AUGUSTA - A breezy Thursday that lacked for continuity made the opening round of the Masters feel like a slow spring scramble, what with a dozen players, some familiar and others not so much, sharing at least a piece of the lead while the wind blew every direction.

Then Sungjae Im spoke up.

The 24-year-old South Korean opened his day with three straight birdies and later canned an eagle on the par-5 13th hole en route to a 5-under 67 and the first-round lead at the 86th Masters, good enough for a one-shot edge on Cameron Smith and a two-shot advantage over Dustin Johnson. The runner-up here in his debut in 2020, Im seized and then maintained first place in the last hour of play after the field had spent the day tossing the lead around like a frisbee.

“It was great to have a great finish at my Masters debut and because of that experience I feel comfortable when I come to Augusta,” said Im, who maintains homes in TPC Sugarloaf and Jeju, South Korea. “I feel like I can play well here every time.”

Former champions Danny Willett and Johnson joined Scottie Scheffler and Chilean Joaquin Niemann at two shots back at 69, all of them stalling in their closing holes. Scheffler bogeying 18 from the right rough pine straw while Johnson played his back nine in even par. When Johnson won his first Masters two two years ago, Im and Smith were the runners-up, albeit five shots back.

“Yes, there is a coincidence there somewhere in it,” Im said through a translator. “I did look at the leaderboard and it’s pretty cool to see that we’re all up there together.

His lead might easily have been two shots but he lipped out a bunker shot from the right side of the 18th green.

Take away his first and closing minutes and Smith is your first-round leader. But he opened and finished his round with double-bogeys which read like a scorecard typo. In between, he played the middle 16 holes in 8-under, turning what could have been a couple-shot lead into second place.

“To be honest, those couple of double bogeys really didn’t have too bad a shots in them,” Smith said. “It’s not like I was scratching it out of the trees. Got my second shots into a reasonable spot and just misjudged the wind on both wedges. Yeah, just left myself in a bit of a tough spot. Other than that, it was just really solid.”

Tiger Woods was in constant scramble mode but gave an encouraging first response to questions of his recovering right leg with a well- earned 71 and tying eight other players four shots back. Despite hitting just eight of 14 fairways and missing half of the greens in regulation, he managed three birdies -- on Nos. 6, 13 and 16 -- to offset two bogeys in his first serious competition since his car wreck 14 months ago.

“To finish in the red today after as long a layoff as I’ve had and not being in competitive golf -- I don’t really consider a (father-son) scramble in the PNC (in January) -- it is competitive, but it’s not like this,” Woods said. “This is totally different. But to play this golf course and to do what I did today, to make -- to hit the shots in the right spots -- I know where to hit it to a lot of these pins and I miss in the correct spots and give myself good angles. I did that all day and I was able to make a few putts and end up in the red like I am now.”

Tiger Woods reacts after his tee shot on the fourth hole during the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Augusta. (Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton /

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Credit: Curtis Compton /

Before the last groups had teed off, the scoreboard had seen more foot traffic than the Monday morning baggage check at Hartsfield-Jackson. Twelve players from five continents moved in and out of the lead over the opening six hours, including a couple former champions -- Willett and Charl Schwartzel -- and a marvelously named trio making their Masters debut -- Harry Higgs, Talor Gooch and Guido Migliozzi. The scores flashed like a tote board.

“A lot of mental energy was expended today,” Smith said.

Johnson appeared poised to make a back on the back nine, biridieing No. 10 to get to 4-under but he scored seven pars and one bogey on the way in. Since blowing away for field in 2020 for his Masters title with a record 20-under 268, he has not won again on the Tour in 24 starts since.

“The game is starting to feel a lot better,” he said. “Getting more and more comfortable over the golf ball and getting more comfortable hitting golf shots. It’s starting to around and, obviously, it’s trending in the right direction.”

The conditions harassed the field throughout. The greens were softened by an overnight storm -- tee times were delayed a half-hour while the drizzle abated -- but steadily shifting gusts up to 15 mph played with approach shots all day.

“You can feel like you can fire at the pins, make birdies from anywhere,” said three-time major champion Padraig Harrington after shooting 74. “And then you get yourself out of position and you go, well, this is difficult.”

Somehow 18 players of the 90-man field managed to break par. Among the notables who placed themselves at a disadvantage were Tommy Fleetwood, eight shots back at 75, and Bryson DeChambeau and Louis Oosthuizen, both at 76. While the course will dry out during a forecasted dry weekend, scoring conditions may not improve with similar wind patterns forecast.

“It’s playing tough out there today with the winds being high like they were,” Scheffler said. [”And I think (Friday’s) going to be an even bigger challenge.”