Round 1 goes to Augusta

Round 1 goes to Augusta

Justin Rose (above) is tied for the lead with Brett Wetterich.
Robert Beck/SI

AUGUSTA, Ga., April 5 — Justin Rose took only 20 putts.

Masters rookie Brett Wetterich showed no nerves.

On a sometimes blustery, cooler-than-normal Thursday when many players lost their composure and all chance of winning, Rose and Wetterich shot three-under-par 69 to share the first-round lead at the 2007 Masters.

Tiger Woods minimized the damage despite having only his B- or C-game, finishing with a one-over 73, the same number posted by Vijay Singh and three other players. Woods had it to one-under after 15 holes but bogeyed 17 and 18.

"I just threw away a good round of golf," he said.

Justin Rose, who withdrew with a bad back from the CA Championship two weeks ago and hit just five greens Thursday, said: "My short game was unbelievable today … I put myself in spots where you could up-and-down the ball."

David Howell shot 2-under 70, as did David Toms. Davis Love III got up and down on 18 and was at even par, one of five players at that number, while Augusta native Vaughn Taylor was one of five players at one-under 71.

It was a day in which players racked up the fourth-highest first-round scoring average in the last 40 years, and even the leaders sounded beaten.

"I think the first seven holes I didn't hit a green," Taylor said.

Indeed, with the wind and firm greens confounding most players, the early going was less about the nine under-par rounds than it was about the players who shot themselves out of contention.

Ernie Els, a runner-up in 2000 and 2004 who was gunning for one of the two majors that have eluded him, false-started with a double-bogey on the first hole and shot 78.

Fred Couples, in the same group, shot 76, endangering his consecutive cuts streak, which stands at 22. If Couples makes the weekend, he would tie Gary Player's record.

Geoff Ogilvy, the third member of the group, triple-bogeyed the par-5 second hole and shot 75.

Dean Wilson likened the day to "Survivor" after he also shot 75. "It's really tough out there," he said. "Obviously the greens are very hard, fast. With them mowing the fairways backwards, it's long."

Nick O'Hern, who shot 76, the first-round average, said: "At the end of the day, my score doesn't look so bad."

Phil Mickelson's 76 looked even better. He missed a few short putts and was five over through seven holes, such a bad start that his wife, Amy, gave him a hug on the 7th.

"A little morale boost to keep me fighting," he said later.

Mickelson birdied the par-5 8th to make the turn in 40, but by the time he reached the par-5 15th he was limping along at six over par. He went for the green in two, a critical turning point that would either begin to reverse the damage or make Mickelson's bad round worse.

His approach made it over the pond but trickled over the putting surface and onto the shaved bank behind the green. He faced a tough shot to a far-left pin position. Taking little time, he opened up his lob wedge, took a full swing and caught it perfectly. The ball landed softly and stopped after a foot or two of roll.

Mickelson made his five-footer for birdie, and one more birdie on the par-3 16th left him at four over, the same score as his amateur playing partner from Scotland, Richie Ramsay.

"I don't feel I've driven myself out of it," Mickelson said. "Even par is going to be in the hunt tomorrow. If I get out and shoot a 68, I'll be right back in it."

That seemed like a big "if" amidst the carnage Thursday.

"The golf course is winning right now," said Billy Mayfair, who also shot 76. "I expect it will probably win this week."

Rose has been sidelined with a bad back, but his round was not entirely unexpected. He shot an opening 67 here in '04.

Wetterich, conversely, was playing his first competitive round at Augusta. He seemed to be riding the momentum from his runner-up finish to Woods at the WGC-CA Championship.

Scott Verplank, who shot 73, spoke for many when he said, "I'm very happy to be done."

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