On a day for patience during which Fred Couples shot a three-under 69, Woods, two shots behind, could not attack the course as he did a year ago. Overnight rain may have saved the players from the hard and fast greens that they regularly have to deal with at Augusta, but the elements provided a natural counterbalance with the strength of the wind,
Nothing could have been sent to test Woods more. He is never comfortable in the wind but birdies at the eighth and ninth took him out in 34, six shots better than his outward on the opening day a year ago. But having improved by 10 shots on the inward half then, Woods went the other way this time, his only birdie in a back nine of 37 coming at the 13th.
Sandwiched between the defending champion and the 1992 champion were Jose Maria Olazabal, Paul Stankowski and Scott Hoch. Couples made six birdies and enjoyed the same fortune he was handed when he won the title. Just as in the final round six years ago, his ball stayed on the bank above Rae's Creek at the short 12th and he survived with only a bogey.
All those on the leaderboard, including the first man to top the list, Gay Brewer, the '67 champion who at 66 became the oldest player to match par in the Masters, relished the conditions. "If the wind keeps up, we won't have to worry about Tiger shooting 18 under,'' said Paul Azinger, who matched the defending champion's 71.
On the same mark was Colin Montgomerie, who was happy to finish just as darkness was falling. The Scot's love-hate relationship with this course continued on the front nine when he had only two pars. He mixed four birdies with two bogeys and a double bogey but birdied three holes out of four from the 13th, including a sidedoor effort on the 16th.
"I have never seen conditions like this here before,'' said Olazabal. The Spaniard had returned to the practice range late on Wednesday afternoon after the storm and found some rhythm in his swing that he has lacked since winning the Dubai Classic. As ever his short game was a key component to his round and he chipped in at the 17th and two-putted from 60 feet at the last.
"Anything under par is an extremely good round today,'' he said. "It was very difficult to judge the intensity of the wind and get club selection right.'' A tally of eight wrong clubs was something Lee Westwood and his caddie had resolved between themselves, but the New Orleans winner's view was clear: "pathetic''. It was a mark of the 24-year-old's heightened expectations that he was disappointed with a 74. Mitigating circumstances, apart from the conditions, include the fact that he hit few bad shots and started, for the second year running, with a double bogey six.
Westwood drove into the fairway bunker and then caught his second shot so sweetly that he went sailing over the back of the green. The killer was three-putting from four feet after the chip back. Holing a curling 35-footer at the fourth settled him down.
Inevitably one of the higher scores came from one of the newcomers, Spain's Ignacio Garrido shooting an 85. "It was more like the British Open than the Masters,'' he said.
Much of the damage was done on the par-five 15th, where he took an 11 equalling the highest score for the hole by Jumbo Ozaki in '87 and Ben Crenshaw last year. The Ryder Cup player found the pond in front of the green three times, first with a three-wood second shot and then two duffed pitches.
"On each of those three shots which went in the water the wind felt different,'' Garrido, whose father Antonio also played in the Masters, said."I was quite happy how I was coping until then but that was a disaster.''
The 15th was not kind to the Europeans, with Costantino Rocca taking a 10 and Ian Woosnam a seven in his 74. The hole was also the undoing of Matt Kuchar, the US Amateur champion, who had been two under par playing the hole. But finding water there and at the 16th spoilt what had been a dream day in the company of Woods up to then.
Sandy Lyle, having on Wednesday become the first man to retain the Par- three title which has historically been a jinx for the main action, eagled the 13th in his 74, while his playing partner Craig Watson, the British Amateur champion, had a 79.
Early first-round scores from Augusta
(US unless stated,
J M Olazabal (Sp)
C Montgomerie (GB)
S Lyle (GB)
P-U Johansson (Swe)
R Goosen (SA)
L Westwood (GB)
I Woosnam (GB)
B Hughes (Aus)
S Elkington (Aus)
M Ozaki (Japan)
B Langer (Ger)
J Parnevik (Swe)
N Price (Zim)
B R Brown
D Clarke (GB)
G Norman (Aus)
G Player (SA)
S Appleby (Aus)
S Ballesteros (Sp)
G Hjertstedt (Swe)
*T Clark (SA)
C Rocca (It)
I Garrido (Sp)
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