Paul Casey is early leader with Tiger Woods nicely poised after weather-hit first round at the Masters

Three-hour delay due to lightning and rain at Augusta means 44 players will return on Friday morning to complete the first 18 holes

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Already seven months behind schedule because of the pandemic, the most unusual Masters was 30 minutes old Thursday when the silence was interrupted by a rumble down by Amen Corner.

No roars this week. Just thunder. And then a weather delay of nearly three hours. All that, and it was still worth the wait.

Almost half the field unable to complete the first round because of a three-hour weather delay in the morning.

England's Paul Casey shot a 7-under 65 and sat two strokes ahead of Webb Simpson, Xander Schauffele. Justin Thomas also was 5 under, but he only completed 10 holes. Defending champion Tiger Woods shot 68.

Play stopped after only about a half hour on Thursday morning when lighting was spotted in the area. With the delay, 44 players will return Friday morning to complete the first 18 holes.

The course was different than what they expected, a result of the rain and the calendar. The silence was exactly what they expected because majors haven't had spectators in 16 months. But it was still the Masters.

“So many people like myself are just excited to play this,” Casey said. “This is a treat. It always has been and always will be a real treat.”

No doubt, the absence of roars was as eerie as the sound of a drone that approached the first tee as Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player prepared to hit their ceremonial tee shots. The Masters is using two drones this year, a first.

“A lot of firsts today. That's kind of the way this entire year has been,” Woods said. “The fact that we’re able to compete for a Masters this year, considering all that’s been going on, it’s a great opportunity for all of us.”

Casey found energy from the familiarity of the course, from the history, from the mystique. And it was enough to carry him to a round he needed on a day – a partial day – of low scoring. Twelve of the 48 players who finished shot in the 60s.

Woods, a notorious slow starter despite his five green jackets, had one moment where he thought trouble might lurk. It was the fifth hole, which he bogeyed all four rounds last year when he won the Masters. He hit a low fade off the tee that left him 227 yards to the hole.

“Hit a 4-iron to the back edge and it only rolled out a foot,” Woods said. “That doesn’t happen here.”

The biggest crowd – about 100 people in this case – was two groups ahead of Woods watching Bryson DeChambeau smash shots into trees and one shot into the azaleas bushes behind the 13th green. He was lucky to find it because his provisional shot went into the creek. He still made double bogey, though he managed to scratch out a 70.

The excitement for Casey began on the fearsome 10th hole when he hit his approach to a front pin about 5 feet away for birdie. He had eagle chances on both par 5s on the back nine and settled for birdies. He took on a left pin at the par-5 second with a 6-iron and watched the ball plop 6 feet away for eagle.

“You can’t hit that shot in April,” he said. “It pitched and stopped instantly, and that shot in April would have one-hopped over into the patrons.”

Simpson played a tidy round, making eagle on No 2 after the turn and finishing with seven pars for a 67. He was joined by Schauffele, a runner-up to Woods last year, who had seven birdies in his round of 67.

“You're going at pins that you wouldn’t really feel that comfortable with,” Schauffele said. “There’s so many spots where your ball will stay. It was just really strange.”

Lee Westwood wasn't sure he would ever make it back to the Masters, earning a ticket back with his tie for fourth in the British Open last summer. The best player without a Major showed he still has some life at age 47. He shot 31 on the front and limited the damage on the back for a 68, joining the group that included Woods, former Masters champion Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama and Louis Oosthuizen.

Dustin Johnson, the world No 1, was among those who played in the afternoon and had to return Friday morning to finish. He opened with an eagle on No 2 and was 3 under at the turn. Justin Thomas started with three straight birdies and was at 5 under through 10 holes.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, playing with Johnson, was level par and faces a tricky bunker shot on the 10th when he returns on Friday.