Friday, 19 March 2010
2009 Australian Masters - Day 1  (Getty Images)
2009 Australian Masters - Day 1 (Getty Images)

World Number One Tiger Woods has made a huge statement on the opening day of the JBWere Masters at Kingston Heath, tearing up the sandbelt course with a six-under 66 to sit level with Australia's James Nitties and 21-year-old South African Branden Grace.

Stalked by a dedicated gallery that started at around 10,000 and swelled to almost double that size as the morning advanced, Woods fired seven birdies and one bogey to set a mark that was only matched by two others who also enjoyed the easier morning conditions.

Those who teed off in the afternoon were subject to increased winds and only a handful of them looked like challenging the early marks. Mathew Goggin was the best of them, finishing on four-under.

In all, 21,356 fans turned up for the opening day, and Woods rewarded the fans with a sparkling first-ever competitive round around Kingston Heath.

Woods, who started from the 10th, picked up two shots thanks to birdies on both of the par-fives on his outward nine to turn in 34 before scorching home in 32 which included a hat-trick of birdies at six, seven and eight.

His one blemish came at his closing hole, the 9th, where he pulled his drive into the tea tree on the left and had to settle for bogey.

"We can't believe how soft the greens were today," said Woods.

"The wind wasn't really blowing and the greens were soft so we could be pretty aggressive into the greens."

Grace, whose best finish on The European Tour this season has been a sixth in the South African Open Championship last December, entered the tournament in a last ditch bid to save his card on The European Tour where he sits in 149th place.

He got to seven-under before dropping a shot late in his round for his 66.

"I played really solidly today and just really enjoyed it out there. My caddy kept me really calm out there which was a huge help. It is just nice to be playing in Australia and playing on such an unbelievable course," Grace said.

"I'm not sure where I have to finish here to keep my status but I think it is about top three on my own, or maybe tied. That was one of my goals coming into the tournament."

Nitties used his local knowledge to his advantage in constructing a bogey-free round, the highlight of which was an eagle at the 516-metre, par-four 15th.

Melbourne's Cameron Percy is one shot off the pace after signing for a 67 as is New Zealand's Doug Holloway, who had bogey-free round.

Goggin joined Greg Chalmers and Peter Nolan, who both enjoyed early starts with rounds of 68 while six players, Englishman Lee Slattery and Australians Damien Jordan, Rohan Blizard, Rick Kulacz, Stuart Appleby and Ashley Hall finished with three-under 69s.

Last year's winner Rod Pampling, who along with Craig Parry (-2) partnered Woods, finished with a 71.

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1WOODS, TigerUSA18-14
2CHALMERS, GregAUS18-12
T3DUFNER, JasonUSA18-10
T3DELAMONTAGNE, FrançoisFRA18-10
5NITTIES, JamesAUS18-9
T6SCOTT, AdamAUS18-8
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