April 8, 2009

Campbell Rolls Over Augusta

Chad Campbell took advantage of soft greens and a sunny warm day to fire at the pins on his way to a seven-under 65 and a one-stroke lead

Campbell opened his round with five straight birdies and was nine under until bogeys on 17 and 18.

Campbell opened his round with five straight birdies and was nine under until bogeys on 17 and 18.

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Chad Campbell led an assault on the scoreboard, shooting a 7-under-par 65 to take the top spot after the opening round of the Masters.

The conditions were ideal Thursday: warm and sunny, a slight breeze, soft greens and inviting pin positions. Nineteen players shot in the 60s and 38 players in the 96-man field broke par.

Campbell birdied the first five holes and had another streak of four in a row, putting himself in position to challenge the tournament record, 63. But he bogeyed the final two holes.

Still, Campbell holds a one-stroke lead over Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan after day one. Tiger Woods struggled with his putter but still managed 70 in his first major since last year's U.S. Open.

There aren't many days like this at Augusta National: Sunny and warm, with barely a breeze. Greens nice and soft. Pins stuck in some pretty inviting spots.

Campbell began the round with five straight birdies, the best start in Masters history, and ripped off four in a row on the back side to get his score to 9 under. That sent him to the final two holes needing one more birdie to break the tournament record -- a 63 by Nick Price in 1986 and equaled by Greg Norman a decade later.

The magic number was definitely on his mind -- perhaps a little too much. Campbell failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker at No. 17, ending any hopes of breaking the mark, and a three-putt from 50 feet at the 18th cost him another stroke.

"I'm definitely happy with the round I played," he said, "but I'm a little upset with the way I finished."

He had a one-shot lead over Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan, with plenty of others lurking in the 60s. And what about Tiger Woods? The world's No. 1 player teed off in one of the latest groups and plodded through the front nine with an even-par 36.

But Woods began to make his move after the turn, pushing his score to 3 under with three straight birdies at 13 and 14.

Furyk strung together four straight birdies on the back for a score that would have been good enough for at least a share of the opening-round lead in all but one of the last 12 years. On this day, it was just an impressive score with plenty of company.

"It was a day for scoring," said Padraig Harrington, who began his quest to win a third straight major with a 69. "(Club officials) can get the scoring whichever way they want. Today was obviously one of the most generous days ever around Augusta. You've got to feel it's going to get a little bit tougher as we go on the next three days."

At 67 were Japanese star Shingo Katayama, who had never broken 70 in seven previous appearances, and 1987 champion Larry Mize, who's made the Masters cut only once in the last eight years.

"I did not imagine a 67," said Mize, who turned in his best score at Augusta since 2000.

Another member of the old-timer's club was right in the mix, too. Greg Norman shot 70 in his first Masters appearance since 2002, again stirring hopes that he might finally win that elusive green jacket at age 54. The Shark has been a runner-up three times.

Leading up to the tournament, many golfers complained that changes made in recent years to toughen and lengthen the course have sucked all the drama out of it -- especially in the final round. Foul weather the last two years made it even harder to go low, which meant the winner was the one making the fewest mistakes rather than the biggest charge.

"It was a nice, sunny day with little wind," Harrington said. "Do they have control over that, too?"

Not everyone went low. Phil Mickelson struggled with an errant driver and could only manage a 73. Sergio Garcia also shot 73. Ernie Els, a perennial Masters contender, limped home with a 75 -- already 10 strokes off the lead.

One of the Mickelson's playing partners showed him how it's done. Starting at No. 14, Furyk hit one brilliant approach after another to set up his birdie run. He twice stuck it within 3 feet of the cup, leaving himself virtual tap-ins, and rolled in an 8-footer on the tricky 16th green. He finally had a tough one at 17, but sank a 20-footer.

"I hit some good iron shots," Furyk said. "I got the ball in the fairway on every one of those holes, and I had some good angles to the pins."

Some of the biggest roars were for Norman, who's probably endured more heartbreak at Augusta than any other golfer. The Aussie has a solid chance to make it to the weekend, and maybe even pull off another age-defying performance like his third-place showing at last year's British Open.

"The whole idea for any player is to get yourself off to a good, solid start," Norman said. "I did that today. I had a lot of opportunities. I could have shot a nice mid-60s score today. I didn't, but I'm not complaining."

Of course, all eyes were on Woods, a four-time Masters winner playing in his first major since a stirring playoff victory at last summer's U.S. Open. He underwent knee surgery after that win and had to sit out the British Open and PGA Championship.

A comeback win at Bay Hill two weeks ago showed Woods' game is back on track. But he's known for some sluggish starts at Augusta, a trend that continued Thursday until he started to get things rolling on the back side.

This position isn't unusual for Clark, either. He was runner-up to Mickelson in 2006, and held the 36-hole lead the next year.

"It's an extremely demanding tournament," Clark said. "But I know what it takes to win this tournament, and I certainly come here with that in mind."

He's already been a winner at Augusta. On Wednesday, Clark took first place in the Par-3 tournament with an ace on the final hole, but that fun-filled victory comes with a bit of baggage: No winner of the nine-hole preliminary has ever gone on to take the green jacket.

Asked what he received for his Par-3 victory (a crystal vase, by the way), Clark quipped, "I guess they give you no chance of winning the tournament."

But the 5-foot-7 Clark followed his game plan perfectly. Not very long off the tee but pinpoint with the wedges, he laid up at all four of the par-5 holes -- and made four birdies, none with a putt longer than 10 feet.

Clark had another birdie at No. 3, the shortest of the par 4s at 350 yards, to offset his only big mistake, a bogey at the par-3 fourth.

"I wish they would play a few PGA Tour events on par-3 courses," he said with a smile. "I think I'd have a chance. I feel like if I get within 160, 170 yards, I can play with anyone."

Also at 68 were three major champions: 2007 U.S. Open winner Angel Cabrera; 2004 British Open champ Todd Hamilton; and 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir.

Hamilton was a huge surprise. He came to Augusta ranked 373rd in the world, having made the cut only twice in nine PGA Tour events this year, and the 68 was his best score ever in the Masters.