AUGUSTA, Ga. — Those with early tee times for Thursday’s opening round of the Masters probably thought they were in for a doozy of a morning at Augusta National, where the overnight forecast called for heavy rain and miserable conditions.

Turns out they may have gotten an advantage.

The worst of the weather missed the course — it only rained enough to soften the greens — and Ryan Fox, Bryson DeChambeau and Byeong Hun An capitalized on it. Each of them made birdie on the first three holes, part of a morning wave that quickly got into red numbers in what turned out to be several hours of ideal scoring conditions.

Fox made the turn in 5 under and was setting the pace as the rest of the field teed off.

The start was delayed by 2 1/2 hours by the weather, and those with later times may end up getting the worst of it. By the time many got going in the afternoon, including defending champion Jon Rahm and top-ranked Scottie Scheffler, the wind was starting to whip through the Georgia pines with gusts predicted to reach 45 mph.

Rahm and Scheffler nevertheless got off to good starts in their pursuit of a second green jacket. Rahm was 1-under par through six holes, and Scheffler, the champion in 2022, had reached 2 under through six.

Scheffler began as the 4-1 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, the biggest since Tiger Woods nearly two decades ago.

Those excellent early conditions figured to get worse as the day pressed on. And latest groups, which included Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, were unlikely to finish their opening rounds before darkness set it.

They will have to return Friday to complete them and then begin their second rounds after a short break.

Once the gates opened to patrons Thursday, they speed-walked to the first tee. There, six-time champion Jack Nicklaus, with his wife Barbara on the bag, joined three-time winner Gary Player and two-time champ Tom Watson for the honorary start.

“It’s not so easy to put the ball on the tee now, is it?” Player asked the others, before striping one down the fairway.

“Watch out on the left and right,” Nicklaus quipped, before he, too, drove it right down the middle.

Erik van Rooyen and Jake Knapp were the first competitors off, while the heavy hitters from the PGA Tour and LIV Golf were scattered in featured groups throughout the day. It’s the first time since July at the British Open that they’ve been on the same course for the same tournament while the deep schism within professional golf drags on.

In all, there are 13 players from Saudi-funded LIV Golf in the field this year, including defending champion Rahm, who left the PGA Tour for millions in guaranteed money late last year. That is down from 18 a year ago, when nobody was quite sure how the rift between the breakaway league and the long-established PGA Tour would shake out at Augusta National.

Beyond the split in golf, there were plenty of subplots at Augusta National.

Among them is Rory McIlroy, who missed the cut last year, is trying for the 10th time to complete the career grand slam. He had two bogeys and a birdie through a rollercoaster first four holes Thursday and was at 1 over through six.

Scheffler and Sam Burns have wives each expecting their first child. Both players have said they would withdraw if they learned their wives had gone into labor, though they may rethink that if they are leading on the back nine in Sunday’s final round.

Last year, the weather pushed the conclusion of the third round into Sunday, and Rahm began the marathon day in a four-shot deficit to Brooks Koepka. He halved it by the start of the final round, and Rahm became the fourth Spaniard to win a green jacket with a four-shot victory over Koepka and Phil Mickelson, who closed with a round of 65 at the age of 52.



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