AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Augusta National Golf Club is beautiful in the morning. It's beautiful anytime, but when the wind is a whisper and the greens are smooth it can make for some beautiful numbers.
Lanny Wadkins has gotten used to playing early here and it obviously agrees with him.
Yesterday, Wadkins lost his early tee time. After shooting 7-under-par 65s, first-round Masters leaders Wadkins and Jeff Sluman were teeing off last today.
"The first tee times are good here, especially with this weather," said Wadkins, who played with U.S. Open champion Payne Stewart as the 11th twosome off the first tee. "Ten [a.m.] is an awfully good time. We didn't have much wind to contend with and the course is in good shape."
Yesterday's first round of the 56th Masters was marked by great weather, regardless of when you teed off. The yellow flags barely moved all day and more than half (47) the starting field of 84 wound up at par or better. There were 18 scores under 70.
"When I woke up and looked at the golf course, I felt it was there for the taking," said six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus, who opened with a 69, "and you'd better take advantage or you put yourself in an awkward position."
The list of those who took advantage was long.
Wadkins and Sluman, who had the tournament's first hole-in-one on the 205-yard fourth hole, were three shots ahead of Davis Love III, former PGA champion Wayne Grady of Australia and Mike Hulbert. There was a gang at 69 that included defending champion Ian Woosnam, Fred Couples, Nicklaus, former Masters champions Bernhard Langer of Germany and Raymond Floyd, and Australians Craig Parry and Steve Elkington.
Greg Norman, British Open champion Ian Baker-Finch of Australia, former Masters champion Craig Stadler and amateur Manny Zerman of the University of Arizona were at 2-under. John Daly, playing partner Fuzzy Zoeller and two-time Masters champion Nick Faldo of England had finished yesterday at 71. Former Masters champ Sandy Lyle of Scotland was at even-par 72.
The way Wadkins has been playing it hasn't been hard to get an early starting time. Usually a fast starter, the 1977 PGA champion has slumped this season. He has played in eight events but has no top-10 finishes. He stands 77th on the money list with less than $60,000. He finished 12th last season with winnings of $651,459.
Wadkins, who walks fast, talks fast and swings fast, has had trouble with his driver but believes he has been improving every week. Yesterday, he missed just two fairways and was never in trouble. His round included seven birdies and no bogeys.
"I have it figured out now," said Wadkins, who has a new shaft in his metal driver. "I'm not long enough to get away with not driving it well. I can't go back to any tournament I ever won where I wasn't driving it well."
Wadkins tamed an old nemesis during a stretch of four straight birdies on the back nine. He birdied the 11th, 12th and 13th that make up Amen Corner and added one at 14 for good measure.
"Amen Corner has kicked me so many times, it probably owes me," said Wadkins, who shared the first-round lead last year en route to a tie for third. "I play those holes not to beat me. I was determined not to let them beat me."
The fourth has never been a particular favorite of Sluman's but that is likely to change. His 4-iron shot landed at the base of the green and rolled into the hole. It was his first hole-in-one in competition.
"It was one of those shots that looked good when it came off the club face, but you'd never dream it would go in," said Sluman.
Sluman, who had birdied the first and second holes, didn't let his emotions get the best of him. He regained his composure and made birdies at the eighth, 10th and 14th holes on the way to his share of the lead.