Five off-track takeaways from 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend

The Formula One season came to a close in Abu Dhabi with one last Max Verstappen win of the year — his 19th in 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 27 November 2023
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Five off-track takeaways from 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend

  • Reem Abulleil sheds some light on paddock conversations and celebrity sightings at Yas Marina Circuit

ABU DHABI: The Formula One season came to a close in Abu Dhabi with one last Max Verstappen win of the year — his 19th in 2023 — and Mercedes edging Ferrari to P2 in the Constructors’ Championship by just three points.

It has been a busy four days at Yas Marina Circuit with lots of takeaways from the conversations we have had with the drivers and team principals, as well as numerous celebrity sightings around the paddock all weekend.

Here’s what you may have missed from some of the action off the track.

Tennis players rock the paddock

The F1 paddock is always a popular destination for celebrities and Abu Dhabi this year has been no exception with the likes of Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Priyanka Chopra, Naomi Campbell, and Jason Statham among the A-listers making an appearance at Yas Marina Circuit.

From the football world, Sergio Aguero rocked a custom-made Manchester City race suit and presented the DHL Fastest Lap award to Verstappen on Saturday, while Patrice Evra was in an all-white linen suit when he turned up to the paddock on Sunday.

However, what stood out the most was the number of tennis stars in the house this weekend. Tunisian Ons Jabeur attended both qualifying and the race as a guest of title sponsors Etihad Airways.

The three-time Grand Slam finalist got to catch up with retired Russian ace Maria Sharapova, who walked into the paddock with the Hemsworths, Chopra and Statham before going up to the stands to watch the race.

 

 

Poland’s world No. 9 Hubert Hurkacz is a big fan of the sport and came to the track from Friday to Sunday. A guest of F1, Hurkacz told me he has always loved cars and was thrilled to attend his first grand prix.

Danish world No. 8 Holger Rune was spotted at the Ferrari hospitality villa and had a quick catch-up with Charles Leclerc before the race, while tennis pair Denis Shapovalov and his fiancee Mirjam Bjorklund arrived just in time for the action as guests of Aston Martin.

“It’s that Canadian connection,” said Shapovalov with a laugh, referring to his compatriot Lance Stroll, who drives for Aston Martin.

Other tennis players in attendance included Hemsworth look-alike Karen Khachanov and Alexander Zverev.

 

 

Gasly not interested in entertainment and sport debate

The Las Vegas Grand Prix last weekend reopened the debate of how much of a spectacle a sport is allowed to be. Several drivers said the inaugural race in Vegas was more of a “show” than anything else, and many complained about the tough scheduling that made them see no sunlight for the whole weekend.

Sport, of course, is a business and is entertainment and it cannot survive without generating a great deal of interest from fans around the world.

Alpine driver Pierre Gasly was asked to weigh in on the debate and whether he felt F1 got the balance right between putting on a show and highlighting the sport.

“I love the sport and personally I’m quite fine with the entertainment side of things,” said Gasly.

“I think it’s very personal and it depends how you can cope with it. I know I’m not someone that is really disturbed with that side of the sport. Obviously the priority needs to always remain on the actual sport.

“What I’d like is to almost have more priority on the driver side of things, where I feel at the minute it’s too much driven by car performance. So that’s more something that I’ll be focusing on as a sport rather than entertainment, sport, blah, blah, blah. At the end of the day we survive and everyone is paid here because people are watching us, so it’s a balance you need to find.

“But what I care the most about is that all drivers will be given fair chances to fight for the best positions, where at the minute there’s clearly a sort of imbalance in the performance of all 10 teams. It’s always been the case in F1, I’m fine with it, but I do see a lot of talk of this entertainment versus sport balance kind of thing and I think it’s really personal how you deal with it.”

Toto Wolff: Sport is a meritocracy

Speaking of “fair chances,” Mercedes’ team principal Toto Wolff was asked about the massive gap between Red Bull and the rest of the field, and whether the Austrian team’s dominance is hurting F1.

“The numbers that we are seeing are strong. When we go on social we see races that are packed and sold out,” said Wolff on Sunday.

“But as a matter of fact it is all around the spectacle and if the spectacle is not good, fans are going to follow us less. What I always say is that the spectacle follows the sport. And the sport is a meritocracy; whoever is doing the best job wins and if somebody is doing a much better job than everybody else, then they’re winning 19 races.

“It is us and Ferrari and all the other teams that have to do a better job in order to compete with Red Bull Racing.”

Hamilton focused on growing his legacy

So much of Lewis Hamilton’s pre-race press conference was dominated by Christian Horner’s claims that the British driver had reached out to Red Bull to see if they had a seat for him.

As Hamilton clarified, it was in fact the Red Bull team principal who had contacted him and not the other way round, but something way more interesting caught my attention in what he said.

One of the journalists asked Hamilton — a seven-time world champion — if driving for Red Bull was an appealing prospect for him, given he would be racing in a winning car. The 38-year-old said building toward beating Red Bull with Mercedes would be much better for his legacy in the sport.

“Let’s be realistic. Every single driver that’s racing here dreams of being in a winning car. I think probably in my younger days when I hadn’t maybe had a lot of success, maybe in those McLaren days, it would have been a lot more attractive,” he explained.

“When I think about (it), just from a racing perspective and my viewpoint of things, when I moved to this team I enjoyed moving from a more successful team to a team that hadn’t had success, with the vision of growing and building on the team. Because when we did then win, it was such a better feeling.

“Whilst every driver here looks at the Red Bull and would love to drive that car, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t love to drive that car and experience how good that car (is), every driver would want to feel that. I feel that we’ve had two very difficult years and if we work towards beating that car that’s going to be a way better feeling than just stepping into the best car.

“It wouldn’t do much for me in the sense of just stepping into the car that’s been the most dominant car of all time. Working with my team to build, to be able to beat them, I think would be better for my legacy, for sure.”

It is fascinating to see how clear his perspective is on the matter.

Alonso welcomes added pressure in 2024

Fernando Alonso deemed his 2023 campaign a “dream season” for himself and his Aston Martin team after securing fourth in the Drivers’ Championship with an impressive eight podiums.

No one expected the 42-year-old could pull off a season like that at the start of the year, and the Spanish two-time world champion acknowledges the pressure will be much higher in 2024. It is something he is welcoming with open arms.

“It has been a historic season for Aston Martin and for myself. Eight podiums, 300 points nearly for the team. Twelve months ago this was unthinkable,” said Alonso on Sunday following his P7 finish in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“This is the best season ever for the team as well, with whatever name they had before. It’s an incredible year to remember. The expectations were low, so we exceeded the expectations this year. Maybe next year is the opposite, expectations will be very high, so we have some pressure on our shoulders.

“This is Formula One, this is not a charity event. We have to have the pressure, we have to deliver. Fifth in the constructors’ hurts a little bit because I think we were better than that. We were hoping for better than that at the beginning of the year.

“To finish fourth in the drivers’ is a little bit unreal. Fighting with the guys that we were fighting with, in fact, if we are fifth in the constructors’ you should be ninth or 10th.

“So, it’s a dream season for many people in Aston Martin, including myself.”


Pelicans close in on sixth seed as Knicks stun Celtics

Updated 12 April 2024
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Pelicans close in on sixth seed as Knicks stun Celtics

  • The result means New Orleans will clinch sixth place in the West — and avoid the play-in tournament — if they win their final two games
  • Sacramento’s defeat left them in eighth place in the West on 45-35 — an identical record to ninth-placed Golden State and the 10th-placed Lakers

LOS ANGELES: The New Orleans Pelicans boosted their hopes of securing an automatic playoff berth on Thursday with a 135-123 road victory over the Sacramento Kings.

In a crucial Western Conference battle in northern California, Zion Williamson and C.J. McCollum both finished with 31 points as the Pelicans completed an impressive wire-to-wire win.

The result means New Orleans will clinch sixth place in the West — and avoid the play-in tournament — if they win their final two games, at Golden State on Friday and against the Los Angeles Lakers at home on Sunday.

The Pelicans were always in control after a devastating first-quarter performance where they raced into a 34-11 lead at one stage after an 18-0 run.

“Throw the first punch to the last punch, and go out on our shield,” McCollum said of New Orleans’ aggressive first-quarter approach.

“Understand the work, understand the preparation, have fun with it and just enjoy the blessing of being able to play this game at a high level,” McCollum added.

Sacramento’s defeat left them in eighth place in the West on 45-35 — an identical record to ninth-placed Golden State and the 10th-placed Lakers, meaning the final standings are likely to go down to the wire.

Golden State improved to 45-35 after laboring past the eliminated Portland Trail Blazers 100-92 in Oregon.

Stephen Curry led the Warriors scoring with 22 points with Jonathan Kuminga adding 19.

Eastern Conference top seeds Boston slumped to their second straight loss with a 118-109 home defeat to the New York Knicks at the TD Garden.

Knicks star Jalen Brunson finished with 39 points to continue his dazzling run of recent form. The Knicks guard has now scored 35 points or more in his last five outings.

Brunson’s latest virtuoso effort included six three-pointers in a 15-of-23 shooting performance from the field.

The Knicks are third in the Eastern Conference with a 48-32 record, one game behind second-placed Milwaukee (49-31) with two games of the regular season remaining.

Boston (62-18) were subjected to a smattering of boos from their home fans at the final buzzer, and Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis had no complaints with the crowd’s response.

“We got booed at the end for a reason,” Porzingis said. “This was not the team that our fans love. But best believe we’re going to show up when we need to.

“We’ve got a week of work now ahead of us, a couple of games to bounce back and time to get going on all cylinders.”

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla shrugged off his team’s second straight loss, saying that a drop-off in intensity was inevitable once Boston had secured the top seeding in the postseason.

“I actually don’t mind the result of the last two games,” Mazzulla said. “Going into the postseason with a bunch of wins and feeling good about yourself isn’t necessarily any better than going in with a bloody lip.”

In other games, the Chicago Bulls romped past the Detroit Pistons 127-105 after 39 points from DeMar DeRozan and 27 points from Nikola Vucevic, ensuring they will now face the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the play-in tournament next week.

In the day’s other fixture, between two already eliminated teams, the Utah Jazz defeated the Houston Rockets 124-121.


Djokovic, Sinner into Monte Carlo quarters as Medvedev rages

Updated 12 April 2024
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Djokovic, Sinner into Monte Carlo quarters as Medvedev rages

  • Djokovic: I don’t think I am still at my top level but it was a great test today against a great player, a very talented player
  • De Minaur moved into the last eight with a 6-3, 6-4 victory against fellow Australian Alexei Popyrin

MONTE CARLO: Novak Djokovic avenged last year’s Monte Carlo Masters defeat by Lorenzo Musetti to reach the quarterfinals Thursday along with Jannik Sinner, while Daniil Medvedev launched into a furious tirade during his defeat.

World No. 1 Djokovic made a poor start and endured a second-set wobble before coming through 7-5, 6-3 against the 24th-ranked Musetti, the man who beat him at the same stage 12 months ago.

“I don’t think I am still at my top level but it was a great test today against a great player, a very talented player,” Djokovic said.

“I am really glad to overcome the challenge and look forward to the next one.”

Djokovic goes on to play Alex de Minaur, the 11th seed from Australia, in the last eight.

The Serbian top seed dropped serve in the opening game against Musetti before working his way back to level at 4-4, and then snatched the set on a double fault by his opponent.

Djokovic broke twice early in the second set either side of losing his own serve to surge 4-1 ahead. Musetti clawed back to within a game but Djokovic broke again for 5-3 before closing out the win.

Djokovic has struggled to find his best form in recent times in Monte Carlo. He has not won the tournament since the last of his two titles in 2015, failing to advance beyond the quarter-finals in seven subsequent appearances.

Australian Open champion Sinner improved his record to 24-1 this season with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Jan-Lennard Struff.

The world No. 2 broke at 4-4 en route to pocketing the first set and won nine of the final 11 games to sweep to victory.

“I broke him quite early and then he broke me back. I knew it was going to be really tough, but I guess I returned really well, especially on second serves. I can be very happy,” said Sinner.

Sinner next faces Holger Rune who defeated the Italian in the semifinals last year before finishing runner-up to Andrey Rublev.

Rune made the last eight after a three-hour 30-minute 7-6 (11/9), 3-6, 7-6 (7/2) win over Grigor Dimitrov, saving two match points in the 12th game of the deciding set.

“It was a great match,” said Rune. “I thought I played a very good first set, it was very long, one-and-a-half hours. So it was tough physically.”

Like Dimitrov, Rune had earlier completed a rain-delayed third round clash.

“I had a match earlier today which was two sets, so I played five sets today actually, which is pretty brutal,” added the Dane.

Medvedev tore into the officiating for the second day running as he was beaten 6-3, 7-5 by Karen Khachanov.

Medvedev was hit with a point penalty to start the final game after berating chair umpire Carlos Bernardes and then became embroiled in a heated discussion with the tournament supervisor.

The world No. 4 had already been warned after hurling his racquet when he double-faulted to lose his service game and leave Khachanov a game away from victory.

Medvedev, who took issue with two line calls in his second-round win on Wednesday, felt aggrieved when a Khachanov forehand was not called out during a rally that resulted in the latter earning two break points at 5-5.

The arrival of the physio to treat a finger bleed at the ensuing changeover tipped Medvedev over the edge, with the Russian yelling “did I ask for the physio!” at the umpire.

He then demanded of the supervisor “who will take responsibility?” for the decisions.

Television replays appeared to show the shot in question from Khachanov had landed wide of the court.

“It’s second day in a row. Guys, open your eyes. Do something. It’s out,” raged Medvedev.

“The mark is out. They don’t know how to referee anymore. Who will take action?

“Yesterday the ball is out, it’s called in. Who will take action. This ball is out there. Who will take responsibility? It’s not my responsibility to referee the matches.

“It’s this guy in the glasses (the line judge). He doesn’t need glasses because he doesn’t see anything. He should not be a referee.”

Khachanov’s reward is a quarterfinal Friday against Stefanos Tsitsipas, who saw off fifth seed Alexander Zverev 7-5, 7-6 (7/3).

De Minaur moved into the last eight with a 6-3, 6-4 victory against fellow Australian Alexei Popyrin.


Atalanta stun Liverpool 3-0 at Anfield, Leverkusen beat West Ham 2-0 in Europa League

Updated 12 April 2024
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Atalanta stun Liverpool 3-0 at Anfield, Leverkusen beat West Ham 2-0 in Europa League

  • The loss damages Liverpool’s hopes of a treble of trophies in manager Jurgen Klopp’s final season at Anfield
  • Bayer Leverkusen got late goals from substitutes Jonas Hofmann and Victor Boniface to top West Ham 2-0 and extend their unbeaten streak to 42 games

Gianluca Scamacca struck twice as visiting Atalanta upset Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the Europa League quarterfinals on Thursday.

The loss damages Liverpool’s hopes of a treble of trophies in manager Jurgen Klopp’s final season at Anfield.

The Italian visitors went into the break up 1-0 after Scamacca got a low drive past goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher in the 38th minute.

Klopp sent on Mohamed Salah, Dominik Szoboszlai and Andy Robertson as substitutes for the second half, but Scamacca netted again after Charles De Ketelaere fed him at the far post on the hour mark.

Mario Pasalic finished the scoring seven minutes from time.

Atalanta won at Anfield 2-0 in the group stage of the Champions League in 2020.

Liverpool won the English League Cup and are in a tight Premier League title race with Arsenal and Manchester City. Klopp’s team were eliminated from the FA Cup in the quarterfinals.

The lackluster display Thursday might turn out to be Klopp’s final European game at Anfield. The team needs a big comeback in Bergamo to stay alive.

If Liverpool reaches the Europa League final in Dublin on May 22, it would be Klopp’s final game in charge after nearly nine years.

Bayer Leverkusen got late goals from substitutes Jonas Hofmann and Victor Boniface to top West Ham 2-0 and extend their unbeaten streak to 42 games in a season that can also end up with a treble of trophies.

Hofmann netted on a rebound in the 83rd before Boniface clinched a well-deserved victory with a header in stoppage time.

With a 16-point lead atop the Bundesliga, Xabi Alonso’s team are on course to clinch their first-ever league title and have reached the German Cup final.

In an all-Italian matchup, Gianluca Mancini headed in a winner off a corner kick from Paulo Dybala to upset AC Milan 1-0 at San Siro.

Mancini also scored the lone goal in the Italian capital derby against Lazio on Saturday in Serie A.

It was the first win for Roma over Milan since October 2019.

Milan, the seven-time European champions, have never won the second-tier Europa League or its predecessor, the UEFA Cup.

Milan have never even reached the final — something Roma achieved twice, losing both in 1991 and last year.

Rafa Silva and veteran forward Angel Di Maria scored in each half for Benfica to beat Marseille 2-1. In an encounter of two former European champions. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang pulled one back for Marseille, who lost their fifth straight game in all competitions.

Aubameyang has 24 goals this season in total.

The second-leg games will be played next week.

EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE

Kostas Fortounis scored and provided an assist to help Olympiakos beat Fenerbahce 3-2 in the first leg of the Europa Conference League quarterfinals on Thursday.

Olympiakos built a 3-0 lead in Piraeus and held on after the Turkish team fought back with two second-half goals.

Fortounis opened the scoring after just eight minutes, netting his fifth goal of the European campaign. He then set up Stevan Jovetić to double the lead before halftime.

Chiquinho made it 3-0 with a precise low drive approaching the hour mark before Dusan Tadic pulled one back from the penalty spot and İrfan Can Kahveci added the second for Fenerbahce.

Olympiakos is one of the two Greek teams in the last eight hoping to reach a home final in Athens.

The other, PAOK, lost 1-0 at Club Brugge.

Ollie Watkins and captain John McGinn scored early in each half to secure a 2-1 win for Aston Villa over Lille for manager Unai Emery, who claimed the Europa League on four occasions — three times with Sevilla and once with Villarreal.

Viktoria Plzen held last year’s runner-up Fiorentina to a 0-0 draw in what was the first European quarterfinal for the Czech club, which hasn’t conceded a goal for seven straight games in the third-tier competition.

As Fiorentina looked in control in the second half, the match was interrupted for several minutes because of flares that its fans threw onto the pitch.


Japanese interpreter charged with stealing $16 million from MLB star Shohei Ohtani

Updated 12 April 2024
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Japanese interpreter charged with stealing $16 million from MLB star Shohei Ohtani

  • Criminal complaint says Ippei Mizuhara embezzled the money from an account of Ohtani’s and sent the funds without Ohtani’s knowledge to an illegal sports gambling operation

LOS ANGELES: Japanese baseball star Shohei Ohtani’s former interpreter was charged with bank fraud on Thursday in federal court and accused of stealing $16 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers power-hitting pitcher to cover gambling debts.

According to a 36-page criminal complaint and affidavit filed in US District Court in Los Angeles, Ippei Mizuhara embezzled the money from an account of Ohtani’s that Mizuhara had helped set up and sent the funds without Ohtani’s knowledge to an illegal sports gambling operation.
US Attorney E. Martin Estrada, announcing the results of his investigation at a news conference, stressed that there was nothing to suggest wrongdoing by Ohtani, who signed a record $700 million, 10-year contract to join the Dodgers this season as the league’s highest-paid player.
“I want to emphasize this point. Mr. Ohtani was a victim in this case. There’s no evidence to indicate that Mr. Ohtani authorized the over $16 million in transfers from his account to the bookmakers,” Estrada said.
The outcome spared the Dodgers and Major League Baseball a potential scandal of epic proportions, recalling the controversy stirred 35 years ago when Pete Rose was accused of gambling on baseball games, including those of his own team, while he played for and managed the Cincinnati Reds.
Those allegations led MLB to permanently ban Rose from baseball in 1989. Rose later admitted to wagering on MLB games, including those played by the Reds but said he never bet against his own team.
Ohtani, 29, whose talents as a slugger and a pitcher have earned him comparisons to Babe Ruth, told reporters at a March 25 press conference that he was a victim of theft by Mizuhara and that he never bet on baseball or knowingly paid a bookmaker.
Mizuhara, 39, has agreed to turn himself over to federal authorities on Friday and was expected to make his initial court appearance that afternoon, according to Thom Mrozek, a spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office.
The defendant will not be asked to enter a plea and is expected to be released on bond, Mrozek added.
If convicted on the single count of bank fraud with which he is charged, Mizuhara could face a sentence of up to 30 years in prison.
Mizuhara’s attorney, Michael Freedman, told Reuters on Thursday that his client had no comment on the charge.
Starting in late 2021, Mizuhara began gambling with an illegal sports book and losing substantial sums, according to the federal affidavit.
To cover his debts, Mizuhara repeatedly impersonated Ohtani to “trick and deceive” bank employees into authorizing wire transfers from Ohtani’s account, where the player’s baseball salary was deposited, the affidavit said.
Last month, while messaging a bookmaker about reports surfacing then that Mizuhara had stolen from Ohtani, Mizuhara wrote, “Technically I did steal from him. It’s all over for me,” according to the affidavit.
Mizuhara “used and abused” his unique position of trust “to plunder Mr. Ohtani’s bank account,” Estrada told reporters.
Mizuhara, who met Ohtani in 2013 when they were both with Japan’s Nippon Ham Fighters team, was Ohtani’s near-constant companion during his six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. The interpreter was fired by the Dodgers in March.
Days later, Ohtani told reporters at the March 25 press conference that Mizuhara had admitted to him that he had been using Ohtani’s account to make the payments, and said he was “saddened and shocked” by the betrayal.
Estrada said at Thursday’s press conference that a Japanese linguist had reviewed thousands of communications between Ohtani and Mizuhara and had found no discussions between the two about betting or authorizing transfers to bookmakers.
The investigation into Mizuhara grew out of an ongoing, broader probe by the US Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security into illegal sports gambling operations throughout Southern California, Estrada said.


Bryson DeChambeau puts on a Masters clinic and takes a 1-shot lead over Scottie Scheffler

Updated 12 April 2024
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Bryson DeChambeau puts on a Masters clinic and takes a 1-shot lead over Scottie Scheffler

  • DeChambeau was plenty good in a relentless wind, taking a one-shot lead over Scottie Scheffler in the rain-delayed opening round
  • Among those still on the course was Tiger Woods, who was 1-under par through 13 holes when it was too dark to continue

AUGUSTA, Georgia: Bryson DeChambeau was the mad scientist who calculated barometric pressure and the decay of spin rate in altitude when trying to figure out how to best play the game.

Then he became the incredible bulk, adding 40 pounds of muscle and mass with a diet of some 3,500 calories a day in an effort to swing the club faster and hit the ball farther than anyone.

The third iteration he showed at the Masters on Thursday might be the most daunting.

“The golf phase,” DeChambeau said Thursday after opening with a 7-under 65, his best start in a major and lowest score at the Masters. “Trying to be the best golfer I can be.”

DeChambeau was plenty good in a relentless wind, taking a one-shot lead over Scottie Scheffler in the rain-delayed opening round. Scheffler hasn’t changed at all. The world’s No. 1 player was practically flawless from tee to green.

The first round could not be completed because of a 2 1/2-hour delay from overnight rain that drenched Augusta National, leaving the greens softer than they have been all week. The test came from a steady 20 mph wind, with gusts twice that strong.

Among those still on the course was Tiger Woods, who was 1-under par through 13 holes when it was too dark to continue. He next faces 23 holes Friday, an endurance test for his battered legs, as he tries to set the Masters record by making his 25th consecutive cut.

Nicolai Hojgaard of Denmark, one of 17 newcomers to the Masters, was at 5 under with three holes to play. Max Homa was at 4 under through 13 holes.

DeChambeau put on a clinic of power and putting, always a good recipe at Augusta National.

“I’m just in a place where I’m repeating a motion, trying to do the same thing over and over again,” he said.

He ran off five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, including a two-putt birdie on the par-5 15th when his risky shot under a pine tree cleared the water fronting the green and left him 40 feet away.

“It clipped the tree. I hit four pine needles rather than five, and it worked out perfectly,” said DeChambeau, not entirely rid of his precise calculations.

Scheffler teed off about two hours later when the wind was at full force, and part of him was surprised to see so many red numbers under par on the large, white boards.

“I’ve played this tournament once before in some pretty high winds, and it’s an extremely challenging golf course,” Scheffler said, giving credit to caddie Ted Scott for “guessing the wind correctly” on a number of shots.

He had the only bogey-free round of the 89 players in the field, no small task on a day like this. Three of his six birdies came on the par 3s, one of those when he holed a bunker shot from behind the 12th green.

DeChambeau feels he got fortunate with his shot that grazed the tree. There was no doubting the break Scheffler got with his second shot on the par-5 13th, when he flinched upon hearing a shot hit from another fairway. Scheffler’s ball came up short, and he assumed it would roll back into the tributary of Rae’s Creek that winds in front of the green.

The turf was soft enough that it stayed up, and he chipped it close to make birdie.

“I’ve never seen a ball stay up there,” Scheffler said. “I don’t know if that will happen again this week. I’m hoping I don’t find out.”

Scheffler began as the 4-1 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, the shortest odds since Tiger Woods nearly two decades ago. And then the No. 1 player in the world — who came into the Masters off two wins and a runner-up finish — played as expected.

It was his ninth bogey-free round of the year.

“Any time you can get around this golf course bogey-free, you’re going to have a pretty good day out there,” Scheffler said.

DeChambeau dropped only one shot, a long three-putt to a back pin on No. 9, and otherwise was flawless. He nearly drove the short par-4 third hole, leaving him a chip-and-putt birdie. He took care of three of the par 5s and got a bonus at the end when he holed a 30-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole.

DeChambeau feels he has settled in with his new life on Saudi-funded LIV Golf, with his equipment and his swing. He is not chasing swing speed like he once did, though he still has it when needed. He says his swing has been the same since that 61-58 weekend he had at LIV Golf Greenbrier last summer.

“He’s always been one of the best putters in the world. When he drives it like he did today — I mean, he drove it really good — and he makes putts, he’s obviously very good,” said Gary Woodland, who played alongside him. “It was a clinic. It was impressive. He didn’t get out of position hardly at all, and he rolled it very, very nice.”

Defending champion Jon Rahm never got any momentum and bogeys on his last two holes sent him to a 73, leaving him eight shots behind.

“Those are some seriously good rounds in conditions like today,” Rahm said. “I haven’t made it easy for myself. I’m going to have to start making up ground quickly.”

Rory McIlroy at least didn’t shoot himself out of the tournament after one round. In his 10th bid for the final leg of the career Grand Slam, he saved par with a chip from behind the 18th green for a 71, the first time he has opened the Masters with a round under par since 2018.

“I held it together well. It was a little scrappy,” McIlroy said. “Probably turned a 3 under into a 1 under there at the end. But overall, still not a bad score. And obviously a lot of golf left to play.”

The first round was to resume at 7:50 a.m., and with a good forecast for the rest of the week, the Masters should be back on schedule by the weekend.