Golf: Rough luck for Westwood

IF STEADINESS was a feature of Lee Westwood's opening round in the Tournament Players' Championship yesterday, luck was not. The 25-year- old bettered his first round at the TPC at Sawgrass of 12 months ago by one shot but his 73 was not fully representative of his efforts. Having gone on to finish tied for fifth on his debut last year, Westwood will be hoping for a similar rescue act in the pounds 3m event.

Westwood has yet to find his best form and at such times luck is not often a golfer's friend. His only drive that was off line, at the fourth (his 13th after starting at the 10th), left him in an unkempt, overgrown patch of rough next to a sprinkler head. "I could hardly see the ball," Westwood said. "Twelve feet off the fairway but could only move the ball 15 yards. It is frustrating when they prepare a course as good as this and there is one unprepared patch and I manage to find it."

A double bogey six took Westwood back to level par after birdies at the second and the 11th, both par fives, and he dropped another shot at the ninth. After reporting his putting as "very poor", he added: "With an even break, I'd have been three shots better off and if things had gone my way, it could have been five or six under."

That would have been good enough to take the early lead, which in fact fell to the Open runner-up Brian Watts and Bob Estes at four under. David Duval, in his first tournament for four weeks, scored a 69 and Tiger Woods a 70, which, surprisingly, was the world No 1's best effort in nine rounds on this course. But Darren Clarke's struggles continued with a 77 which puts him in danger of missing the cut for the second successive time here and for the fourth time in five events this year.

Even on a beautiful, calm morning, scoring on the Stadium Course was far from straightforward. Greg Norman's tournament record of 24-under par for four rounds in 1994 should stand for some time to come. The Great White Shark will be unlikely to threaten his own mark after an opening 72. The reason he was at level par despite making seven birdies was that he had four sixes on his card.

They came with two bogeys at the par-five second and 11th, a double bogey at the fifth and a triple at the course's signature hole, the 17th. The short par three may not possess the original island green but surely the most infamous and Norman was well short of dry land when he hit a nine iron heavy. From the drop zone, his third finished on the back tier of the green and he three-putted.

"I don't recall making four sixes in one round before," said Norman, who missed most of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery. "That's like your golf," he chided reporters. The Australian added: "It was a really mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly. I made a bunch of birdies, all by hitting the ball close, but bogeying two of the par-fives was inexcusable."

Another six at a par three came from Seve Ballesteros, the latest inductee to the World Golf Hall of Fame. The 42-year-old Spaniard was level par for the day playing the 13th, a hole that perfectly summed up the state of his game. Trying to draw a nine iron into the green, Ballesteros overdid it and hooked the ball into a pond. Having moved forward, he did exactly the same with a seven-iron before proceeding to hit the same club to six feet and hole the putt.

A bogey, bogey finish left Seve with a 76 while Bernhard Langer spoilt an otherwise encouraging day by taking a double at the last in his 73. Langer found the rough with his drive, hit a tree with his second and had terrible lies for his third, from the mounds short of the green, and his fourth, from over the green.

Given that his playing partners, Fulton Allem and Mike Hulbert, both had close birdie putts, Langer had the unusual experience in a threeball of playing four consecutive shots, including two putts from 15 feet. Jesper Parnevik, who went into hospital with a fever of 105 degrees two weeks ago, spent much of his round on the leaderboard but also finished poorly with bogeys at his last two holes for a 71.