5 Things: Westwood takes one-shot lead
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Five things you need to know from the first round of the 76th Masters:
1. STAR AT THE TOP: Saying earlier this week that he seems to be “getting the hang of” Augusta National and its nuances, Lee Westwood certainly appeared comfortable Thursday when he posted a 5-under 67 that gave him a one-shot lead over Louis Oosthuizen and Peter Hanson.
2012 Masters: Round 1 at Augusta
Check out photos from Thursday's opening round of the 2012 Masters at Augusta National. Lee Westwood holds a one-shot lead at the end of the first round.
In the morning, Westwood’s caddie, Billy Foster, sent his man a text that said that the hole locations were in tricky spots in Round 1. (“He used more flowery language than that,” Westwood said, smiling.) But the tucked flags didn’t seem to affect the Englishman too much, as he ran off four consecutive birdies on the front nine and tacked on another short birdie on 17 to take the outright lead. It is the first time Westwood has held the first-round lead at the Masters.
“It’s nice to get off to a good start and have a platform to build from,” he said.
Westwood, No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking and still searching for that elusive first major, tied his best opening round in 13 Masters appearances (also shot 67 in 2010). In the past two years, Westwood has finished second and T-11, respectively, leading him to say that, “I always felt like the golf course suits my game.”
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2. BIRTHDAY BOY: Well, that wasn’t the way Henrik Stenson envisioned spending the final moments of his birthday round. Five under for the day heading to the 18th tee, the 36-year-old Swede hooked it into the left trees, punched out, drew a lie in a footprint, slashed it down the fairway, airmailed the green with a pitching wedge and needed four more shots to polish off a quadruple-bogey 8. The final-hole debacle sent Stenson tumbling to T-14.
“Finishing with an 8,” he said, “I don’t think I’ve ever done that.”
The quad on the final hole was a fitting end to an uneven day. He eagled both par 5s on the front. He chipped in once for par. He didn’t hit a fairway after the 11th hole.
Said Stenson: “Playing out of the forest most of the back nine, it’s going to cost you sooner or later. It’s disappointing that it cost me that much.”
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3. TIGER’S TRAVAILS: Not nearly as sharp as his last appearance, Tiger Woods bogeyed the last two holes Thursday to shoot 72 but remained in the hunt after Round 1. The former World No. 1, fresh off a resounding victory two weeks ago at Bay Hill, battled a wayward driver and failed to capitalize on each of the reachable par 5s on the back nine.
“I squeezed a lot out of that round,” he said. “I didn’t hit it very good at all. ... I fought my way around today.”
Woods said he fell into the “same old motor patterns” and struggled even on the practice tee Thursday morning. But even with a poor ballstriking round, he is still within five shots of the lead.
Said Woods, a four-time Masters champion: “I know how to play this golf course and what I need to do.”
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4. LATE RORS: Playing Augusta National in competition for the first time since his final-round meltdown here a year ago, Rory McIlroy double-bogeyed his opening hole but closed with a flourish to shoot 71 in Round 1.
After that surprisingly slow start, McIlroy birdied Nos. 2, 8 and 9 to get it back into red figures. Though he dropped shots on 11 and 13, he closed with birdies on his final two holes to shoot 1 under.
“It was huge,” McIlroy said of the birdie-birdie finish. “I didn’t feel like I had my best out there today. But to finish under par for the day, I was very pleased.”
The Northern Irishman hasn’t played a competitive round since March 11, the final round of the WGC event at Doral. More relevant Thursday: It was the first time Rory has played Augusta National since his final-round 80 in 2011. Last year, he came unraveled on the downhill, par-4 10th, where he hooked a tee shot between the cabins on the left.
This year, he played the hole a little differently, opting for a 3-wood and playing it more down the right side.
“I wasn’t going left, that was for sure,” said McIlroy, who parred the hole. “That was a bit of an improvement from the last time I played it.”
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5. TITLE DEFENSE: On a day when the pins were tucked and the course played long, defending Masters champion Charl Schwartzel shot an even-par 72 Thursday to stay in the hunt.
The South African’s day little resembled his last competitive round here at Augusta National, when he birdied the final four holes to complete one of the most thrilling victories in recent memory. On Thursday, after a round of four birdies and four bogeys, Schwartzel said: “I’m pretty much sticking with what I did last year on most of the holes. I put myself in play most of the day and, you know, it’s a long ways to go.”
Schwartzel, now No. 8 in the world ranking, was inconsistent in his final month before the Masters. After consecutive top 5s at Honda and Doral, he missed the cut at both Transitions and Houston.