Angel Cabrera and Sergio Garcia led the European Tour challenge on the first day of the 66th Masters Tournament at Augusta National after opening rounds of 68, four under par, left them one shot adrift of Davis Love III.
European Tour Members were prominent throughout an outstanding opening day with nine Members within three shots of the lead.
Garcia in particular played some majestic golf over the closing holes as a hat-trick of birdies from the 15th took him into a share of the lead with Love III. But the young Spaniard misjudged his approach to the final hole, his ball pitching on the front of the green and spinning back down the slope, and he was unable to save his par as he closed with a 68.
“I will take my 68,” said the 22 year old. “I’ve been hitting the ball well for the last month and the week has started very well. Hopefully I can keep it going."
Cabrera, tenth in his first visit to Augusta National last year, also had a chance to join Love III at the top of the leaderboard. An eagle putt on the 15th narrowly missed and he was unable to convert chances on the closing holes as he too finished with a round of 68.
Much of the first day was dominated by Ireland’s Padriag Harrington as he charged into the lead with some breathtaking golf over the first 12 holes. A magnificent tee shot on the 180 yard sixth hole finished within a foot of the hole and took Harrington to three under par. Another birdie on the seventh followed when he hit his approach to five foot and when he added a fifth birdie of the round on the ninth he was out in 31 having shot the best front nine of the day. Two holes later he converted his sixth birdie of the round after a bold second shot on the 11th hole finished some 20 feet from the hole.
That putt left Harrington three clear of the chasing pack but his run was halted with a poor second shot on the par five 13th. After the perfect drive, Harrington miscued his second and found Rae’s Creek guarding the front of the green and, after dropping under penalty, dropped his first shot of the round. A poor drive on the 14th cost him another shot and, after missing birdie chances on the 15th, 16th and 17th holes, Harrington dropped another shot when he missed the green on the last.
“I’m more disappointed with the missed birdie chances on the 15th, 16th and 17th than the dropped shots,” said Harrington. “I had a bad lie on the 13th after a good tee shot and didn’t hit it well. It is easy to make bogeys round here. It would have been nice to make some birdies coming in but I would have taken a 69 going out. I made a few mistakes coming home but it was good experience.”
The reigning US Open Champion and 2001 Volvo Order of Merit winner Retief Goosen also opened his account with a 69 and held the clubhouse lead for much of the day until overhauled by Love III. Goosen double bogeyed the treacherous par three 12th hole after finding water but rallied with birdies on the 13th, 15th and 18th holes.
“It was nice to finish with a birdie,” said the winner of last week’s BellSouth Classic. “The last hole is playing very tough. The whole course is playing tough and it is only going to get tougher.”
A shot further back fellow South African and the current European Tour Number One Ernie Els started with a solid round of 70 as did Jose Maria Olazabal, currently lying second in both the Volvo Order of Merit and the US PGA Tour Money List. Olazabal started his bid for a third Green Jacket in spectacular style with a rare eagle on the second hole, his second shot skipping over the bunker guarding the front and nestling some five feet from the pin.
“I’m very pleased to shoot two under round this course with all the changes,” said the 1994 and 1999 Champion. “The course is much tougher and the scores proved that. This is a very special place and means a lot to me. I’m happy with the start.”
Vijay Singh, the 2000 Masters Champion, and Darren Clarke, runner up to Singh a fortnight ago in Houston, also shot opening rounds of 70, two under par.
Ryder Cup players Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jesper Parnevik also finished with rounds of 70 while Tiger Woods launched his defence of the title with the same score. Woods carved his opening drive into the trees on the right and holed a testing 12 foot putt foot his opening par but soon got into his stride with three birdies in a row from the third. A couple of wayward drives cost him shots but an opening 70 was a promising start for the World Number One.
Adam Scott, playing his first Masters Tournament, shot an opening 71, one under par, a shot better than another European Tour rookie, Paul McGinley. “I’m very pleased,” said McGinley. “That is the toughest course I have ever played. It is really playing long but is a lot of fun. There is so much danger out there.”