Sergio Garcia, recapturing some of his youthful enthusiasm, and a 37-year-old newcomer, Dennis Paulson, made their way on to the leaderboard in the first round the 64th US Masters. But the name expected to be there, that of Tiger Woods, the prohibitively short-priced favourite, was absent. It may have looked like a fine spring day but there was just enough breeze swirling around the tree-tops to bring out the beast amid the beauty of Augusta National.
"It's not easy out there," Woods said. "A lot of guys are going to have some big numbers." The world No1 was not immune. Level par at the turn, recovering from two early bogeys, Woods suffered a pair of sixes, for a double bogey at the 10th and for a triple at the 12th to be five over. He recovered with two birdies for a 75, seven behind Paulson, the leader.
Paulson, who has never won on the US Tour, had five birdies and an eagle in his 68, four under par. There was a double bogey at the 11th and for Tom Lehman at the 18th, when he drove into the trees after arriving at the closing hole with five birdies and no dropped shots. "Okay, pretty cool," said Paulson when told he had leapfrogged into the lead over Lehman's 69.
Garcia, with a 70, shared third place with Steve Stricker. Thomas Bjorn and Bernhard Langer were among those on 71, while Nick Faldo and Darren Clarke, after birdies at the last two, scored 72s. Craig Stadler, then three under, had a quadruple-bogey nine at the 15th, while Aaron Baddeley, the 19-year-old Australian Open champion, had a 77 playing alongside Woods. Lee Westwood, recovered from food poisoning but worried by his putting instead, was on the same score and Paul Lawrie, the Open champion on his debut, had a 79.
Paulson qualified for the Masters by finishing 28th on the US money list last year. In 1998 he was playing on the Nike Tour and drove through Augusta between tournaments. "This is where we want to be," he said to his caddie as they passed the entrance to Magnolia Lane.
As the 1985 US Long Drive champion and someone who enjoys putting on hard and fast greens, Paulson has many credentials for playing well at Augusta. "Maybe a lack of knowledge helped," he said, "not realising how hard this course is. But it's too early to be worried about being in the lead. Let's talk about that on Sunday."
Woods feels much the same way. If he is to collect a second green jacket the 24-year-old will have tied Craig Stadler's 1982 distinction as the champion with the worst start. It was Woods' worst score of the year, the same as his last round a year ago, when he was 18th.
At the 10th, Woods' second shot was plugged in the right bunker. His recovery spanned the green and he took three putts. At the 12th, the dangerous par-three across Rae's Creek, Woods' eight-iron came up short and spun back into the water. The hole is notorious for unexpected gusts of wind. "You could see the wind hold the ball up," Woods said.
From the drop zone, Woods pitched 12 feet past and again three-putted, missing from three feet on the way back. Isolated in a corner of the course away form the gallery, an oath might have been uttered. But Woods kept his head to birdie the par-five 13th and added another at the 16th.
"It has been a gradual change," Woods said of trying to control his temper. "A few years ago, I did not have as many shots as I do now. I know I am playing solid. It's a long tournament. If it was over 18 holes I'd be in trouble but a lot can happen. I'm not the only one who is going to make mistakes. I have to limit my own."
Garcia also had an adventurous round, with six birdies, including three in a row from the 13th, three bogeys and a double at the sixth in his 70. The 20-year-old looked more like the Kid who thrilled the galleries at the USPGA and the Ryder Cup. The secret was regaining his fade in practice last week.
His success at the USPGA last year followed a missed cut at the Carnoustie Open. Similarly, he shot 82 at the Players Championship two weeks ago. "You have to forget everything in golf," Garcia said. "Even the good things. At the Players I was not hitting my irons well but I am comfortable on this course."
Faldo, the supreme grinder, was at it again. "Every par felt great," said the three-time champion. Holing from 25 feet at the last, after missing the green, was especially so. "If you get in the wrong place, every shot is scary," he added. "It is very demanding but I like the rough. It was getting to the point you could blast it anywhere, but Augusta always used to be about strategy."
Rocco Mediate was the first player to return an under par score with a 71. "This is still the same golf course," he said. "It just requires even more precision than it did before. I love the changes. I love the course. It's playing very difficult. I played a few bad shots but this course brings that out in you. It is one of the most penalising courses there is. It will find out your weaknesses. And if you get cocky here, this place will destroy you. I enjoy the challenge."
Phil Mickelson, winner of the BellSouth Classic last week and also on 71, said: "The course is fairer now. Before the course's only defence was the fast greens. Now they have rough and they have put more sand in the bunkers. It's not impossible. It's harder, but it is fairer."
First-round scores from Augusta
US unless stated; par 72
68 D Paulson 69 T Lehman 70 S Garcia (Sp), S Stricker 71 R Mediate, P Mickelson,S Jones, T Bjorn (Den),B Langer (Ger) 72 V Singh (Fiji), N Faldo (GB),E Els (SA), M Ozaki (Japan), P Azinger, T Aaron, M Brooks, B EstesD Clarke (GB), J Leonard 73 B Jobe, R Goosen (SA),*D Green, C StadlerJ Furyk, J Sluman, C Perry 74 N Begay, A Cabrera (Arg), I Woosnam (GB), D Toms 75 S Gump, C Parry (Aus)*Kim Sung-yoon (Kor)F Funk, T Watson, T Woods, S Cink,J Haas, D Hart, T Tryba 76 S Kendall, L Janzen, P Harrington (Irl),S Maruyama (Japan)F Couples, M A Jimenez (Sp) 77 L Westwood (GB), J Maggert, *A Baddeley (Aus)J Huston 78 G Hjertstedt (Swe)L Mize, D Waldorf, S Hoch, B Watts, S Pate 79 G Day, B Crenshaw, P Lawrie (GB) 80 R Floyd, *H Haas, C Pavin 81 C Coody, S Ballesteros (Sp) 82 F Zoeller 84 Ã¿B Casper, G Brewer 94 Ã¿D Ford Ã¿ B Casper and D Ford withdrew after first round. *amateurReuse content