Thursday, April 5, 2012
Updated: April 6, 8:16 AM ET
Lee Westwood leads after first round
By Bob Harig
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- In search of his first major title, Lee Westwood made seven birdies and finished at 5-under-par 67 to grab the first-round lead at the Masters.
Westwood had a 1-shot lead over Louis Oosthuizen, who finished
birdie-birdie to shoot 68 on Thursday.
"I've come close (to winning a major)," Westwood said. "I've won all there is to win other than a major championship. That's my primary focus and it's been a long time coming around since the PGA last year."
Westwood made his move on the front nine when he ran off four consecutive birdies, all of them inside 10 feet, including a difficult pitch from short of the par-5 eighth green that settled within tap-in range.
Meanwhile, on a day when he was clearly off his recent form, Tiger Woods emerged from the first round fortunate to still be in touch with the leaders.
Saying he had a poor warm-up session prior to the year's first major championship, Woods bogeyed the last two holes at Augusta National Golf Club to shoot even-par 72.
Five times Woods missed fairways to the left with badly hooked shots off the tee, including the first, second and 18th holes.
"Today, I squeezed a lot out of that round," Woods said. "Didn't hit it very good at all. Warmed up bad, too, and it continued on the golf course. I just felt my way around today. I really grinded, stayed very present. And you know, I know how to play this golf course. I think it's just understanding what I need to do."
Woods headed to the driving range immediately after briefly discussing his round with reporters.
Scotland's Paul Lawrie, Spain's Angel Miguel Jimenez -- who played with Woods -- and Italy's Francesco Molinari shot 3-under-par 69s along with Ben Crane and Jason Dufner. Sweden's Henrik Stenson got to 6 under but made a record-tying 8 on the final hole to drop back.
"This golf course is playing too difficult to go super low on," Woods said. "What Henrik was doing early, that was pretty impressive. Some of these pins are really tough. No one was tearing it up."
The 14-time major champion, who has won the Masters four times, came to Augusta off his first official victory in more than two years. He won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 25 and figured to be a strong contender here, where he has not finished worse than sixth since his last victory in 2005.
And he still may be.
Significant rain preceding the tournament left Augusta National soft but playing long, and officials appeared to set up the course more difficult to combat it. While there are many scores under par, there are not a lot of low ones.
Rory McIlroy managed to shoot 1 under, opening with a double bogey, though his big moment was on the 10th hole. A year ago, that's where his Sunday collapse began with a hooked tee shot into the cabins for a triple bogey. This time, he pushed a 3-wood into the trees on the other side and managed a par.
"That was a bit of an improvement from the last time I played it," McIlroy said.
Better yet was a birdie-birdie finish, including a 15-foot putt from the fringe on the 18th that gave him a 71, making him one of 28 players who broke par and were within four shots of the lead.
"It was huge," McIlroy said. "I didn't feel like I had my best out there. To finish under par for the day, I'm very pleased."
Phil Mickelson had his troubles as well; the three-time Masters champion was delighted with a 74. He sprayed tee shots all over the course, including one so far left on the 10th into bushes he didn't know existed that he never found his ball. Mickelson made a triple bogey there, then spent the rest of the back nine scrambling for his life.
He recounted all the bad shots, the missed opportunities, the triple bogey, and decided the glass was half full, almost spilling over.
"This is good news," Mickelson said. "Because if I can get hot tomorrow, I'm playing good enough to shoot 6 or 7 under, and I'll be right in it for the weekend. Fortunately, I didn't shoot myself out of it."
Though Woods fared better than Mickelson, he hit just six of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens and was 0 for 3 from the sand. But he needed just 29 putts.
Woods got off to a poor start, snap-hooking his drives on both the first and second holes, the tee shot on the second hole requiring him to take an unplayable lie. But Woods scrambled to make par at both holes, then finally found a fairway and green at the third and made his first birdie.
His only front-nine bogey came at the seventh when his ball collected mud and his second shot landed in a front bunker. Woods then followed with birdies at the eighth and 10th holes but was unable to make birdies at either of the back-nine par-5s.
Woods found the back bunker at the par-5 13th and then blasted long. He then hit a poor drive left at the 15th, meaning he had to lay up. A poor drive led to another bogey at the 17th when he failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker, and another bad drive at the 18th caused him to take another unplayable lie and a penalty stroke.
The poor warm-up was a surprise and Woods said it didn't provide a great frame of mind going to the first tee.
"Absolutely," he said. "I didn't warm up well. I hit a few loose ones, but I said just stay committed. Whatever happens, just stay committed on each and every shot. I did that. I really stayed committed to what I was doing.
"I made some bad swings. That's fine. My commitment to each and every shot, what I was doing, my alignment, my setup, everything was something that I'm excited about and I can take some positives going into tomorrow about that. Granted, it might be late tomorrow, but at least I have something to build on."
Woods was referencing his late tee time and that a poor weather forecast could cause problems on Friday.
For Luke Donald, however, a smudged fax printout was the root of his problems.
Donald was nearly disqualified when it was determined his first-round score was improperly entered in the tournament's scoring system because a fax machine produced a smudged number.
Donald, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, shot 75 in the opening round, but tournament scoreboards had him for a 73 because his score was improperly read after it had been faxed to those recording the scores.
Had Donald really signed for a 73 when shooting a 75, he would have been disqualified. The error occurred at the par-4 fifth hole, where Donald three-putted for a bogey 5 and acknowledged as much after the round. But the score went down as a 3 in the scoring system because officials read it as a 3 -- not the 5 that Donald told them was written on the card.
While Donald sits at No. 1 in the world, Woods is looking to fully return to his post-scandal form. Only once in 18 Masters has Woods broken 70 in the first round. That came two years ago, when he was returning after a five-month layoff, and shot 68. Woods has broken 70 during the first round of a major on 14 occasions, and seven times went on to win.
"He's been No. 1 before and now he's not there but his game is there," Jimenez said. "And he's only 36, and he's on top of the wave. It's his passion. He's a great player. It was always nice to play with him before and it's nice to play with him now.
"I think he's playing very, very well. The only thing is from the tee on this golf course, you are not in the right place from the tee, you have nothing to do here. And he's managed to make -- he finished level par, he finished bogey, bogey, and as I say, he's playing very well."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.