Koepka plays through knee issue, shoots 74 to open Masters

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Brooks Koepka stretches to line up a putt on the 14th green during the first round of the Masters golf tournament on Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Brooks Koepka’s surgically repaired right knee wasn’t the problem in the opening round of the Masters.

His swing was.

Koepka never got clicking Thursday at Augusta National, his 2-over 74 putting him squarely in the middle of the Masters pack. He started with six pars and then the adventure began — with just four more pars in his final 12 holes, including a five-hole stretch that went bogey-bogey-bogey-birdie-birdie.

“Just didn’t play good,” Koepka said.

The four-time major winner has a built-in excuse — if he wants one — this week, since he’s not even a month removed from surgery to repair a dislocated kneecap and some ligament damage. But Koepka steadfastly refuses to say that’s holding him back, other than not allowing him to bend normally and forcing him to change the way he reads putts.

“I just didn’t swing it great,” Koepka said. “It’s tired right now, I’m not going to lie. But, just got to play better.”

The 74 was Koepka’s worst round at Augusta National in his last 12 tries; he also shot a 74 in the opening round in 2017. It also snapped a streak of 10 consecutive under-par rounds for Koepka at the Masters; the record in that category is 11, by reigning champion Dustin Johnson, and that also ended Thursday when Johnson made double bogey on the par-4 18th and shot 74.

Windy conditions and firm greens exacerbated Koepka’s problems.

“It can go from blowing 15 to zero pretty quick out here, and I just got caught in some of the middle of those,” Koepka said. “Yeah, it can get pretty dicey out here if you put it in the wrong spot, the way these greens are.”

He learned that lesson on the par-4 10th, hitting his approach well above the hole and leaving himself a birdie putt with at least 10 feet of left-to-right break. His comebacker wasn’t close, and that dropped him to 1 over, plus started a stretch where he made four bogeys in five holes.

Koepka wound up salvaging the round with short birdie putts on the par-5 15th and par-3 16th. There’s a potential of some rain overnight, which could soften the greens a tiny bit — something he wouldn’t mind seeing.

“There’s not much grass on a couple of those greens,” Koepka said.

Koepka, playing with Bubba Watson and Viktor Hovland, teed off at 10:06 a.m. Thursday. That group goes off at 1:12 p.m. Friday, which means he gets more time to rehab and get his knee ready to go again. He started treatment Thursday around 6 a.m. to get through his opening round.

“Just keep going and working on it, and just taking care, same stuff we’ve been doing the last couple days or the last couple weeks I guess you could say,” Koepka said. “But it’s fine. Feels all right.”

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