Thomas Björn and Sergio Garcia headed the European challenge in the clubhouse in the first round of the 65th Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. The Dane and the Spaniard both carded two under par rounds of 70 to lie five shots off the lead held by debutant Chris DiMarco.
Björn and Garcia’s rounds were similar in scoring terms, both players reaching the turn in level par 36 before coming home in two under par 34, but their respective inward halves were constructed in different fashion.
The Dane, winner of the Dubai Desert Classic last month, carded eight par figures in total, his only departure from par coming at the 500 yard 15th where he managed an excellent eagle three.
Garcia, who currently lies 15th on the Volvo Order of Merit, enjoyed a more adventurous back nine with birdies at the 12th and 14th before he dropped a shot at the 15th. It looked like the 21 year old would have to settle for a 71, but joined his European Tour colleague on the two under par mark with an excellent birdie three at the last.
Other European Tour members to complete their first round included a quartet on one under par 71, Ernie Els, Bob May, Jesper Parnevik and the 1991 Champion Ian Woosnam.
Two shots further back was Pierre Fulke, current leader of the Volvo Order of Merit, and former Open champion Paul Lawrie, who continued to come to terms with the demands of Augusta National Golf Club, carding a 73, his best score in his third competitive round over the famous Georgia course.
Steady golf from Lawrie took him to the turn in one over par 37, his only dropped shot of the front nine coming at the 435 yard fifth hole.
Another shot went at the tenth but the Scot, who memorably triumphed at Carnoustie in 1999 in a play-off with Jean Van de Velde and Justin Leonard, gritted his teeth and battled back with birdies at the two par fives on the back nine, the 13th and 15th. A par three followed at the short 16th but Lawrie bogeyed the 17th to be home in 36.
Another European Tour player to have completed his round was the 1988 champion Sandy Lyle. The Scot, who has missed the cut in four of his last six outings at Augusta, gave himself the chance of competing at the weekend with an opening 74.
Much of the damage for Lyle came at the notorious par three 12th where he stumbled to a double-bogey five but he rallied in the closing stages, covering the final seven holes in level par figures.
There was no such trouble for DiMarco however. The American went out in 32 and played the back nine in 33 as he came within one stroke of the record low opening round score for a Masters rookie shared by Lloyd Mangrum (1940) and Mike Donald (1990).
"I don't think the spotlight's on me because nobody expects me to win, but me," said DiMarco, invited to Augusta National after his 19th place on last year's U.S. PGA Tour money list.
The 32 year old took advantage of greens softened by rains earlier in the week and only a hint of wind as he posted three birdies in a row from the fifth and added another for good measure at the ninth. He went on to sink a 15 foot downhill putt at the sixth, stuck his wedge shot within six feet at the seventh and sank a four-footer at the ninth to close his strong opening nine.
He then took advantage of the par-5s on the back nine, posting birdies at the 13th and 15th holes after making a ten foot uphill putt for birdie at the 12th. For good measure at the 18th, DiMarco, who won last year's Pennsylvania Classic on the US Tour, saved par with a tricky five-foot putt.