AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - The bulk of the LIV Golf contingent at Augusta National failed to break par in ideal scoring conditions on Thursday but Brooks Koepka represented the Saudi-backed circuit splendidly as he grabbed a share of the first-round Masters lead.
There were 18 players from LIV Golf in the field until Kevin Na withdrew midway through his round, and of the ones remaining only six managed to get into red figures.
Other than Koepka, who carded a sparkling seven-under-par 65, reigning British Open champion Cameron Smith (70), Patrick Reed (71), Phil Mickelson (71) Joaquin Niemann (71) and Dustin Johnson (71) were the only LIV Golf players to score under par.
Among the notable LIV Golf players that did not break par were Bubba Watson (77), who had the highest score among his peers on the Saudi-backed circuit, Louis Oosthuizen (76), Bryson DeChambeau (74), Charl Schwartzel (74) and Sergio Garcia (74).
"Battling mentally a little bit," former Masters champion Garcia said after a round that included four bogeys over a dismal six-hole stretch on the back nine.
"I was trying everything I could to do the best I could, and unfortunately the wheels started coming off a bit on the back nine."
This week's Masters marks the first to be held since the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit launched last June and there has been plenty of attention paid to its players who came to Augusta National for the year's first major.
The LIV Golf series is bankrolled by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund and critics have accused it of being a vehicle for the country to attempt to improve its reputation in the face of criticism of its human rights record.
Reed, who won the 2018 Masters, said he did not take any extra motivation into the first round despite all the talk about whether those with LIV Golf, which holds 54-hole tournaments with no cuts, can truly contend in the majors.
"For me, it doesn't matter who I'm playing, where I'm playing, what I'm playing," said Reed. "It's about going out and playing the best I can, and hopefully on Sunday being one shot better than anyone else."
Mickelson, who counts three Masters wins among his six major titles, said his reception has been great at every turn this week and simply chalked his mediocre opening round to a couple of bad shots on a day where he had six birdies.
"I hit a lot of good shots today and had a chance to shoot a low round," said Mickelson. "But...the issue I've been dealing with is I'll make two swings and it costs me four shots on 11 and 16."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Augusta, Georgia; Editing by Sam Holmes)