The young Brit opens with 67 as European players reclaim the leaderboard.
By BOB HARIG
Published April 9, 2004
AUGUSTA, Ga. - For years they all but owned the place. So comfortable were European golfers at Augusta National, you expected them to drive down Magnolia Lane on the left side and demand to see fish and chips on the menu.
Golf's power structure has changed, but the opening round of the 68th Masters saw a return to prominence for the Europeans, at least for a day.
Led by England's Justin Rose, who shot 5-under-par 67, players from across the Atlantic were well represented on the leaderboard Thursday. Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke, Germany's Alex Cejka, Wales' Philip Price, Scotland's Colin Montgomerie and Germany's Bernhard Langer, a two-time Masters winner, all shot under par.
Considering his form this year, Rose might be the biggest surprise. In eight tournaments around the world he has failed to crack the top 20. But he made six birdies and just one bogey to take a two-shot advantage over Chris DiMarco and Jay Haas.
"It's a dream start," said Rose, 23, who gained fame as a 17-year-old amateur in 1998 when he finished fourth at the British Open. "The dream start was the first couple of holes, just to go birdie-birdie, it gets you into the tournament from the word go. It makes your day much, much easier."
So did some early morning rain, which took a bit of the edge off the course. An afternoon thunderstorm may have done the same. Play was suspended for 2 hours, 6 minutes and meant that 18 players did not finish the first round.
One was three-time Masters winner Tiger Woods, who did not make a birdie through his first 14 holes. Woods made double-bogey when his approach shot to the fifth bounded over the green and beneath bushes, and he shot 40 on the front nine.
In all three of Woods' victories, he shot an opening 70. He has got some work to do to even come close to that number.
There were others who had their troubles. Vijay Singh, the world's second-ranked player to Woods who won the 2000 Masters, was 2 under through 14 holes, then took triple-bogey 8 at the 15th. He finished with consecutive bogeys to shoot 75. John Daly double-bogeyed both back-nine par-3s on his way to 78. Defending champion Mike Weir made bogey at the 13th and double-bogey at the 15th and was 4 over through 15 holes. Phil Mickelson made double-bogey at the par-3 16th to shoot 72.
"The pins were so tough," Mickelson said. "The par-5s were the only place I thought I could score. I felt I was playing for pars all day."
But as is usually the case, there were a handful of good scores.
DiMarco, aided by a hole-in-one at the sixth, shot 69 and was tied by Haas, 50, playing in his 21st Masters.
Clarke shot 70 and was tied for fourth with Chris Riley, Cjeka (2 under through 17) and Ernie Els (2 under through 17). Montgomerie, Price and Langer, the European Ryder Cup team captain, shot 71 and were tied for eighth with Kirk Triplett, Charles Howell and K.J. Choi.
"This is the first time since the changes that the course is playing firm," said DiMarco, a former University of Florida golfer, referring to yardage added to the course in 2002 that stretched it to 7,290 yards. "You know, if it plays like that I can compete here, because my ball gets roll. When it's not getting any roll, this course is too long for me. I'm hitting 3-woods into par-4s. I can't get it close with that. ... But with it playing a little firmer, I'm getting it out there."
Whether it remains firm is to be determined. But the tough conditions early in the day didn't seem to bother the Europeans in contention.
Langer, 46, was one of six Europeans to claim 11 green jackets between 1980 and 1999. In 1988, Sandy Lyle, who shot 72 Thursday, started a streak of four in a row and six out of seven for Europe. But Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999 was the last European to win the Masters, and Scotland's Paul Lawrie at the 1999 British Open was the last to win a major championship.
When the World Ranking came out in mid February there was no European player among the top 10 for the first time in the 18-year history of the rankings.
"These things go in cycles," said Ireland's Padraig Harrington, who has risen to No. 7 in the world in the past two months and is the highest-ranked European. "I think we have plenty of good, young players. Who knows, in another three, four or five years' time we could be winning plenty of majors."
Rose hopes it happens sooner than that.
"I've finished in the top five in a major before," he said. "I played second to last group on Sunday at the Open Championship (in 2002) at Muirfield. It is new for me, obviously, at Augusta, but it's not completely new. I will have some experiences to draw from."