A hot start and pristine driving game propelled South Korea's Im Sung-jae past the competition in the first round at the Masters on Thursday, as he continues his bid for a maiden major title.

The 24-year-old carded a five-under-par 67 through a mix of five birdies - including three in a row to start the round - two bogeys and an eagle on the par-five 13. He finished the day with a one-stroke lead over Australian Cameron Smith.

Im, who made a splash in his Masters debut in 2020 when he tied for second, told reporters he was focused on keeping Thursday's momentum going.

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"It was great to have a great finish at my Masters debut, and because of that experience I feel comfortable when I come to Augusta. I feel like I can play well here every time," said Im, who recorded his second PGA Tour win at the Shriners Children's Open in October.

"My preparation stays the same for each tournament, but I felt like my driving game was not as up to par as what it used to be, so I worked on my driving, and today the key to a successful round was having good tee shots."

Heading into the back nine at four-under par, Im struggled briefly with a pair of bogeys on 10 and 11.

He recovered to launch a perfectly placed, 260-yard (238 metre) drive to the middle of the fairway on 13, sending the second shot onto the green 12 feet (3.7 metres) from the pin before draining the eagle putt.

"The key to the good round today was just getting off to a hot start. I birdied the first three holes, and that's what got me on to a good rhythm," said Im, who played in a grouping with Australian Marc Leishman and Webb Simpson of the United States.