Rose 2 up with 67

Woods continues to spin his wheels

Young Englishman sharp

world's No. 1 is 4 over par after 14 holes of Round 1

The Masters

April 09, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. - The opening round of the 68th Masters yesterday had all the usual story lines - a relatively obscure leader in 23-year-old Englishman Justin Rose, a late-afternoon thunderstorm that temporarily suspended play and the continued struggle of Tiger Woods in major championships.

Rose, whose 5-under-par 67 gave him a two-stroke lead over Chris DiMarco and veteran Jay Haas, caused barely a ripple compared with Woods, who shot a 4-over-par 40 on the front nine before the round was delayed for a little more than two hours, and was 4 over through 14 holes when play was called for darkness last night.

Though his front-nine score was the same number he shot on his first trip to Augusta National as a professional in 1997, when he wound up winning by a record 12 strokes at age 21, it seems doubtful he will have the same result this time.

It is more likely that Woods' streak of making the cut in 120 straight tournaments will end tonight, and that his streak of seven straight majors without a win will continue unabated.

Woods, who has tried to put as much spin on his problems as he does on some of his shots, was in no mood to dissect his game.

"I'm done for the day, thanks," Woods said before leaving the course after play was halted at 7:45 p.m.

It remains to be seen if he is done for the week. He was among 18 players who didn't finish their opening rounds, including two-time U.S. Open champion and 2002 British Open titlist Ernie Els (2 under through 17), defending champion Mike Weir (4 over through 15) and Davis Love III (2 over through 16).

If Woods can't play his way back into contention when the first round is completed this morning, it will be left to another former prodigy - Rose - to take a crack at his first major in only his second Masters. Rose tied for 39th last year.

The memory of what Rose did at the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale, finishing tied for fourth as a 17-year-old amateur, is still fresh in his mind. So is the nightmare of what happened next, when he turned pro the day after the Open and proceeded to miss the cut in his first 21 events.

"I've said that those experiences of me trying to make cuts, it felt like I was putting a lot of pressure on myself," said Rose.

"I think the fact that I've won four times - each of those occasions that I've won, I've really felt what I've been through made that much easier and made me able to get through the finish line in a couple of tournaments."

DiMarco, 35, has won three times on the PGA Tour in six years, but he is probably best known around here for leading the 2001 Masters after each of the first two rounds before slipping to a 10th-place tie. He also finished tied for 12th in 2002 and withdrew after an opening-round 82 last year.

"If I have a great week and everything clicks, obviously I can compete," said DiMarco, who got into the hunt yesterday with a hole in one on the par-3 sixth. "There's something special about [the Masters]. Just the aura of the place is magnificent."

There is very little aura surrounding Woods these days. He is the top-ranked player in the world strictly in computer points, not by his performances. Woods, whose worst finish in five years (tie for 46th) came in trying to win for the fifth straight year at Bay Hill last month, seemed to be lost yesterday.

While Rose can become the youngest winner at Augusta since Woods, Haas could be the oldest winner - ever. Haas, who turned 50 last December, has a chance to knock Jack Nicklaus (46 in 1986) out of the record books if he can win for the first time since the 1993 Texas Open.

"I think obviously I've made all of the mistakes there are to make here, hit it in all the wrong places, so I know where not to go," said Haas, who missed the cut last year for the third time in 20 appearances and has finished no higher than a tie for third in 1995. "I'd love to get in the hunt."

Asked if a 50-year old can win the Masters, Haas smiled.

"I think anybody in the field can win, yes," he said. "Is that a simple answer?"

Aside from Rose, DiMarco and Haas, others in contention include Darren Clarke and Chris Riley at 2-under-par 70, and two-time champion Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie and Augusta native Charles Howell III at 1-under 71.

Among those at even-par 72 were reigning PGA champion Shaun Micheel, former champion Sandy Lyle, two-time PGA champion and former British Open champion Nick Price, perennial major championship contender Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and veteran Brad Faxon.

Reminded that the past five majors have been won by first-time major champions - another trend during Woods' drought - Rose said: "It would be nice if that trend kept going. I just think it means that the strength and depth is there sort of throughout the world."

And given the way Woods is playing, the rest of the golf world is catching up.

"Tiger is Tiger," said former champion Vijay Singh, who opened with a 75. "I don't know if he's not playing well now or he's just waiting for the majors. I have no idea. I just speak for the rest of the guys. I think our play has gone up a step higher, and that's closed the gap, if there was one."

Singh, usually reticent, becoming a spokesman. Now that's something new, at Augusta or anywhere else.

The Masters, First-round leader ...

Justin Rose 33-34-67

... and selected followers

Chris DiMarco 34-35-69

Jay Haas 34-35-69

Darren Clarke 35-35-70

Chris Riley 36-34-70

Charles Howell III 37-34-71

Colin Montgomerie 35-36-71

Bernhard Langer 36-35-71

Shaun Micheel 36-36-72

Sergio Garcia 37-35-72

Nick Price 35-37-72

Complete scores, 8E

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