11 April 2019: On a bright and sunny afternoon at the Augusta National Golf Club, the storm came without warning. Only it wasn’t the watery kind. Brooks Koepka, the winner of three out of the last six major championships, produced yet another impresario performance to take control of the Masters leaderboard. Koepka, 1-under through the ninth put on a back nine clinic that will be remembered for long. He went six under through the stretch to finish the day with a brilliant 66. A relentless Bryson DeChambeau took it upon himself to match his burly compatriot with a stunning march of his own through the second nine. The Californian made four straight birdies to end the day with a share of the lead.
The two Americans made short work of the morning groups, who struggled to break 69, with their awe-inspiring efforts playing in the final groups of the day. Ian Poulter and Dustin Johnson came through with a 68 to keep the men in front honest and watchful. Phil Mickelson showed he was still very much in the reckoning with a determined 67 to take the third spot into the night. At 48 years and nine months, Mickelson could upend Jack Nicklaus as the oldest major champion by a good two years and seven months, should he secure a fourth Green Jacket on Sunday.
There were five men at 3-under – Justin Harding, Adam Scott, Jon Rahm, Kevin Kisner and Kiradech Aphibarnrat. Last minute entry Corey Conners made the most of his opportunity, posting 70 on Thursday. Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler and Open champion Francesco Molinari were also in the hut at the same score.
The morning groups found the pin positions hard to deal with, as they struggled to find any room on the scorecard. 69 remained the number in front, but only till Koepka and DeChambeau burst forth with their intuition and energy.
Koepka made his first birdie at the second hole and carried the advantage home as he made the turn without any further incident. At the tenth, the three-time major winner took advantage of a solid drive down the fairway with an approach that left him just five feet to the cup.
At the 12th, even though he overshot the flag and settled on the fringe, Koepka covered the seven yards without too much fuss to score the third birdie of his already impressive round. That set off a scorching run that separated him from the field. After another birdie at the par-5 13th hole, he read the right to left break to perfection to sink a 16 footer on the 14th to make it three in a row.
Playing around the green on the par-5 15th hole, Koepka chipped to three feet with his third shot to secure a fourth straight birdie. He kept it clean through the rest of the way to secure a share of the lead with DeChambeau.
Only Ian Poulter, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson managed to respond the thrust of engines from their two young rivals, producing valuable 68s to remain in touch and ensure that they keep the men in front honest and watchful when they return tomorrow to continue this intriguing battle for the 83rd Masters title.