AUGUSTA, Ga. — It has been 62 years since a player last led the Masters by four strokes after 18 holes. That was Jack Burke Jr., in 1955, when his 67 was far and away the best score of the day.
Burke birdied every par 5 and finished 10.23 strokes better than the field average. Who knows, maybe the wind was blowing just as hard on April 7, 1955, as it was today, April 6, 2017.
What Charley Hoffman pulled off in brutally tough conditions at Augusta National was almost as historic as Burke’s tally in ’55. The 40-year-old Californian made nine birdies (only two of them on par 5s) en route to a 65 and a four-stroke lead over Will McGirt. In sum, Hoffman’s 65 was 9.97 strokes better than the field average (74.98). Using that metric, Hoffman’s round is not only the best since Darren Clarke’s 66 in 2003, but it’s also the fifth-best first round since World War II.
Greg Norman (1996) — 10.40 strokes better than field average
Jack Burke Jr. (1955) — 10.23
Darren Clarke (2003) — 10.20
Mike Donald (1990) — 10.02
Charley Hoffman (2017) — 9.97
Jordan Spieth (2015) — 9.42
John Huston (1997) — 9.11
Considering the conditions when he teed off—Thursday’s wind gusts exceeded 35 mph—Hoffman thought even par would be a realistic score.
"I was just trying to make pars, and while I was trying it make pars, I put myself in position to be able to make birdies," he said. "I was able to convert those birdies and turn it into a fantastic round."
Simple as that, huh? Hoffman gained 6.133 strokes putting despite having two three-putts, at holes 3 and 5. He also splashed a shot into Rae’s Creek on 13. What was great clearly could have been even better, but he’ll take the 65, later describing it as "a dream."
So, did he card the greatest first round in Masters history? No, but if he had made his birdie putt on 18, he would have.