Mediate grabs Masters lead

2006-04-06 20:30
Augusta - Rocco Mediate fired a four-under par 68 to grab the early clubhouse lead on Thursday at the Masters while many of the world's top golfers struggled over a longer, tougher Augusta National Golf Club.

The 43-year-old American opened his first round with 10 pars, then managed the only birdie on the course's hardest hole, the expanded and narrowed par-4 11th, before starting a run of three birdies in a row at the par-5 13th.

Mediate, whose most recent triumph came in 2002 at Greensboro, qualified for the Masters only because of his share of sixth place at last year's US Open.

But when he finished he owned a two-stroke edge over nine rivals still on the course, including South Africans Tim Clark and Retief Goosen, Fiji's Vijay Singh, Canada's Mike Weir, Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke and Americans Scott Verplank, Fred Couples, Ben Curtis and Chad Campbell.

For most it was a difficult opening day over the punishing 7 445-yard layout, stretched by 155 yards this year with six holes extended to make the famed course the second-longest in major championship history.

Few miracles

Ben Crenshaw, making his 35th Masters start at age 54, fired four birdies and three bogeys to finish on 71. The surge came 11 years after his 1995 Masters triumph, which came 11 years after his first Masters victory.

"I had a few miracles happen out there," Crenshaw said. "It's quite a test. It's one difficult hole after another.

"In many ways, this is a new course for all of us with the new tee boxes. We don't know how the course will play. It plays much more different than it used to. You play much more off prescribed lines.

"You must hit a long ball here. It's definitely a young man's course. Hitting a lower club to the green makes a great deal. But that's where we are with the game. We're lengthening courses all over the world."

Defending champion Tiger Woods, seeking an 11th major title, was one-over after 12 holes. He took a bogey at the par-3 fourth, answered with a birdie at the par-5 eighth but began the back nine with a bogey to fall back.

Setting aside concerns for his cancer-stricken 74-year-old father Earl, world number one Woods stumbled in his drive for a fifth Masters green jacket but was well within reach, on pace for his best first round here since 2002.

Warm, dry conditions allowed tournament officials their ultimate set-up.

Perfectly miserable

"It's as close to being perfect as it can possibly be," Masters competition committee chairperson Will Nicholson said.

It was perfectly miserable in terms of scoring, conditions resembling those of a US Open design without the punitive rough thanks to warm and dry conditions.

"Guys who get out of position, it's tough to get a par out of it," said Rod Pampling, who opened on 72. "If you are not on the spot on the greens, it's hard to get a par."

Pampling, who won last month at Bay Hill, is one of eight men trying to take the first Masters title by an Australian. He birdied the par-4 third and par-4 ninth but suffered a bogey at the par-5 13th and par-3 16th.

Clarke led a European charge for the first major by any European since 1999, with Spain's Sergio Garcia and England's Lee Westwood at one-under on the front nine. Scotsman Colin Mongtomerie was two-over after seven holes.

Gary Player, the 70-year-old South African legend playing in his 49th Masters, became the first player to birdie the par-4 first hole since the tee box was moved back 20 yards, stretching the hole's length to 455 yards.

US Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, whose car took a bullet on Tuesday night in a drive-by shooting, was four-over through 15 holes along with European Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam of Wales.

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