Hoffman seizes moment in first trip back to Masters since ’11

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Charley Hoffman considers himself quite the veteran of the Masters. Whenever he’s not playing, this storied tournament is must-see TV for him.

Playing, however, is much more fun than watching.

Being in contention after the first 18 holes is even better.

Playing Augusta National for just the second time, and first since 2011, Hoffman put his unusual experience to work Thursday. He turned in his best round here with a 5-under 67, and he’s much happier playing than being frustrated by having to watch at home.

“That means I wasn’t winning golf tournaments,” Hoffman said. “So my main goal is to win golf tournaments, and obviously you have to win golf tournaments to get here to the Masters. And no, I think the Masters does a great job with TV. It’s just a fun tournament to watch and all the great past champions, and I think it’s the one if I’m not in, I do tune in.”

Hoffman earned his spot this week by winning the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico in November – the final PGA Tour event of the 2014 calendar year. That was his third career title and first in 109 starts. That was the second drought after going 105 starts between his win at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in 2007 and the 2010 Deutsche Bank Championship.

The wait between titles was so long that Hoffman and his wife, pregnant at the time of his second win in 2010, celebrated the win in Mexico with their 4-year-old daughter Claire. Adding to the joy? Knowing he was Augusta-bound once again.

“I was just trying to win a golf tournament on the PGA Tour so I could get back here,” Hoffman said.

His tee time at the Masters made his return even more special. Hoffman started in the first group in a twosome with Brian Harman following the ceremonial tee shots by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. Once Hoffman saw the schedule, he bought a couple flags and got autographs from Nicklaus and Palmer to auction off for his foundation.

“Gary walked away so I went, I’d better get Jack and Arnie before I lose it all,” Hoffman said. “I’ll try at some point to get Gary to sign the two that they signed, and that would be pretty cool.”

If he can keep up his play, Hoffman could get that chance soon. He started off with five birdies, an eagle and two bogeys. A man who likes to play quickly said he appreciated the honor of being in the first group because that gave him the chance to hit and go with no waiting.

Hoffman had to shake off some nerves after getting those autographs as he hooked his tee shot into the ninth fairway before hitting back and two-putting to save par. Then he birdied three of his next four holes, taking advantage of softer greens thanks to a humid morning. His longest birdie putt was from 4 feet on the par-5 No. 2.

After a bogey at No. 11, he stuck a 20-degree hybrid from 240 yards to 12 feet for eagle on the 530-yard par-5 15th. Then he birdied Nos. 16 and 18, finishing by sticking a 6-iron to 3 feet for a score that was two strokes better than any of his four rounds here in 2011.

Hoffman has played well this year, tying for second at the Humana Challenge. He also was the first-round lead at Valero Texas two weeks ago with an opening 67 before tying for 11th. He then tied for 11th in Houston before coming to Georgia.

“It’s the coveted green jacket you want to get,” Hoffman said. “I’m trying to approach it like if I get in position, I’m going to be aggressive. If I get out of position, I’m going to try to get back in position just like any other golf tournament. It worked today. I don’t know if it’s going to work tomorrow or the next day, but I’m going to try to keep my game plans I have going into it.”