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Pacesetter Hoffman set to get reeled in over sunny weekend

McIlroy favourite after strong fightback

Rory McIlroy can win his threeball for the second day running
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Story so far

Two big stories dominated the first day of the Masters at Augusta – the sad demise of world number one Dustin Johnson and the brilliance of 150-1 outsider Charley Hoffman.

Johnson made a last-gasp decision to withdraw from the tournament, realising on the first tee that he was unable to swing anywhere close to normal after his unfortunate fall down some stairs the previous day. Stakes were returned on the man who was 6-1 favourite before his accident.

Following Johnson's departure, Hoffman went birdie crazy in the opening Major of the season, a sensational five-under-par back-nine 31 sending the Californian clear at the top of the leaderboard.
Hoffman signed for a seven-under 65, a score which was ten shots better than the field average, assuming a four-shot lead.

Hoffman's effort on a tough, breezy Augusta day has to go down as one of the best opening rounds in Masters history, but bookmakers are not convinced the 40-year-old will retain his position in front. The four-time US Tour champion can be backed at 13-2 for a Major breakthrough.

Another unheralded American, William McGirt, also starred in round one. The Masters debutant, a 400-1 rag, shrugged off his lack of course experience by firing a 69. McGirt is in second place, with regular Masters contender Lee Westwood alone in third. Westwood made five consecutive birdies from the 13th through the 17th to fight back from three over par to two under.

The new tournament favourite, fractionally ahead of Hoffman in the betting, is Rory McIlroy. The Grand Slam chasing Northern Irishman made a poor start, slipping to three over par through eight holes, but a three-under-par back-nine hauled the former world number one back to level par. Betfair and Ladbrokes are offering a standout 6-1 McIlroy.

Jordan Spieth's hopes of contending for the fourth year in a row on a course where he was victorious in 2015 were dented by a sloppy opening round of three over par. Spieth made a mess of the par-five 15th, dumping his third shot into the greenside water hazard and making a quadruple-bogey nine.

Spieth is, at least, above the projected cut-line. Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker (all four over par), Henrik Stenson (five over) and Martin Kaymer (six over) have work to do if they are to be around for the weekend.

Leaderboard

-7 Charley Hoffman
-3 William McGirt
-2 Lee Westwood
-1 Russell Henley, Kevin Chappell, Andy Sullivan, Matt Fitzpatrick, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Jason Dufner, Sergio Garcia

Other notables

Par Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy
+1 Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm, Marc Leishman, Justin Thomas
+2 Jason Day, Bubba Watson
+3 Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth
+4 Hideki Matsuyama, Jimmy Walker
+5 Henrik Stenson

Best prices

6 R McIlroy, 13-2 C Hoffman, 10 J Rose, 16 S Garcia, P Mickelson, 18 J Spieth, 22 L Westwood, R Fowler, 25 J Day, 28 J Rahm, 30 P Casey, 35 R Henley, J Thomas, W McGirt, M Fitzpatrick, 40 M Leishman, 45 J Dufner, 50 bar

Today's advice

Charley Hoffman has posted only one top-ten finish in 22 Major appearances, and for all his Thursday magic, it would be surprising if he managed to maintain the lead for another three days. Bookmakers are probably right to hand the status of favourite to someone else.

Hoffman contended for a long way in the 2015 Masters, shooting 67 on day one to sit second, then a Friday 68 to retain that position. A third-round 71 left the Hoff in fourth spot going into Sunday, before a 74 dropped him to ninth. A similar scenario could develop this week.

Hoffman enjoys performing in a wind, so yesterday's conditions did not scare him, but with a brighter, calmer weekend forecast, more talented sorts should overtake the early pacesetter in the final two rounds.

Rory McIlroy deserves top billing after a strong comeback. Tension took a grip of McIlroy in the early stages of his round – this is by far the most important tournament of his season – but from the 13th hole onwards he built a head of steam. From a much earlier tee-time today, it is reasonable to expect the class act of the field to make headway.

McIlroy, who must have done a few cartwheels of joy on the second green when he found out Dustin Johnson had withdrawn, Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Marc Leishman and Justin Thomas are the quintet who represent the best outright value at this stage.

The action resumes at 1pm UK and Ireland time. Another breezy day is expected, but not to the extent of round one. Early-morning starters will probably have the best scoring conditions. Second-round threeball punters are pointed towards the same two players who delivered the goods for Racing Post Sport followers in round one.

Ryan Moore should outscore Webb Simpson and Jose Maria Olazabal for the second day running in the 1.44pm contest and Coral's 11-10 looks a gift.

A more relaxed McIlroy can see off his playing partners – Jon Rahm and Hideto Tanihara – in round two (3.34pm). Betfred's opening-show 21-20 was understandably gobbled quickly, but the remaining 10-11 looks a more than fair price.

Recommendations
R Moore
3pts 11-10 Coral

R McIlroy
2pts 10-11 Betfred

From a much earlier tee-time today, it is reasonable to expect the class act of the field to make headway
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