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GOLF > Westwood gets nose in front at Masters

AUGUSTA, Georgia - The Associated Press

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Lee Westwood watches his tee shot on the 18th hole during first round play in the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament. REUTERS photo

Lee Westwood watches his tee shot on the 18th hole during first round play in the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament. REUTERS photo

With his words and then his play, Lee Westwood shot down the notion Thursday that this Masters was a two-horse race.

On a busy opening day at Augusta National that featured mud, a little rain and a snowman on the final hole for Henrik Stenson, Westwood provided a steady hand Thursday with seven birdies for a 5-under 67 that gave him a one-shot lead.

It was the first time Westwood has led after the opening round of a major, though that was little comfort. Louis Oosthuizen made four birdies over the last five holes for a 68, while Peter Hanson made six birdies for his 68. Bubba Watson, blasting tee shots with his pink driver, was among six players at 69.

Westwood had said it would be naive for anyone to think this major was only about Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

Frontrunners


Those two horses were happy to still be in the running.

Woods took two penalty shots, hit three tee shots that rattled the pines and was thrilled to make bogey on his last hole for a 72, the first time since 2008 that he failed to break par in the opening round of the Masters. “I had some of the worst golf swings I’ve ever hit today,” Woods said.

McIlroy opened with a double bogey, though his big moment was on the 10th hole. A year ago, that’s where his Sunday collapse began with a hooked tee shot into the cabins for a triple bogey. This time, he pushed a 3-wood into the trees on the other side and managed a par.

“That was a bit of an improvement from the last time I played it,” McIlroy said.

Better yet was a birdie-birdie finish, including a 15-foot putt from the fringe on the 18th that gave him a 71, making him one of 28 players who broke par and were within four shots of the lead.

“It was huge,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t feel like I had my best out there. To finish under par for the day, I’m very pleased.”

Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, had a few nervous moments, and that was after he signed for a 75. When his card was sent to the scoring room to be entered into the computer, an official accidentally punched in a birdie 3 for the fifth hole, even though Donald three-putted for a 5. The leaderboard showed him with a 73.

It took about two hours to clear up the confusion.

“This place, if you are a little bit off, it can eat you up,” Donald said.

Donald and Westwood are the only two players to be No. 1 without ever having won a major. Westwood is atop the list of the best who have never won a Grand Slam event - 36 wins around the world, formerly No. 1 in the world and a half-dozen close calls in the majors, including a runner-up finish at the 2010 Masters.

“I’ve come close,” Westwood said. “I’ve won all there is to win other than a major championship. That’s my primary focus and it’s been a long time coming around since the PGA last year.”

April/07/2012

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