AUGUSTA, Ga. — What you need to know about Thursday at Augusta National isn’t necessarily who leads – Charley Hoffman, and we’ll get to that because it’s worth it – but what he endured to achieve that status.

Pine needles performed cartwheels across fairways. Sand tried, and succeeded, to escape bunkers. Balls were marked, then replaced, then motored across greens as if under radio control. Trees bent. Players broke.

What you need to know came from the 57-year-old mouth of Fred Couples, who said the following: “I’ve never seen it like this.”

What does he know? He’s only played 119 competitive rounds here, spanning the past 32 Masters.

Go ahead and quibble over the veracity of Couples’ assessment, but know this: The first round of the 81st Masters became a five-hour game of guess the gust. The unquestioned winner was Hoffman, who somehow managed five birdies in his last seven holes to complete a stunning 7-under-par 65 – four shots clear of the next-best round, turned in by journeyman William McGirt, another on a short list of the day’s winners.

But in a 93-player field, only 11 broke par. The field average: Nearly 3 over. So there were more losers than winners. Significantly more.

“It’s one of those rounds where you could shoot your way out of the tournament pretty quick,” Hoffman said. “It blew all day. I don’t think it laid down any.”

There were those who took on the wind and found water instead. There were those who watched the breeze grab their shots and fling them waywardly – 15 yards farther, 15 yards shorter. Always something.

“You’re trying to hit these small targets and the wind’s going from 15 to 20 to 40” mph, said Kevin Kisner, who shot 74. “It’s just incredible trying to hit those numbers. … Felt like British Open gusts.”

So much of the Masters is presented as an oral history, stories passed down from generation to generation. Thursday is now part of it. Gather round the fire pit and you’ll want to hear the tales, so many of them troubling.

“I had a ball that was three feet from the hole,” said Adam Scott, who won this tournament in 2013. “I’d marked it, put it back, and it rolled to 12 feet.”

That was at 14. He missed the 12-footer and shot 76.

“If you catch the wrong gust at the wrong time, then you look stupid,” said Thomas Pieters, who played the first 10 holes in 5 under, the last eight in 5 over. “Like I did on 12.”

That was where Pieters, leading the tourney, rinsed his 8-iron in Rae’s Creek and made the first of his two double bogeys.

“I had a putt that was just left-to-right, across the slope,” said former U.S. Open champ Justin Rose. “And a gust of wind hit it mid-putt, and then it caught like a little downslope four foot past the hole – then went 10 feet by.”

That was at the third, where Rose made bogey – a blemish on an otherwise excellent 71.

“I didn’t even think he was going to pull the trigger,” said Jason Day of his playing partner, Brandt Snedeker, who stood over the tee shot at the par-3 12th for almost five minutes. “He turned around and said, ‘Does anyone else want to hit this shot?’ That’s the feeling.”

Snedeker finally did. And he somehow made his par.

On Thursday, the par-5 15th played into the wind, and instead of being reachable in two shots was a challenge to hold the green.

“I was stuck in the 15-is-a-birdie-hole mentality,” said Jordan Spieth, the 2015 champion.

His war story from the first round will include 17 holes he played in 1 under, and 15, where he spun a pitching wedge back into the water, then hit his next one through the green, and eventually managed a quadruple-bogey 9 en route to a 3-over 75, the worst of his 13 career rounds at the Masters.

All of this made for significant carnage. But there was room for some sadism.

“I love it,” said Phil Mickelson, who put himself in contention with a 71. “I love it around here, especially, because the wind is going to magnify your misses and a lot of the guys that aren’t familiar with this course and where you can go to on certain holes for certain pins, will miss in the wrong spot and end up making big numbers.”

Hoffman managed to avoid anything that even approached a big number. His only bogeys came at the third and the fifth, both three-putts, but they sandwiched a birdie at the par-3 fourth. He found the water at 13, but got up and down to save par.

What amounted for frustration for Hoffman would have been elation for the rest of the field: His putt on the 18th for what would have been his fifth straight birdie finished a ball to the right of the hole. Instead he tapped in and slapped hands with his caddie, smiling broadly – leading the Masters, and by about a mile.

“Am I going to sleep perfect?” he asked. “Probably not.”

One reason: Augusta isn’t due to return to normal for Friday’s second round. “We have another day of it tomorrow,” Spieth said.

So keep guessing – about the wind, about the leader board. And check back Friday night. There could be more tales to tell.