Posted: Thursday, April 10th 2008 at 10:40pm
Rose takes early lead, Tiger still warming up in Augusta
By The Associated Press
AUGUSTA -- Standing on the sixth tee as he contemplated his next move, Tiger Woods' concentration was broken by a crescendo of cheers. He looked over to see Ian Poulter's tee shot tumble into the cup for a hole-in-one on the neighboring 16th, one of several spectacular shots Thursday at the Masters.
Only one of them belonged to Woods, and all that did was keep him from losing more ground.
Woods might believe the Grand Slam is "easily within reason," but the first round at Augusta National showed that no one was going to lay down for him.
Justin Rose overcame a rugged start with four straight birdies that carried him to a 4- under 68 and his name atop the leaderboard, which is becoming a tradition like no other - at least on Thursday.
It was the third straight time he has held at least a share of the 18-hole lead at the Masters.
Trevor Immelman, who made a weekend getaway to Augusta a few weeks ago with Rose and Poulter, also shot 68. They were one shot ahead of Lee Westwood, Brandt Snedeker and Masters rookie Brian Bateman.
Woods failed to make a birdie for the first time since the opening round in 2003, although there was no reason to panic. His lone highlight was chipping in for eagle from 25 feet behind the 15th, the ball falling on the final turn that sent Woods into a fist-pumping crouch. It helped him salvage an even-par 72, putting him in a tie for 19th, four shots behind.
"I played a lot better than what my score indicates," said Woods, who has never shot better than 70 in the first round of the Masters. "I kept myself in the tournament. I'm right there."
But he was hardly alone.
Eighteen players broke par on a warm, gentle day that might be as good as it gets this week - receptive greens, only a trace of wind and several hole locations that allowed for birdies.
There were a few surprises, such as 51-year-old Mark O'Meara, who celebrated the 10-year anniversary of his green jacket with a 71. And among the familiar faces were Phil Mickelson, the '04 and '06 champion, who opened with an amazing birdie and settled for a 71.
There also was a familiar sound - a few of those Augusta roars - even if Woods didn't hear them.
"The way the golf course plays now, you don't really shoot low rounds here anymore," Woods said. "You've just got to plod along. It's playing more of a U.S. Open than it is a Masters. There was really one roar I heard all day, and that was Poulter's eagle. But other than that, it was really quiet."
Woods must not have been listening closely to a few familiar sounds on a warm, spring afternoon in golf's prettiest garden:
- Mickelson was 60 feet over the first green in a walkway, his ball on pine straw. Using a putter, the ball scooted up the slope and rattled the pin before falling, turning bogey or worse into a birdie.
"It was at least a two-shot swing, possibly three," Mickelson said.
- Johnson, hoping to prove last year was no fluke, could only shrug when his 45-foot birdie putt went up over a ridge and into the cup for a birdie on the fifth.
- Poulter used an 8-iron from 169 yards on the 16th, watching the ball funnel down the slope and into the cup for an ace.
"I heard some roars today," Arron Oberholser said after a 71, despite playing with injuries that will keep him out for two months after this tournament is over. "But this is about as easy as it's going to play for the week."
Rose was 2 over through four holes until making a slippery 6-foot birdie on the sixth, the first of his four straight birdies. He added two more on the 12th and 13th, and settled into pars the rest of the way to join some elite company - Palmer, Player, Jack Nicklaus and Lloyd Mangrum are the only other players to have a first-round lead at least three times at the Masters.
Now if the Englishman can only figure out how to finish.
"I seem to throw the home run early," Rose said. "I've gone out there today with a really relaxed frame of mind, and that's obviously what I've got to recreate the rest of the week."
Immelman is getting close to full strength after a strange year of health problems. He lost 20 pounds because of a stomach parasite after last year's Masters, and late in the year had a benign tumor removed from his diaphragm.
He was in good company two weeks ago.
Rose, Immelman and Poulter flew up to Augusta for two days of practice, playing a few money games (Rose won) and sharing tips with each other. Immelman could only smile when he saw his mates on the leaderboard. Poulter was among those at 70.
"It's a great coincidence," Immelman said. "Hopefully, we keep it going."
Woods will be trying to get it in gear, although this is nothing new. In the four years he has won the Masters, Woods has trailed by at least three shots after the first round - seven shots after 18 holes in 2005, his most recent title.
Even as red numbers for birdies were going up on the board, Woods had to settle for 12 pars. And just when he thought he had his first good look at birdie, his 4-iron into the par-5 13th hopped hard and went over the green into the worst stop. It showed, too. Woods gripped the head of his club and swung it in anger.
His pitch got halfway to the hole when it peeled off to the right and down the swale, leading to bogey. Then came a pulled tee shot into the trees on the 14th, leading to another bogey.
Standing behind the 15th green in two, though, his chip checked up a few feet from the hole and took one last turn into the cup.
"I feel good about how I played all day," Woods said. "I hit the ball really well. I hit a lot of good putts that just didn't go in. That's just the way it goes. I've got to stay patient out there, and hopefully it will turn."
Brandt Snedeker and Lee Westwood both reached 4 under until dropping shots in twilight, the sun dipping quickly behind the Georgia pines because of the one-hour fog delay in the morning. Former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk bogeyed the last hole for a 70, and was curious what the rest of the week held for everyone.
"It's 8 o'clock, it still feels like it's 70 degrees, there's no wind, the greens were somewhat receptive," Furyk said. "I think we had an opportunity to play today. And I don't expect that to keep up."
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