Golf / The 57th US Masters: Ageless Nicklaus leads drive down memory lane: Langer leads Europe's challenge as the British contingent make a steady start on a vintage day for golf's golden oldies

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The Independent Online
JACK NICKLAUS, who has a wardrobe full of green jackets, went gingerly in pursuit of another one when he shot 67 in the first round of the 57th Masters here yesterday. It was like all our yesterdays as the golden oldies cruised up Magnolia Drive and took a turn down Memory Lane.

Nicklaus, who won his sixth Masters in 1986, stood at five under par with Larry Mize, another former winner, Lee Janzen, Tom Lehman and Corey Pavin. The five Americans are one stroke ahead of three players including Bernhard Langer and four clear of Nick Faldo, the favourite, and Ian Woosnam.

For the last two practice days Nicklaus, who is 53, played with the 63-year-old Arnold Palmer and it was the sight and sound of Arnie's Army on the move yesterday morning that aroused Nicklaus. Palmer started birdie, birdie, birdie, but finished at two over par with a 74.

'When I set off I heard somebody say 'Hey, have you seen what Arnie's doing?'. I thought I couldn't let Arnold be the low senior,' Nicklaus said. 'I thought it was time to get to work. We still compete you know. It put me in a positive frame of mind and helped me relax a bit.'

Nicklaus, who has won 18 major titles in a career spanning five decades, promptly hit a wedge to eight feet for a birdie at the first and picked up another stroke at the second. At the sixth and the 10th he sank putts of 15 and 10 feet to save par and picked up a birdie at the 12th, the Golden Bell, where he hit an eight-iron to 25 feet and holed the putt. 'Gosh, wasn't that nice,' Nicklaus said. Twelve months ago his challenge ended on that hole when he took six.

Nicklaus went out in 34 and came back in 33 after eagling the 15th. After consulting with his caddie, his son Jackie Jnr, he decided to hit a two- iron approach over the water from 232 yards and his ball finished eight feet below the hole. He knocked it in for a three. He did not think it at all odd that a 53-year-old man was on the leaderboard. Gary Player, another senior citizen, shot 71 and remarked: 'I feel like I'm 30.' Nicklaus did not go that far, but he has been exercising every morning for the last 1,450 days.

'I've lost some weight and I feel stronger,' he said. 'I've been working for this tournament all spring. This, as far as I'm concerned, is the start of the golfing year. The best players usually play their best golf in the majors. I don't think it would be phenomenal for me to win here. I don't feel that much different from when I won it when I was 46. I'm controlling the ball as well as I've done for years. Most people when they get older have trouble putting. I've never had that problem. If you keep yourself in shape you can play. I don't think age has got a whole lot to do with it.' At the beginning of the week Nicklaus played with a wooden driver and admitted: 'I couldn't hit it anywhere.' Yesterday he switched to a metal club.

Janzen's score was remarkable considering that on two occasions he was up Rae's Creek. His driving in the first part of his round was erratic and on the second hole he hooked his ball into the water. He waded in and knocked the ball 90 yards on to the fairway with a seven-iron. He hit a six-iron on to the green and rolled in the putt from 35 feet for a birdie four. The hole is not meant to be played that way.

He treated the notorious 12th with contempt, hitting an eight-iron to 18 feet and he sank that for a two. Amen Corner let him off lightly. At the 13th he mishit his approach shot and found the Creek, but sank a 10ft putt to save par and he came home in 32 with birdies at the 14th and 17th.

Last summer Janzen was on the leaderboard in the Open Championship at Muirfield after an opening round of 66 but then fell away. 'I've learnt a great deal in the last 12 months,' he said. 'If this was a one- round tournament I'd be really excited but a lot of first round leaders don't do well here. There are so many ghosts out there.' Janzen's middle name is MacLeod and his mother's grandparents came from Scotland. 'I've forgotten exactly where,' he said. 'Do they have such a thing as the Highlands?'

The omens were good for Lehman from the start as he opened his round with a birdie three at the 400-yard first. 'That was such a thrill, my first Masters hole ever. I was pretty pumped up,' he said. He picked up another shot at the par-five eighth, had three birdies in a row from the 14th and finished with a flourish by sinking a 15ft putt birdie putt at the last.

Langer, who won the Green Jacket in 1985, had five birdies and a solitary bogey, a four at the short sixth. The German birdied the second, third, fourth, 13th and 17th holes.

Woosnam, who won here in 1991, shot a one-under par 71 after spending seven hours in practice on Wednesday. Woosnam wore out five gloves as he worked on improving his driving. 'I was pretty nervous at the start,' the Welshman said, 'but it was quite a good round. I was quite pleased with the way I played, although I am going to spend some more time on the practice ground.'

Sandy Lyle, the Masters winner in 1988, had a one-over par 73 after going to the turn in 38. Lyle has played in only two tournaments this year. Seve Ballesteros, whose season has been disrupted by a back injury, returned a 74. 'Under the circumstances it was a satisfactory round,' Ballesteros said. 'My back feels OK.'

Ballesteros, who won the title in 1980 and 1983, was often wayward off the tee, but he finished in superb style with a birdie three at the 18th where he hit a six-iron to one foot.

Faldo had two birdies, one bogey and 15 pars. 'I hit the ball great,' Faldo said. 'and had 12 birdie chances from within 20 feet and made only one of them.' When Faldo won here for the second successive year in 1990 he opened with a 71.

Two other members of the European Tour, Colin Montgomerie and Anders Forsbrand, also scored 71 while Jose-Maria Olazabal, the runner-up to Woosnam two years ago, shot 70.

Tom Watson, the US Ryder Cup captain, had a triple-bogey eight at the 13th, but the two-times Masters champion recovered magnificently with five birdies in a row from the 14th to finish with a 71. Stephen Dundas, Watson's playing partner, had a torrid time over the front nine. Dundas, the 19-year-old Amateur champion from Glasgow, opened with a double-bogey six and had two more sixes on his card going to the turn in 43, seven over par. 'I was so nervous my hands were shaking and I couldn't swing the putter,' Dundas said. Nevertheless he regained his composure over the back nine to come home in 35 for a 78.

During the round they chatted about Carnoustie, happy hunting ground for both players. Watson won the first of his five Opens there in 1975 while Dundas triumphed on the Scottish links in the Amateur Championship last year.

(Photograph omitted)

----------------------------------------------------------------- FIRST-ROUND SCORES FROM AUGUSTA (US unless stated) ----------------------------------------------------------------- 67 L Janzen J Nicklaus T Lehman L Mize C Pavin 68 J Huston R Floyd B Langer (Ger) 69 D Forsman T Schulz C Parry (Aus) L Wadkins B Gilder 70 J Daly J Maggert B Glasson J Haas R Cochran B Ogle (Aus) J-M Olazabal (Sp) H Twitty 71 G Player (SA) D Peoples J D Blake M Calcavecchia B Faxon I Woosnam (GB) P Azinger S Elkington (Aus) T Watson J Sluman C Montgomerie (GB) A Forsbrand (Swe) N Faldo (GB)

72 G Hallberg M Brooks D Waldorf G Morgan J Sindelar P Mickelson C Beck F Couples N Price (Zimb) S Simpson 73 *W Schutte (SA) B Andrade S Pate S Lyle (GB) D Love I Baker-Finch (Aus) T Kite C Stadler D Edwards 74 K Clearwater H Irwin A Palmer S Ballesteros (Sp) T Johnstone (Zimb) M Hulbert C Coody B Crenshaw B R Brown B Lietzke G Norman (Aus) P Stewart N Ozaki (Japan) G Sauers 75 D Frost (SA) M O'Meara A Magee F Zoeller M Ozaki (Japan) R Zokol (Can) 76 J Cook *D Yates M McCumber N Henke D Pruitt *J Leonard 77 F Funk C Strange W Grady (Aus) 78 M Standly *S Dundas (GB) 79 B Casper M Carnevale 80 G Brewer T Aaron 81 J Gallagher 83 D Ford ----------------------------------------------------------------- (* denotes amateur) -----------------------------------------------------------------

Keith Elliott, page 32