Norman lays down challenge

60th US MASTERS: Gilford and Faldo find fine form to stay in touch with the ebullient leader. Tim Glover reports from Augusta
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The Independent Online
Greg Norman equalled the course record with a 63 as he went in pursuit of the 60th Masters yesterday. The 41-year-old Australian is bidding to become the oldest first time winner of a tournament that has denied him for 15 years. Norman did nothing for the first six holes and then had nine birdies in 12.

Norman came into Augusta National having missed the halfway cut in his last two events. It is safe to assume he will not miss the cut here following a flawless round that matched the 63 Nick Price scored here in 1986. The Great White Shark, who had a habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory at Augusta National - he was runner-up in 1986, again in 1987, fifth in 1988, third in 1989 and third last year - is two strokes in front of Phil Mickelson and six in front of Nick Faldo and David Gilford.

The statistics of one of the great rounds of the championship, which was six strokes better than his previous best score in the first round, tell their own story. Norman missed only two fairways and hit 16 greens in regulation. He had only 27 putts. "I felt very loose, confident and relaxed," Norman said. When he did make a mistake, hooking his drive at the 14th, he got out of trouble by hitting a bump and run shot with a four-iron that finished three feet from the flag.

Gilford barely registers on the decibel level and yesterday he let his golf do the talking to appear on the leaderboard. The man from Crewe, who finished joint 24th on his debut here last year, shot 69 in a round of highs and lows that was extraordinary even by Augusta National's standards and was joined at three under par by Faldo.

However, on the subject of the twin impostors, triumph and disaster, look no further than the two ball of Phil Mickelson and Sam Torrance. Mickelson, joint seventh here last year, shot 65 to stand at seven under par and Torrance went round in 80. Had it been a match the left-handed Mickelson would have won 6 and 5. "He played quite beautifully," Torrance said. Mickelson said he benefited from a putting lesson from the defending champion Ben Crenshaw but yesterday the pupil was the master. Crenshaw struggled to a 77.

Gilford, who tends a herd of 40 Hereford cattle (no BSE but their value has plummeted), led briefly here 12 months ago and yesterday he was in splended isolation at four under par when he walked to the 16th tee. The 16th is a classic par three of 170 yards, 160 of which are over water. Gilford chose a six-iron.

The ball arced through the pale blue sky and came to rest about 30 feet short of the flag. The trouble is the hole had been cut back right of the green and Gilford's first putt lost momentum up the slope. The ball, which seemed to come to rest two feet from the hole, rolled back down the hill and the Englishman could only stand and watch as it gained pace. He was now 10 feet further from the hole than he was in the first place.

Gilford finally walked off the hole called Redbud with a four-putt double bogey five, but to his credit Gilford did not let the experience rattle him. At the 17th he hit a beautiful nine-iron approach shot to within four feet of the hole and rolled in the birdie putt, which got him back to three under par. If the 16th had been cruel to Gilford, the par five 13th was generous to a fault. After hitting a cracking drive, Gilford had 185 yards to the pin.

The green is protected by a stream and the dilemma for every player is whether to go for it or lay up short of the water. Gilford went for it with a three-iron, the ball finished 10 feet from the hole and he knocked in the putt for an eagle three at the last leg of the trinity of holes known as Amen Corner.

The Crewe cowboy actually mishit the three-iron. Had he played the shot as he intended he would have gone through the green. "It was a combination of too much club and a poor shot," Gilford admitted.

Asked if he could win the Masters, Gilford whispered in the affirmative. "I like the course," he said,"and that's always an advantage. I don't think the greens are too severe."

As Bob Tway remarked, after coming home in 31 in a five under par 67, it was a "beautiful morning for golf." There were no clouds on the horizon and no wind to disturb the azaleas in their beds. Even so, Tway's round was surprising on account of his poor record at Augusta National. Tway had a stunning back nine with five birdies, three of them on Amen Corner. Mickelson was even hotter on the back nine, coming home in 30, a figure later matched by Norman.

Colin Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam both had a level par 72 and found themselves nine strokes adrift of the lead.

EARLY FIRST-ROUND SCORES

US unless stated

* denotes amateur

63

G Norman (Aus)

65

P Mickelson

67

B Tway

S Hoch

68

L Janzen

69

D Gilford (GB

B Faxon

N Faldo (GB)

S Simpson

V Singh (Fiji)

70

P Azinger

S McCarron

R Floyd

D Frost (SA)

J Gallagher Jnr

J Nicklaus

J Haas

71

T Aaron

J Maggert

F Nobilo (NZ)

N Price (Zim)

S Lowery

B Glasson

B Estes

M Calcavecchia

J Huston

F Funk

J Daly

C Strange

E Els (SA)

M Ozaki (Japan)

L Roberts

72

T Tryba

H Sutton

D Waldorf

M Brooks

D Love III

C Montgomerie (GB)

M O'Meara

I Woosnam (GB)

J Leonard

73

S Ballesteros (Sp)

G Player (SA)

M Campbell (NZ)

A Cejka (Ger)

C Stadler

D Duval

74

D A Weibring

J Sluman

A Palmer

M Roe (GB)

P Stankowski

P Goydos

P Stewart

F Zoeller

H Irwin

75

G Brewer

B Casper

T Kite

L Mize

A Lyle (GB)

K Perry

T Watson

*T Woods

B Langer (Ger)

T Lehman

C Pavin

J Furyk

76

K Triplett

E Dougherty

N Lancaster

T Herron

B Henninger

S Elkington (Aus)

S Higashi (Japan)

77

B Mayfair

B Crenshaw

78

B Bryant

M McCumber

I Baker-Finch (Aus)

C Rocca (It)

*J Courville Jnr

*G Sherry (GB)

F Couples

79

*B Marucci

*C Wollmann

W Austin

D Edwards

80

S Torrance (GB)

S Stricker

81

D Ford

82

C Coody

Withdrew

P Jacobsen

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