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Archive for Friday, April 12, 2002

Leader cards opening-round 67

April 12, 2002

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— More than the golf course changed at the Masters.

Davis Love III took advantage of a surprisingly calm day to put himself atop the leaderboard for the first time at Augusta National.

Tiger Woods found himself in places he rarely sees thanks to a longer, tougher golf course that lived up its billing.

So tough, in fact, that Arnold Palmer decided to call it quits.

The new Augusta made its debut Thursday, and while it wasn't a clear-cut winner against the best players in the world, it certainly held its own.

Woods, the defending champion, finished off last year's Masters with a sand wedge from 75 yards into the 18th green. On Thursday, he had to rifle a 4-iron off the straw and through a stand of Georgia pines and scramble for par.

Even under the most benign conditions Augusta has to offer, the best anyone could muster in the first round was a 5-under 67 by Love, which gave him a one-stroke lead over Sergio Garcia and Angel Cabrera.

"You have to realize that the course was playing softer today," Garcia said. "The wind was blowing very little, and look at the scores. This is an unbelievable field, so it shows the course ... it's just playing tough."

Twenty-one players broke par. Woods had a 70 to match his best start at the Masters, and Phil Mickelson had a round of 69 in his quest to win his first major.

Still, there might not be an easier day for scoring. Overcast skies and soft greens allowed players to go after some of the flags with longer irons.

"The combination of length and firm greens is what's going to get us," Love said. "It's nice to catch it on a calm day and a damp day."

Other players tiptoed around a course where nine of the holes were lengthened, bunkers were stretched, tees where shifted to sharpen doglegs, and trees were planted to catch errant drives.

"It was a new ballgame today," David Duval said after a 74. "Nobody knew what a good score would be until we got out there and started to play."

The average score was 74.118, nearly a stroke higher than last year.

Garcia birdied three straight holes to tie Love for the lead, but missed a 3-foot par putt on the 18th hole for a 68. It was his best round at Augusta, and he gave himself even higher marks considering he was hitting a 7-iron into greens where he used to only hit wedge.

"It makes you think a lot," he said. "It makes you be a little more conservative."

Mickelson didn't take long to stir up some excitement. He missed two putts from 3 feet, but also pitched in from 160 feet on the 11th hole for an unlikely birdie. Despite a solid start, he declined to answer questions about his round.

Also at 69 was U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, who had seven birdies to offset a double-bogey when he hit into Rae's Creek on the par-3 12th.

Padraig Harrington of Ireland birdied six of the first 12 holes and had 184 yards for his second shot on the par-5 13th when he pulled his shot into a creek. He had three bogeys over his final six holes for a 69.

Woods hit into the pines twice and into the gallery once, but still scratched out 70 and was only three strokes back.

On this day, though, the spotlight was clearly on the new Augusta course and the 72-year-old man who first brought golf to life with his swashbuckling style.

The King is saying goodbye.

"I just think it's time," Palmer said after an 89, matching his worst score in the Masters. "My golf has been pretty lousy of late, and it doesn't warrant being here playing."

Today will be his 147th and final round in the Masters, and it figures to be more emotional than his farewell from the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 1994 and from the British Open at St. Andrews in 1995.

Augusta National is where "Arnie's Army" was created, and where television first captured Palmer's hard-charging style and made the game appealing to the masses.

"I'm not any different than most people," Palmer said. "I like to think there's always a couple more good rounds in my body, and maybe there are. But I haven't shown up here."

Palmer finished with a par on the 465-yard 18th, but even that was a sign that his game was no match for this golf course  a driver off the tee, a 3-wood some 40 yards short of the green and a pitch to 8 feet.

Augusta National was a different test for players young and old. Even the oldest, 89-year-old Sam Snead, had some adventures. His ceremonial first tee shot sailed right into the gallery and hit a fan in the face, breaking his glasses and cutting his nose.

As for Woods, he has never shot better than 70 in the first round of the Masters, and he had no complaints.

"The way the golf course is playing, 70 is a lot better score than it would have been last year," he said. "Even par or better today is going to be a good round."

Trying to become only the third player to repeat as Masters champion, Woods looked as if he might be in great shape when he birdied three straight holes early on and was leading the tournament.

He gave them all back  hitting over the green on Nos. 6 and 10 and hitting his tee shot into the trees on No. 14, one of the nine holes lengthened.

Two birdies on the final four holes gave him the same first-round scores he's had the years he's won his green jackets, 1997 and 2001.

"I just wanted to shoot even par or better," Woods said. "It's not one of those golf courses where you can just turn it on. You've got to keep plugging."

Seven players failed to break 80, and not all of them are eligible for Social Security. Stuart Appleby was penalized for touching his club in the water while trying to play out of the creek and had an 80. Craig Perks, who got into the field by winning The Players Championship, had an 81.

That Love was in the lead was only surprising based on his recent play.

Typically a fast starter on the PGA Tour, he has not finished higher than 16th this year and missed the cut in his last two tournaments. Last week in Atlanta, he had a 42 on the front nine and a 30 on the back.

"All I had to do was eliminate the silly mistakes," Love said. "I'm not shocked the way I played today. I'm shocked the way I played the last two weeks."

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