Mickelson, a three-time winner at Augusta National, was last a contender at the Masters when he tied for second in 2015. 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 trees on the right, Mickelson hit his driver again — off pine straw. His second shot rocketed across the fairway to the left and came to rest on a cart path. After a drop, Mickelson hit a flop shot from 76 yards to 5 feet and made a birdie putt.
Mickelson said two bad 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 this is the issue I’ve been dealing with: I’ll make two swings and it costs me four shots on 11 and 16. I just need to keep working on eliminating it. I’m hitting enough good shots to shoot some good numbers, and I’m having fun playing, and I’m having fun hitting the shots again and driving it well.”
Mickelson hit 11 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens.
“Just need to stay a little bit sharper on one or two swings because in major championships the punishment for a mishit is so severe,” Mickelson said. “I also didn’t shoot myself in the foot. I just need to come out tomorrow with a good round.”