World golf number one Dustin Johnson pulled out of the U.S. Masters due to a back injury as windy conditions made scoring difficult and ensured a congested first-round leaderboard on Thursday.
Johnson, the American favourite to win the title after victories in his last three tournaments, sustained a back injury in a freak accident on Wednesday.
But he looked comfortable on the driving range and arrived at the first tee in the final group out.
As compatriots Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker prepared to tee off, however, Johnson suddenly walked back to the Augusta National clubhouse.
Americans Russell Henley and Kevin Chappell shared the early clubhouse lead at one-under 71.
Others on the course at one-under included Americans Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, and Englishman Justin Rose.
Belgian Thomas Pieters made a sparkling start on his Masters debut with five birdies in 10 holes to move three shots clear of the field.
But he came to grief at Amen Corner, dropping a shot at the 11th and sending his tee shot into the Rae’s Creek tributary en route to a double-bogey on 12.
Three-times Masters champion Phil Mickelson eagled the second hole to huge cheers and picked up another early birdie but the American left-hander dropped three shots to slip back to level par.
Most players found scoring difficult in the swirling winds and England’s Danny Willett made an ugly start to the defence of his title.
He sent a wild tee shot into the trees on the way to a double-bogey six at the first hole.
Two former Masters champions endured days to forget, South African Trevor Immelman carding an error-strewn round of 79 and American Zach Johnson slumping to a 77.
Earlier, former Masters champions Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player struck the ceremonial opening tee shots to get the 81st edition of the year’s first major off to a sombre start.
This was also to honour Arnold Palmer, who died in September at the age of 87.
Thousands of golf fans wearing commemorative badges confirming their membership of Arnie’s Army stood to attention during a poignant silence.
The silence was broken only by the sound of a chilled wind rustling through the trees.
Augusta National chairman Billy Payne addressed the crowds before Nicklaus and Player hit their drives without their long-time friend and rival at their side.
“Welcome to the 2017 Masters. It is a wonderful, but in one respect, a difficult day,” Payne said. “For the first time in many many decades, someone is obviously missing from the first tee.
“The almost unbearable sadness that we all feel by the passing of Arnold Palmer is only surpassed by the love and affection for him.”
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the bright weather was a relief for the organisers.
They were forced to call off the Masters Par 3 contest on Wednesday for the first time ever as heavy rain and storms buffeted the course.(NAN)