Sat, Apr 07, 2012 - Page 18 News List

Westwood gets his nose in front at Masters

AP, AUGUSTA, GEORGIA

Lee Westwood of England putts on the 16th hole in the first round of this year’s Masters tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, on Thursday.

Photo: EPA

With his words and then his play, Lee Westwood shot down the notion on Thursday that this Masters was a two-horse race.

On a busy opening day at Augusta National that featured mud, a little rain and a snowman on the final hole for Henrik Stenson, Westwood provided a steady hand on Thursday with seven birdies for a 5-under 67 that gave him a one-shot lead.

It was the first time Westwood has led after the opening round of a major, though that was little comfort. Louis Oosthuizen made four birdies over the last five holes for a 68, while Peter Hanson of Sweden made six birdies for his 68. Bubba Watson, blasting tee shots with his pink driver, was among six players at 69.

Westwood had said it would be naive for anyone to think this major was only about Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

Those two horses were happy to still be in the running.

Woods took two penalty shots, hit three tee shots that rattled the pines and was thrilled to make bogey on his last hole for a 72, the first time since 2008 that he failed to break par in the opening round of the Masters.

“I had some of the worst golf swings I’ve ever hit today,” Woods said.

McIlroy opened with a double bogey, though his big moment was on the 10th hole. A year ago, that was 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.

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.

Along with Woods smiling after a 72, three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson was delighted with a 74. He sprayed tee shots all over the course, including one so far left on the 10th into bushes he did not 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.

Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, had a few nervous moments, and that was after he signed for a 75. When his card was sent to the scoring room to be entered into the computer, an official accidentally punched in a birdie 3 for the fifth hole, even though Donald three-putted for a 5. The leaderboard showed him with a 73.

It took about two hours to clear up the confusion.

Donald and Westwood are the only two players to be No. 1 without ever having won a major. Westwood is atop the list of the best who have never won a Grand Slam event — 36 wins around the world, formerly No. 1 in the world and a half-dozen close calls in the majors, including a runner-up finish at the Masters two years ago.

Westwood made his move on the front nine when he ran off four straight 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.

Stenson celebrated his 36th birthday with a 31 on the front nine, including eagles on both par 5s, and he was the only player to reach 6-under par during the round. It just didn’t last.

He hooked his drive into the trees on the 18th, took two shots to get back to the fairway, sent a wedge over the green and took four shots to get down from there. He wound up with a quadruple-bogey 8 — known as a “snowman” in golf vernacular — which matched the highest score on the 18th hole in Masters history.

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