Dustin Johnson pulls out of Augusta Masters

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson walked off the first tee on Thursday's opening round of the Augusta Masters after suffering a back injury.

Dustin Johnson was injured late Wednesday afternoon when he took what his agent described as a "serious" fall down a staircase.   -  AP

Dustin Johnson has withdrawn from the Masters after injuring his lower back in a fall at the home he was renting for the week.

The World No. 1 player arrived at Augusta National on quite a roll, having won his last three starts.

Clearly in pain during a limited warm-up session, Johnson still intended to at least try to play on Thursday. He walked slowly toward the first hole, where he was paired with two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker in the final group of the opening round.

Then, at the last possible moment, Johnson changed his mind.

While Watson and Walker teed off, Johnson sauntered back to the clubhouse, a stunning development in a tournament that was just hours old.

Johnson was injured late Wednesday afternoon when he took what his agent described as a “serious” fall on a staircase.

“He landed very hard on his lower back and is now resting, although quite uncomfortably,” David Winkle said in an email. “He has been advised to remain immobile and begin a regimen of anti-inflammatory medication and icing, with the hope of being able to play.”

Johnson had been scheduled to attend the Golf Writers Association of America annual dinner Wednesday night to accept its award as male player of the year. He was coming off a season in which he won the U.S. Open for his first major, was voted PGA Tour player of the year for the first time, won the PGA Tour money title and captured the Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average.

Rickie Fowler this week described the 32-year-old American as a “freak of nature.”

Winkle on Tuesday said Johnson was in “as good a shape as I’ve ever seen him in every aspect of his game and his life.”

Two years ago, Rory McIlroy was playing soccer when he ruptured ligaments in his ankle a few weeks before he was to defend his title in the British Open at St. Andrews when he was No. 1 in the world.

But this was far different.

Johnson rose to No. 1 in the world starting with the first of three straight victories, the first player to do that going into the Masters in more than 40 years. Two of those titles were World Golf Championships, and his undefeated week at the Match Play made him the first player to capture all four of the WGCs.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game right now, especially with the way I’ve been playing the last few tournaments,” he said Tuesday. “But, you know, anything can happen.”

Johnson also missed the 2012 Masters, withdrawing two days before the start of the tournament, saying he had tweaked his back from pulling a jet ski out of the water. Golf.com cited an unnamed source two years later as saying Johnson had been suspended for a positive cocaine test. His management denied that he had been suspended.

Bogey blowout

Blustery conditions humbled the world's greatest shotmakers in the opening round of the Masters as gusting winds and Augusta National's lightning-quick greens took a nightmare toll on players. Four-times major champion McIlroy appeared to be struggling in the wind and was three-over after the front nine.

He opened with a bogey on the first hole and dropped shots on the third and fifth to make the turn in 39.

Day also suffered, returning a two-over 74 with a double-bogey on the 11th hole.

For another favorite, 2015 Masters champion Spieth, the day turned sour on the back nine in a near repeat of the quadruple-bogey nightmare that cost him back-to-back titles last year.

The American, twice a Masters runner-up, was five shots up on the final day last year when he imploded after taking seven shots on the par-3 12th.

This time out, he negotiated the 12th hole in regulation but took a nine on the par-5 15th, ballooning his score before sinking a birdie at 16 to limit the damage to finish on 3-over 75.

Spieth said the bogey blowout put him under pressure for the following three days.

"But overall I doubt the scores get much better than a couple under today, and maybe three or four by the end of tomorrow," he said. "So I'm going to probably need to play something under par tomorrow... I feel like I need to snag something tomorrow. But do it through patience and taking advantage of the par?5s."

"And the weekend, it looks like there's going to be no wind. It looks something like single digits might win this tournament. And I certainly can post single digit under par at this point... got three rounds to go."

Jack Nicklaus, a six-times Masters winner, had predicted that the chilly and windy conditions, with gusts of up to 40mph (65kph) and set to last through Friday would take their toll.

"I don't think there will be a lot of scores under par, but some of these guys are so good that they will shoot under par," he said, predicting that the greens would be "very difficult."