Golf: US Masters / Ballesteros' hot putter helps roll back the years: Spaniard back to his best with explosive display - Mize sets early pace with 68 - Toothache floors Amateur champion

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The Independent Online
Seve Ballesteros, who celebrates his 37th birthday tomorrow, was the youngest player to wear the Green Jacket when he won at Augusta National in 1980. He won again three years later but since then Magnolia Drive for the Spaniard has looked more like Heartbreak Ridge. Yesterday Ballesteros was back on the leaderboard with a vintage round of 70.

He was also back to his erratic best. Ballesteros, who has not won for two years, went to the turn in 34, two under par and, on greens that had been cut as many as four times a day, his putting was reminiscent of his green period. Ballesteros, who has been consulting the former US Tour player Mac O'Grady, made a wretched start when he hooked his approach shot at the first hole and missed the green so far left that his ball nearly ended up on the second tee.

It cost him a bogey five but he immediately got back to level par with a birdie four at the second. His drive nearly landed in the pine trees on the right of the fairway and he hit his third shot to within four feet of the hole. What really made his day, however, was a shot to save par at the fourth, a shot described by his playing partner, Ray Floyd, as the greatest he had ever seen.

Ballesteros, who finished the day two strokes off the lead established by Larry Mize, missed the green to the right. He had 20 yards to the pin, downhill all the way with a bunker in between. Floyd remarked to his caddie that the Spaniard would be lucky to get the ball within 25 feet of the hole. With a sand wedge Ballesteros played what he described as a 'parachute' shot, floating the ball to within four feet to save par. 'I played a few shots that even surprised me,' he said.

'I felt a bit nervous,' Ballesteros added. 'The first round is always difficult. You can't win the Masters in the first round but you can easily lose it.' He had another birdie at the seventh, where again he hit it close to the pin and got to two under par with a four at the 535-yard eighth.

Although the temperature was in the high seventies, Ballesteros remained loyal to a green sweater but if he was hot, his putter was hotter. He had just 10 putts for the first nine holes and thereafter had five successive fours.

That included a bogey four at the Golden Bell, the notorious par three that lies at the heart of the trinity of holes called Amen Corner. Ballesteros, who christened his golf company with the same name, went through the back of the green and somehow left his chip short. However, Ballesteros continued his impressive progress with another birdie at the 15th.

With just the hint of a breeze, conditions seemed to be set fair for low scoring but neither Bernhard Langer, the defending champion, nor Nick Faldo, the champion in 1989 and 1990, could take advantage. What hampered most of the field was that the pin positions were decidedly tricky. Langer shot 74, Faldo 76 and, with the exception of Ballesteros, the European contingent fared badly.

Sandy Lyle, who won the Green Jacket in 1988, had a disconsolate 75. Lyle did not have the measure of the greens. He began by three-putting the first. The only chink of light for Lyle came with a two at the Golden Bell. The hole took a heavy toll on Langer, who recorded a double-bogey five there. Lyle hit his ball into the water at the 16th, the result, he said, of a brainless shot. 'I didn't know what I was doing. My putting is killing me.' He had a total of 35 putts in the round and three- putted four of the greens.

Tom Watson, the 44-year-old former US Ryder Cup captain who last won the Masters in 1981, made a dream start with an eagle three at the second and he picked up further birdies at the eighth and the 11th but a watery grave awaited him at the 15th. He was through the back of the green in two but his chip accelerated past the flag and rolled into the pond. The result was a triple-bogey eight. At two under for the round he was in good company.

Norman, who has often been fitted for the Green Jacket but has never got to wear one, moved to three under with birdies at the second, the sixth and the seventh but he dropped a stroke at the daunting ninth. Norman was made the bookmakers' favourite on the strength of his performances this year. In his last 98 holes he had had just one bogey and he leads the US PGA Tour with dollars 566,000 ( pounds 390,000) from just four tournaments.

He was not as consistent yesterday and his rollercoaster round dropped him back to level par by the 12th before an eagle at the 13th followed by a birdie restored his fortunes. He was in the water at the 15th but escaped with a par by holing from 10 feet and he finished with a 70. Payne Stewart was not so lucky. He was in the water three times and had a nine at the 15th as did the Italian Costantino Rocca. It was a salutary lesson for the European Ryder Cup player who is making his debut in the Masters.

Norman and Ballesteros were both stunned by Mize here in 1987. Mize, who won the Johnnie Walker World Championship in Jamaica last December, was born in Augusta and as a teenager he used to work on the scoreboards. His name dominated them seven years ago when he went into a play-off with Norman and Ballesteros. The Spaniard three-putted the first play-off hole, the 10th, and retreated up the hill to the clubhouse in tears. At the 11th Norman appeared to be in the driving seat but then Mize chipped in from 140 feet for a winning birdie three.

Yesterday Ballesteros thoroughly enjoyed himself. 'Have you got any goals left?' he was asked. 'Have I got any balls left?' he replied, mishearing the question. The answer to both versions is in the affirmative.

(Photograph omitted)