Elkington's late burst sets the early pace

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The Independent Online

The Australian Steve Elkington birdied his final three holes to shoot an eight-under-par 64 and take a one-shot lead over Phil Mickelson after the first round of the BellSouth Classic here on Thursday.

Elkington, who has not qualified for next week's Masters, overcame a double-bogey on the third hole by making four straight birdies from the fourth and reached the turn at five-under 31 before adding three more on the back nine at the TPC at Sugarloaf.

"I think if you wanted to prepare for The Masters, this would be a good place," Elkington said. "It's a real driver's course and there are plenty of holes out here where you have to hit very precise iron shots."

Mickelson, who won this tournament two years ago, is one stroke ahead of a group that includes Dudley Hart, Frank Nobilo, Ian Leggatt and Scandinavians Thomas Bjorn and Jesper Parnevik.

Some 25 players are within four shots of the lead, while 75 of 143 players in the field broke par.

Vijay Singh, winner of last week's Houston Open, compiled a three-under 69 and David Toms, the reigning PGA Championship winner, was one of 14 players to shoot 68.

Scott McCarron, who claimed his second BellSouth title last year, compiled a five-under 67 and is tied for eighth.

Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, David Duval and Sergio Garcia are among those missing the tournament in order to prepare for Augusta.