Singh sinks his own teeth into Augusta

The Masters

April 07, 2006|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The extra set of teeth that was implanted into Augusta National four years ago and sharpened this year glistened yesterday under a bright Georgia sun, finally giving this idyllic and historic course the kind of bite that had been missing during a few recent rain-splattered Masters.

It took more than five hours for anyone to stay under par in the opening round of the 70th Masters. Two players with varying history here found their way to the top of the leader board. With a 5-under-par 67, former champion Vijay Singh eventually passed journeyman Rocco Mediate to take a one-stroke lead.

Arron Oberholser was two behind after a 3-under-par 69 in his Masters debut. Four players - 2004 champion Phil Mickelson, two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen and fellow South African Tim Clark, along with Geoff Ogilvy of Australia - shot 2-under-par 70.

Former champions Ben Crenshaw, Fred Couples and Mike Weir of Canada, as well as former major champions Ernie Els of South Africa, Rich Beem and Ben Curtis were in a large and distinguished group of 11 players at 1-under-par 71. Another 11, including defending champion Tiger Woods, were at even-par 72.

Woods, looking for his fifth victory in 10 trips here as a professional, had an adventurous round that included holing out from 163 yards for eagle on the par-4 14th - his first on a par 4 at the Masters and one of 12 eagles for the day - before making double bogey on the par-5 15th.

"We haven't played it like this in a while where it's been dry," said Woods, who finished with a 35-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th. "It plays more like a U.S. Open right now than it does a Masters, because lately, the Masters has been playing soft and wet."

Said Mediate, who missed the cut in 2004 and missed the tournament last year: "It's so hard and so penalizing and so good, that it won't let you lay down. It won't let you relax. It just doesn't. And if you do, pretty much the game is over."

Mediate, who has been bothered by back problems since 1994 and admittedly doesn't know what kind of shape he will be in when he wakes up each morning, took a U.S. Open-like approach, settling for pars on each of the first 10 holes before making four birdies over the next five.

"This is probably one of the best rounds I've ever played," said Mediate, 43, whose best finish here was a tie for 15th in 2001 and who has had only three top 10s in majors, including a tie for sixth in last year's U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

Singh, too, started quietly, with pars on the first six holes and only one birdie on the front nine. But the player who held the No. 1 ranking in the world before Woods reclaimed it last year jumped to the top of the leader board with four birdies on the back.

"I think the golf course was pretty tough from the get-go," said Singh, also 43, who won here in 2000 and has finished in the top 10 the past four years, including a tie for fifth last year. "If you don't hit good shots, you're going to make a [big] number out there."

Some did.

Two under through eight holes, reigning U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand double-bogeyed the par-4 ninth and shot 3-over-par 75. Rory Sabbatini of South Africa, the PGA Tour's leading money winner this year, shot 4-over-par 76, as did two-time champion Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain.

Five former champions who have combined for 11 titles here - Gary Player of South Africa, Nick Faldo of England, Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer of Germany and Raymond Floyd - each shot 79. Former British Open champion and world No. 1 David Duval continued his three-year slump, finishing with an 84 and beating only 68-year-old Charles Coody (89).

As happens so often at the Masters, one of its older former champions played like his younger self. Two-time champion Crenshaw, who hadn't broken par here since his victory in 1995 and missed the cut nine of the past 10 years, shot a 1-under-par 71.

Sounding much like he did 11 years ago when his win came a few days after the death of longtime mentor Harvey Penick, Crenshaw, 54, said: "I felt that I had a few miracles out here happen. I have to chip and putt here. That's the only way I can get around. ... It's definitely a young man's course."

Woods, who turned 30 in December, would certainly qualify in that regard. And given where Woods was a year ago, when he trailed first-round leader Chris DiMarco by seven shots after opening with a 74, yet eventually beat DiMarco in a sudden-death playoff, he is certainly in better shape this time.

"I thought at the beginning of the day there might be two scores in the 60s today," Woods said. "As of right now, there's what? Three. So that's about right. The course is playing really difficult. It's fast now. It's picked up enough speed where it feels like the ball is being repelled instead of being accepted."

Asked if he were more understanding of the changes that have been made, including stretching the course by 460 yards since 2001 to its current length of a brutish 7,445, Woods smiled.

"It just is what it is. We all have to play them," Woods said. "We were all curious to see how it was going to hold up playing fast. Right now there are a handful of guys under par. Tomorrow, with the wind supposed to blow 20 miles an hour, it might make things a little more interesting."

don.markus@baltsun.com

First round

Leader ...

Vijay Singh 67 -5

... selected followers

Rocco Mediate 68 -4

Arron Oberholser 69 -3

Tim Clark 70 -2

Retief Goosen 70 -2

Phil Mickelson 70 -2

Ben Crenshaw 71 -1

Mike Weir 71 -1

Fred Couples 71 -1

Ben Curtis 71 -1

Ernie Els 71 -1

Tiger Woods 72 E

Complete scores, PG 10F

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