José Maria Olazábal made a sterling start to the defence of his US Masters title when he carded an opening par round of 72 on a difficult day of gusting, swirling winds.
While that put him four off the lead held by American Dennis Paulson it kept him very much in touch on a day when low-scoring was at a premium as Augusta's newly-introduced rough exacted a heavy toll.
Among the victims was Greg Norman, the man with whom Olazábal battled it out over last year's final day. The PGA European Tour most recent honorary member
dropped shots at each of the last three holes for an 80.
Said Olazábal: "Today was a really tough one. I never felt good on the greens all day and had to fight to put a par round together so it wasn't all that bad. Today was a day for patience, a lot of patience."
A brace of opening birdies saw his young countryman Sergio Garcia make a flying start and while he stumbled a little he fought back valiantly to lead the Euro chase with a two under par 70, five better than pre-tournament favourite Tiger Woods who had a double bogey five at the short 12th.
Garcia drove the ball well all day as did a resurgent Nick Faldo (72). The three time Masters champion played very solidly and professed himself contented with a good day's work.
"I'm pretty happy really," said Nick. "It was a very demanding day with the wind doing all sorts of things. I just tried to stay sensible and managed to get up and down a few times to save par. You need to do that round here," he said having holed a 20 foot par putt on the 18th.
Unlike some others Faldo likes the introduction of more rough at Augusta National.
"I think the changes are good. It's good that you just can't blast the ball around Augusta, the place had lost it's strategy before the rough was introduced."
Other strong starters were two-time winner Bernhard Langer ann Thomas Bjørn (both 71) while Darren Clarke matched the 72's of Faldo and Olazábal with a birdie, birdie finishing flourish. However Open champions Paul Lawrie and Sandy Lyle suffered 79's with Seve Ballesteros running up a nightmare nine at the long 15th.