Campbell maintains strong start at Masters

Chad Campbell got off to another strong start today in the second round of the Masters.

The opening-round leader birdied two of the first four holes - not quite as good as Thursday, when he birdied the first five holes for the best start in Masters history - but enough to stretch out his lead at Augusta National.

Campbell birdied the par-5 second, one of the easiest holes on the course, and added another at the par-3 fourth to push his score to 9 under.

Tiger Woods was preparing to tee off, facing a daunting seven-stroke deficit after shooting a 70 on Thursday. The world's No. 1 player is seeking his fifth green jacket, which would leave him one away from Jack Nicklaus' Augusta record.

Campbell took a one-stroke lead over Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan into the second round after challenging the course record with a 7-under 65 on Thursday. After his brilliant start, another run of four straight birdies on the back side had him poised to equal or break the 63 that Nick Price shot in 1986 and Greg Norman matched a decade later.

Unfortunately for Campbell, he bogeyed the final two holes to fall short of the mark and leave himself with a bit of a sour feeling. Still, he set the pace on a day of impressive scoring - 19 players shot in the 60s, another 19 broke par, both records.

Friday was another warm, sunny day at Augusta National, though the forecast called for a chance of late-afternoon storms - a possible advantage for the early starters.

John Merrick, who qualified for the Masters with a strong showing at last summer's U.S. Open, birdied two of the first four holes Friday and shot 34 on the front side, pushing his score to 6 under.

Mahan got off to a rough start in the second round, making a bogey on the second hole and a double-bogey on No. 3, slipping five strokes behind Campbell. Furyk had an afternoon tee time.

Woods struggled with a balky putter but still managed a 2-under score in the opening round, a very familiar score for the four-time Masters champion. He also started with 70 in each of his first three Augusta victories, and had to overcome a 74 to capture his fourth green jacket in 2005.

"It's a long week," he said. "You've just got to keep patient, stay with it. It's not like I haven't been in this position before."

Campbell's brilliant round Thursday was marred by the finish. He failed to get up and down out of a bunker at No. 17, and he three-putted from about 50 feet on 18. Still, he matched the best opening round of the past 13 years and went to bed with a one-stroke lead over Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan.

"Obviously, I'm happy to be in the lead, but you definitely never want to finish the round with two bogeys," Campbell said.

Larry Mize, the 1987 champion but far past his prime, opened with a 67 and had a good chance to make it to the weekend for only the second time in the last nine years. He got off to a sluggish start Friday, making double bogey at the first hole, but bounced back with two straight birdies.

"I still believe," the 50-year-old Mize said. "You've got to believe."

Todd Hamilton was another surprise. He plunged completely off the charts since his improbable British Open win five years ago - arriving at Augusta ranked No. 373 in the world - but mustered a 68 on Thursday, easily the best round of his Masters career.

Augusta National has gone to great lengths to shield itself against the combined onslaught of stronger, fitter players and the technological advancements in their equipment. Holes were lengthened, trees added, tee boxes shifted around in an ever-vigilant quest to stay ahead of the scoring curve.

It worked, especially the last two years when foul weather made it even tougher to go low. But there was a growing sense the club went too far, wringing all the drama out of its hallowed course by turning it into a survival test, where winning was determined by the fewest mistakes rather than the boldest shots.

Whether they were reacting to all the complaints or simply feeling in a charitable mood, the head honchos at Augusta National set up a course with soft, receptive greens and pin placements that were more inviting than devious.

Woods certainly would have opened with a score in the 60s if not for a shaky putter, a familiar problem the past two years at Augusta. He put himself in position to win both times, but couldn't make enough putts to chase down a pair of grinders, Zach Johnson in 2007 and Trevor Immelman a year ago.

"I had good pace, just didn't make any putts," Woods said. "If I hit bad putts, it would be a totally different deal. But I hit good putts. That just means I need to read them a little bit better."

Round two should be a nostalgic feast, even if the course conditions are much tougher. Gary Player will play the final round of his Masters career, which has stretched to a record 52 appearances. Fuzzy Zoeller is planning his finale, as well, ready to fade away on the 30th anniversary of winning at Augusta on his very first try.

"I've got one more in me," said Zoeller, who had no expectation of making the cut and fulfilled it by shooting 79 Thursday. "I'm looking forward to it."