Woods Stays in the Game by Putting In His Chip

Justin Rose and Trevor Immelman each shoot 4-under 68 to sit atop the leader board after Thursday's play at Augusta.
By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008

AUGUSTA, Ga., April 10 -- Tiger Woods smacked three trees on his front nine, caromed a ball off a greenside grandstand and butchered several critical chip shots on Thursday as he began his quest for a fifth Masters title and what he has described as an "easily within reach" Grand Slam of all four major championships in a single season.

And yet, despite more adversity at Augusta National than the world's No. 1 player normally would expect to encounter, Woods's lone thunderbolt moment of his opening round saved a somewhat sloppy, scrambling even-par 72. A pitch-in eagle at the 530-yard 15th hole kept him easily within reach of the 18-hole lead of 4-under-par 68 posted by Englishman Justin Rose and South African Trevor Immelman.

"Yeah, it's good," Woods said following his 5 1/2 -hour round that did not include a single birdie. "I kept myself in the tournament. I'm right there. With the weather supposed to be getting more difficult as the week goes on, I'm right there."

He's there mostly because a singular stroke of brilliance resulting in that round-saving eagle when he holed out his 35-foot pitch shot from just off the back of the green. It evoked a mighty roar from the crowd, at least four rousing fist pumps and got Woods back to even par for the day, easing the sting of bogeys on his two previous holes.

"It was a pretty easy little pitch," Woods said of the eagle. "It was straight uphill. The ball was sitting up. It was pretty soft underneath there and I just had to carry it far enough. And it went in."

Woods also continued his curious streak of never shooting an opening round in the 60s in his 13 previous Masters appearances. In 2005, when he won his fourth Masters title, he began with a 74, then followed it with rounds of 66, 65 and 71 and prevailed in a playoff with Chris DiMarco, winning on the first hole of sudden death.

Despite an hour-long delay in the start of play because of early-morning fog, conditions brightened considerably on a glorious spring day of warming sunshine with just a hint of a mild breeze. Despite seemingly ideal conditions, this is no longer your father's Augusta National, not at 7,445 yards, with soft, hardly-any-roll fairways and treacherous pin positions all around typically marble-top putting surfaces.

"The way the golf course plays now, you don't really shoot many low rounds here anymore," Woods said. "It's playing more like a U.S. Open than it is a Masters. There are really no roars out there. It's hard to make the eagles and the big birdies."

In addition to the sonic boom response his eagle drew at 15, Woods heard another explosion of sound as he stood on the elevated sixth tee. Below at the nearby 170-yard 16th hole, Englishman Ian Poulter hit an 8-iron that landed about 30 feet above the pin and sucked back on a banana-like route until it dropped in the cup for a hole-in-one.

That ace got Poulter to 3 under for the day and momentarily put him in the lead, but he bogeyed the 440-yard 17th and ended with a 2-under 70 and a tie for sixth place in a group that also included defending champion Zach Johnson and former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk. Brian Bateman, with a birdie on his final hole, and Brandt Snedeker, with a bogey at 18, were tied for third -- a shot off the lead at 3-under 69 along with late finishing Englishman Lee Westwood, who ended his round in near darkness.

"Pretty exciting moment," said Poulter, better known for his colorful wardrobe than his shot-making." Any hole-in-one is a nice one, but to do it on 16, with all those spectators to the left hand side, it's a great amphitheater. It gave me a great boost and a great adrenaline rush. It was pretty special."

Poulter was among only 18 players in the field of 93 who managed to break par on a day when Rose had bogeys on two of his first four holes, but pushed to the top of the board with a run of four straight birdies, and a stretch of six in eight holes before finishing with five straight pars. A year ago, he also was a first-round co-leader after an opening 69, but faded to a fifth-place finish.

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