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Westwood grabs Augusta lead as Tiger starts slowly

ESPN staff
April 5, 2012 « Rangers administrators consider three bids | Chartbeat test »

ESPN is providing live commentary and updates during all four days of The Masters from Augusta National - along with comprehensive news views and opinions.

Lee Westwood grabbed the overnight lead at The Masters after an impressive opening round on Thursday, as Tiger Woods began his pursuit of a fifth green jacket in erratic fashion at Augusta National.

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Westwood, still major-less despite an illustrious career, started with intent and used that momentum to build the best round of the day - making birdies on every hole between the fifth and eighth, before overcoming an error at the tenth to pick up two more shots on the back nine and card an unmatched round of 67, good enough to top the leaderboard at five-under.

Meanwhile Woods, who last won The Masters in 2005, struggled with his driving on occasions but managed to navigate the course through a mixture of experience and powers of recovery, as he made three birdies and three bogeys on the way to a round of 72.

Westwood's round enabled him to leapfrog the early mark set by 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen - who was one of the few players to birdie the 18th as he reeled off four birdies in his final five holes to be the first player to sign for a round of 68 - a score matched in the closing stages by Peter Hanson.

Rory McIlroy, widely tipped to win this week, recovered from a double-bogey at his opening hole to card a respectable round of 71, one-under for the tournament.

Paul Lawrie, Francisco Molinari and Woods' playing partner Miguel Angel Jimenez sat a shot behind Oosthuizenat three-under, before they were later joined by a number of Americans, including Ben Crane, Bubba Watson and Jason Dufner.

After leading for much of the day, Henrik Stenson threw away a promising start with an ugly quadruple bogey eight at the last to slip down the pecking order.

The round did not start well for Woods, as he found the trees with his drives on both the first and second as he was forced to scramble to save par with nerveless ten-footers. But from that unstable start he soon grew into his round, picking up his first shot of the day at the short par-four third that he would soon follow up at the eighth (bouncing back from a dropped shot at the difficult seventh) and tenth to move onto the first page of the early leaderboard.

That set him up for a strong back nine to really thrust himself to contention, but once again a combination of the conditions and poor driving cost the 14-time major champion a chance to pick up shots at the two par-fives. Mud on his ball at the 13th stopped him going for the green in two, while a wayward shot off the tee forced him into another lay-up at the 15th - with both holes resulting in pars.

That would prove to be a costly stretch, as he failed to save his par at the 17th before whipping another drive well left at the last. A subsequent drop and desperate escape left him needing to get up-and-down from the left of the green to save a bogey, something he managed to do after a precise five-footer.

Things began even worse for McIlroy, as he appeared to pick up where he left off at last year's infamous tournament with a double-bogey at the usually straightforward first. From there it took him until the ninth to get back under par, before he again slipped over par after a mistake at the par-five 13th. But two birdies in the final two holes saved his day, as he finished level with playing partner Angel Cabrera at one-under.

For much of the early session of play it looked like Henrik Stenson would comfortably take the clubhouse lead among the first half of the draw, but it could have been so much better but for something of a meltdown at the final hole. The Swede - who has struggled for form somewhat in recent years - eagled both the second and eighth as he moved to five-under at the turn, before picking up another shot with a snaking putt at the 10th to jump comfortably clear of the field at six-under.

But the run could not continue for the former WGC-Accenture Match Play champion, as he bogeyed the 14th and only picked up one birdie on the two par-fives as he reached the 18th five-under for the tournament. There a snap-hooked drive would cost him dear, as he hacked out before flying his third shot over the green on the way to a three-putt and costly eight that sent him hurtling back to one-under.

Lawrie was the first player to post a respectable clubhouse target, reaching three-under thanks to two eagles at the 13th and 15th. The Scotsman's round looked unspectacular until he reached the final hole of Amen corner, as he picked up two shots to move under par for the first time - a momentum-boost that he would ride to another birdie at the 17th, before a dropped shot at the treacherous last saw him slip back to a opening score of 69.

Jimenez, meanwhile, matched Woods throughout before finishing in far stronger fashion - picking up a birdie at the 17th before clinching a par at the last thanks to another smart escape from the side of the green. Molinari had a similarly pleasing finish, finding three birdies in the closing six holes to leap forward after an unremarkable opening 12 holes.

A number of prominent names also ended the day one-under for the tournament, including Ross Fisher, Stewart Cink, par-three champion Padraig Harrington, Aaron Baddeley and likeable American Steve Stricker.

Tiger Woods had an up-and-down day © Getty Images
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World No. 1 Luke Donald made a disappointing start in his bid for a maiden major title, signing for a three-over round of 75 that could have been much worse but for a 30-footer for birdie at the 17th. The Englishman never really got going, as he slumped to four-over through 13 after an ugly bogey, before clawing things back slightly in the closing stages. Nevertheless, he will have to burrow his way into the 60s on Friday if he is to make the halfway cut.

Defending champion Charl Schwartzel began his campaign with a level-par round of 72. The South African, who famously birdied the final four holes to win the tournament last year, was unable to match those heroics this time around - making four birdies in his round, but countering those with four dropped shots, including one at the last.

German Martin Kaymer started brightly in his bid to make the cut for the first time at the tournament, but eventually carded a level-par round of 72 after a two-over par back nine - a mark that was later matched by both Justin Rose and FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas. A trio of big names - Webb Simpson, Ian Poulter and Brandt Snedeker - also finished with 72s.

They were all still three shots better off than one of the pre-tournament favourites, however, as Adam Scott dug himself a hole that he will have to escape on Friday to be sure of making the cut. The Australian was one of the disappointments of the day, along with compatriot Jason Day (76) and big-hitting Alvaro Quiros (78) - who led at the same stage 12 months ago.

Undoubtedly the biggest disappointment, however, was Phil Mickelson - the three-time champion scratching out a round of 74 that leaves him plenty of work to do on the second day. It could have been so much worse for the left-hander, but he managed to pick up a couple of shots over the final six holes to at least give hope a spectacular comeback could be on the cards.

Japanese amateur Hideki Matsuyama, the low amateur 12 months ago, once again started the tournament well, with a bogey at the last only slightly taking the gloss off a opening round of 71. Among the unpaid players in the field, he was joined at the top by promising American Patrick Cantlay, with Corbin Mills and Kelly Kraft - who at one point reeled off four successive birdies - shooting 74s.

Elsewhere, Sergio Garcia sits level par after a solid round - while Open champion Darren Clarke is one-over for the tournament.

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