Leishman Surges Two Ahead, Woods In Pursuit

by
Reuters
Australian Marc Leishman shook off early nerves to charge two strokes clear in Thursday's opening round at the Masters, though tournament favourite Tiger Woods was lurking just four shots off the pace.

Mark Leishman of Australia hits his tee shot on the fourth hole during first round play in the 2013 Masters golf tournament in Augusta

* Australian Leishman seizes control with a 66

* Tournament favourite Woods opens with a 70

* Defending champion Watson battles to a 75

Australian Marc Leishman shook off early nerves to charge two strokes clear in Thursday's opening round at the Masters, though tournament favourite Tiger Woods was lurking just four shots off the pace.

Leishman, making only his second appearance in the year's opening major, rebounded from a bogey at the par-four first with seven birdies to fire an impressive six-under-par 66 at Augusta National.

Englishman David Lynn and American Rickie Fowler carded 68s, Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson returned 69s and four-times champion Woods, who was watched by girlfriend Lindsey Vonn and five-deep galleries when he started his round, finished with a 70.

While several players took advantage of relatively calm conditions at the spiritual home of American golf known by many as the 'Cathedral of Pines,' defending champion Bubba Watson battled to a 75.

Leishman, however, played flawless golf on the hilly layout after making his only mistake of the round at the tricky opening hole.

"It was a good day obviously," the 29-year-old Australian told reporters. "I got off to a bit of a shaky start, a few nerves early. But I got those out of the way with a birdie at three and then we're away.

"I hit some good shots, made some reasonably easy pars, and I think that's what gave me the confidence to go on from there."

Leishman, who booked his place at the Masters by winning his maiden PGA Tour title at last year's Travelers Championship, conceded his first appearance at Augusta National in 2010 had been very different.

"I was like a bit of a deer in headlights, I guess," he said, referring to his missed cut three years ago. "Found myself looking around a little bit too much and not concentrating on getting the ball in the hole, which is what you need to do.

"To be here (leading) is awesome and to be sitting here is pretty cool. But, you know, it's only Thursday afternoon, so a lot of golf to play. But I feel good about my game."

SOLID START

Woods, who has been installed as a hot favourite this week after winning three times in his first five starts on the 2013 PGA Tour, made a solid start with a two-putt par at the first, where he has often struggled in the past.

The 14-times major champion picked up his first shot of the day at the par-three sixth, then birdied the par-five eighth to reach the turn in two-under 34.

Though Woods failed to cash in on the back nine, offsetting a birdie at the par-five 13th with a bogey at 14 before failing to birdie the par-five 15th, he was overall happy with his round.

"It was a good day, a solid day," the 37-year-old American said. "The biggest challenge today was just the speed of the greens. They just weren't quite there. They looked it, but just weren't quite putting it.

"It's a good start. I hit the ball very solid today and lag-putted pretty good today and I made a few here and there. Right now I'm only four back and I'm right there."

Englishman Lynn, who stunned the golfing world with a runner-up finish at last year's PGA Championship in only his second major appearance, "played the percentages" as he mixed six birdies with two bogeys to set the early pace.

The 39-year-old, whose only European Tour victory came at the 2004 Dutch Open, drew on advice he received via text from fellow Englishman David Gilford as he made a sparkling start on a grey day.

"There's a few times today where I played away from the flags," said Lynn. "It's about playing the percentages.

"He (Gilford) said to me, 'Don't be too intimidated by the greens. There are birdies out there. Try and be aggressive when you can be.' So I had that in my mind as well."

Welshman Jamie Donaldson produced the shot of the day with a hole-in-one at the 180-yard par-three sixth, recording the 24th ace at the Masters on the way to an opening 74.