DEFENDING CHAMPION ADAM Scott made a storming start to the Masters as he set out to become the first back-to-back winner at Augusta National since Tiger Woods in 2002.
The Australian carded a three-under 69, which could have been even better had he not found water on below shot en route to a double-bogey five at the treacherous 12th.
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But he still tucked himself in nicely high up the leaderboard, just one stroke back from clubhouse leader Bill Haas, who sank a five-footer at the last for a 68.
Tied for third, a further stroke behind Scott, was a group of players including Americans Kevin Stadler, Gary Woodland, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker as well as Jonas Blixt of Sweden and K.J. Choi of South Korea.
In the absence though injury of world number one Woods, it was the group containing Rory McIlroy in the role of elder statesman alongside two rising US stars — 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and 23-year-old Patrick Reed — that drew the biggest fan following.
Source: Matt Slocum
McIlroy and Spieth shared the honours in that joist, both scoring 71s, for a share of 10th place at the time of publishing while Reed bogeyed the last three holes to settle for a 73.
Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell represented the rest of the Irish interest. The latter hit par on each hole on the front nine and, despite back-to-back bogeys coming into Amen Corner, McDowell reached the clubhouse on level par after birdies on the 13th and 17th. Clarke will enter day two at +2, after a round of five bogeys and three birdies.
The early front-runner, Haas, whose father Jay placed third in the 1995 Masters, had six birdies against two bogeys en route to his 68, but it was the birdie at the tough 18th that brought him the most satisfaction.
He refused, however, to get too far ahead of himself.
“I was leading last week (at Houston) after the first round and finished 37th, so I know there’s tons of golf left,” he said.
“And maybe understanding that, I know that I can’t expect too much. You’ve just got to go out there and keep playing golf, try to hit that fairway on number one tomorrow.”
Scott opened confidently with a birdie and was four under after 10 holes before he hit into the water at the 12th for the first time in his career.
But a birdie at 14 got him back to three-under and he scrambled well to save par at the tough closing hole.
“I feel like I am playing really well,” Scott said. “I felt I played good enough to shoot in the 60s today so it was good to make that par save at the last.”Very happy the way I played tee to green. I hit the one poor shot at 12 which cost me a couple of shots.
“I am very pleased to get off to such a good start and there is no doubt that winning last year has made me less nervous at the start. Don’t have the legs jangling and all that.”
Out on the course, South African Louis Oosthuizen, who lost a playoff to Bubba Watson two years ago, was challenging at three under through 15 holes, with Watson also well in the hunt at one under after 11.
In-form Sergio Garcia was going along nicely at one under through nine holes, but there was big trouble for Augusta crowd-pleaser Phil Mickelson.
Source: Charlie Riedel
The three-time former winner opened with a run of pars before coming to grief with a triple-bogey seven at the seventh.
The man he pipped for the first of this titles in 2004, Ernie Els, was also struggling at two-over after eight holes, while Argentinian Angel Cabrera, who lost in a playoff to Scott last year, struggled to a six over 78, the same mark where 2008 champion Zach Johnson ended the day.
Jason Dufner, who won the last major played at the PGA Championship last August, fared even worse, taking a nine at the par-five 13th en route to a crippling 80.