AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods toured Augusta National looking like his old self – the one with a tendency to misfire into the trees. Phil Mickelson went traipsing through into the “jungle” for a ball he had to declare lost.
One minute Henrik Stenson was leading the Masters, the next he shared the record for worst closing hole. A smudgy fax machine had the potential to turn Luke Donald’s day into a nightmare.
In several forms, Masters disaster lurked all around the ol’ tree nursery Thursday.
Somehow, Lee Westwood managed to stay out of the fray.
The English pro matched his best day at Augusta National with a 5-under-par 67, good enough for a one-stroke lead as calamity swirled all about.
“There was no weakness out there in my game,” said Westwood, who broke 70 for the fifth time in his past nine Masters rounds. “I was pretty confident, but trying not to let myself get carried away or anything.”
Westwood has two other 67s at Augusta National – including the opening round two years ago when he was runner-up to Phil Mickelson’s third green jacket.
Four consecutive birdies on the front nine allowed Westwood to inherit the lead just as Stenson finished an otherwise stellar round with a quadruple bogey. He wound up with seven birdies on the day, staying a step ahead of 2010 British Open champ Louis Oosthuizen and Sweden’s Peter Hanson.
Bubba Watson, runner-up to Justin Rose four weeks ago at Doral, was among a half-dozen pros two shots off the pace.
Rory McIlroy, last year’s tragic hero when he blew a four-shot Sunday lead, started his 2012 Masters auspiciously with a double bogey but kept things from unraveling. A birdie/birdie finish gave him a 71 to stand four shots back.
Other box-office draws, though, weren’t as fortunate.
Woods stood 2-under until a bogey/bogey finish left him with an even-par 72. A snap hook into the trees left of No.18 was his fourth of the day – two of which forced him to take a penalty drop.
“I hit some of the worst golf shots I’ve ever hit,” Woods said. “I just hung in there, grinded my way around the golf course. … Unfortunately, that was about as good as it got right there.”
The round came just 11 days after a five-shot romp at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his first full-scale tournament victory since both his personal life and golf swing underwent total upheavals.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t nearly as ugly as Stenson’s finish. The Swede went to the 18th tee at 5-under, but sent his drive deep into the woods left of the fairway. He needed two more swats to get to the fairway, then overshot the green on a bounce.
Stenson’s chip hung up short of the putting surface, and he two-putted after finally getting there. His 8 matched the worst score ever recorded at Augusta National’s finishing hole.
“My long game has really been on and off for quite some time, and it showed there,” Stenson said.
Mickelson’s opening 74 was blemished by a triple bogey at No.10 that sent him and several patrons into the foliage after a wild drive left of the target.
Never before had the three-time champion been forced to take a penalty drop at Augusta National for something other than water. “I didn’t know they had jungle like that here,” he said.
The angst for world No.1 Donald didn’t stop with his opening 75. More than an hour after his round, he had to endure a confusing inquiry into his scorecard.
Questions arose over his score at No.5, which went up on the scoreboard as a birdie even as Donald himself said he three-putted. The English pro finally was cleared when officials confirmed a volunteer had misread Donald’s “5” as a “3” when the scorecard came over via fax.
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