SA flag flying high at Masters

2006-04-07 07:29
Augusta - The South African flag flew proudly at the US Masters on Thursday, Retief Goosen and Tim Clark finishing three strokes behind leader Vijay Singh of Fiji after opening with two-under-par 70s.

World number five Ernie Els was a further shot back in a tie for eighth and veteran Gary Player also got in on the act, carding a 79 at the age of 70.

Conditions were challenging on the second longest course in major championship history but the South African quartet were all satisfied with their efforts.

Twice US Open champion Goosen thrives on fast-running courses where scores are the result of hard work and the sun-baked Augusta National layout suited him to a tee.

"I like it tough, I like to grind out there on every hole," the 37-year-old told reporters.

"I thought the course played as good as we'll see it out there today. There was hardly any wind so it can only get tougher when it starts blowing and the greens dry out even more.

"Two-under is not a bad start. I'm happy with that score. That was pretty much as good as I could have shot out there today as I didn't drive it that well."

Firm conditions

Clark, known for his accuracy rather than his length off the tee, was delighted with the firm conditions.

"For the medium to shorter hitters, we need those fairways to be firm and that's what they were today," he said.

"If it was wet, I'd be hitting two more clubs iron-wise into the greens and then it would be really tough.

"I'm very pleased with how the course is playing and I came out with a positive frame of mind.

"A lot of those holes that are longer, you're really just trying to hit to the right area of the green," added the 30-year-old, who eagled the par-five 15th after hitting a hybrid three-iron for his second shot to within 12 feet of the flag.

"I think that's what I did all day. Had a lot of tap-in pars. I was hitting the right spots on the greens and leaving myself easy pars."

Els, another double US Open winner, was happy to be in contention.

Playing safe

"Today I wanted to play it safe," he said. "I have to be pleased.

"You don't want to play yourself out of it on the first day. It was a good day to get yourself in there," added the 36-year-old, who finished in the top six at Augusta every year between 2000 and 2004.

"I drove the ball well today, I hit off the tee as well as I ever have here."

Player, a nine-times major winner who won the last of his three Masters titles in 1978, was in upbeat mood after breaking 80.

"When you get to 70, if you can break 80, I consider that a victory," he said.

"I shot 79 with four three-putts. My goal was to break 80."

The veteran South African was one of only five players to birdie the par-four first hole and was two over for the round before fading over the back nine.

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