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Smooth Masters start for Tiger

12 April 2013, 16:01

Augusta - Tiger Woods opened his 19th Masters campaign with a confident two-under 70 on Thursday as he sought to crown a remarkable return to the top with a long-overdue 15th major title.

Masters leaderboard

The 37-year-old American, who regained the world number one spot last month after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, got off to a quiet enough start, but was two under by the turn with birdies at six and eight.

Watched by the new love in his life, reigning Winter Olympic downhill champion skier Lindsey Vonn, the 14-time major winner stayed there until the par-five 13th, where he moved to three-under.

A bogey at the bunkerless 14th hole set him back, but he parred his way in from there to tuck himself nicely in behind the leaders.

The early playing conditions in the 77th edition of the year's first major were benign, with little wind, and that led to some fireworks from the early starters.

None sparkled more than cricket-loving Australian Marc Leishman, who pounded out four birdies in a row from the 13th to come in with a superb six-under 66.

"Got off to a shaky start - had a few nerves early on, but got that out of the way with a birdie at three and then we were away," he said.

England's David Lynn had earlier fired a four-under par 68 to set the early pace.

The 39-year-old, who finished runner-up to Rory McIlory in last year's PGA Championship, got to five-under after 15 holes, but a bogey at 17 pegged him back.

US veteran Jim Furyk and 2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson both came in with 69s, with eight players - Kevin Na, David Toms, Brandt Snedeker and John Huh, all of the United States; Tim Clark of South Africa, Englishmen Lee Westwood and Justin Rose and KJ Choi of South Korea - all safely home at two-under 70.

But it was Woods that was once again the full focus of attention as a win on Sunday would crown his return to the top after three years of turmoil and doubt in his personal and professional life.

It would also leave him just three majors short of achieving his life-long ambition of matching, and eventually surpassing, Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles, the last of which came here in 1986 at the age of 46.

A visit to the Butler Cabin on Sunday would also make it five Green Jackets for Woods - his last was in 2005 - just one behind the record six held by Nicklaus.

The two other stories that have dominated the build-up to the opening round have been firstly whether McIlroy has finally got to grips with his new clubs and secondly how will 14-year-old Chinese prodigy Guan Tianlang fare on his Masters debut.

McIlroy, who finally showed a clear sign that he is emerging from his four-month slump with a closing 66 for second place at the Texas Open last week, started strongly and was two under through six holes.

But it remained to be seen whether he can safely negotiate four rounds over a course that has hurt him badly before.

He has already set his sights high, saying that anything less than a win on Sunday would be a disappointment in what he says is his favourite tournament of the year.

Astonishingly, McIlroy, one of the youngest players in the 93-strong field, is 10 years older than Guan, who became the youngest player in Masters history when he set off on Thursday.

Short off the tee, the slightly built Chinese schoolboy had been expected to struggle over the mighty 7,435-yard Georgia layout, but after a bogey at the first he bounced back to birdie the third.

Bogeys at seven and nine, however, then pushed him out to two over.

Three-time winner Phil Mickelson was also among the late starters, meaning he could run into the stormy weather which was forecast for later in the day.

The 42-year-old American birdied the second but was rocked with bogeys at the third and fifth.

Spain's Sergio Garcia, meanwhile, caught the eye by moving to five under through 10 holes.

Reigning champion Bubba Watson struggled throughout and was well down the field on 75.



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