Dustin Johnson’s Masters title defence starts with a sting in the tail

The 2020 hero shoots his joint-second highest first-round score in 11 visits but a 74 puts him only five back as Augusta National plays tough on day one

Dustin Johnson came out all guns blazing when winning the 2020 Masters in November.

But with Augusta National a much different beast on Thursday, last year's champion had to settle for a 2-over 74 as the course bit him late on.

A morning starter, his day began with a bogey at the first hole: the stats gurus were quick to note that no-one has gone on to win the Green Jacket after opening with a dropped shot at No.1 since Zach Johnson in 2007.

Johnson balanced the books straight away with a good two-putt birdie at the par-5 2nd and the nerves - if indeed the laidback double Major winner has any - were calmed.

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A lip-out at the fifth following a loose drive put him over par again but then came a moment of magic. A bogey looked likely at 11 after he shoved his approach right into the bail-out area but Johnson produced one of the roars of the day as his deft chip trickled onto the green and toppled into the cup for birdie.

Johnson had a look at eagle on the par-5 13th but a tap-in birdie put him under par for the first time and within a couple of the lead.

DJ had posted 20-under when winning in November, starting his week with a 7-under 65. But, today, Augusta National wanted to give Johnson a little reminder who was boss.

And after a bogey at 16 returned Johnson to level par, the 18th hit him hard.

A loose drive into the pine straw down the right wasn't ideal, a bogey always likely from there. But the 36-year-old compounded the error by three-putting for a closing double bogey. Ouch.

When DJ ambled off the course, he was five behind the clubhouse lead set by Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama.

Far from a disaster but it matched his second worst first-round score in 11 Masters starts. There's an awful long way to go but the impression was left that Johnson's grip on the Green Jacket has loosened a little.

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Johnson's first-round stats

Fairways Hit: 8 of 14

Greens In Regulation: 10 of 18

Sand Saves: 0 of 0

Putts per hole: 1.78

First-round quotes

On his opening 74

"Would have liked to have finished a little bit better today but, you know, the course was playing tough. I felt like I played pretty well, just didn't score that great. Two-over is obviously not a terrible score today, it's difficult, so I feel like I'm still right in it. Just need to go out and shoot a good score tomorrow. I need to play a little bit better though."

On his week so far as defending champion

"It's been great. Tuesday evening was very nice with the Champions Dinner, something that I was really looking forward to. Really enjoyed it so this week's been unbelievable but obviously it was nice to get the tournament started."

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