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Eagle saves day for Woods as Rose rises
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Tiger Woods opened his bid for a Grand Slam sweep with a steady par-72 in the first round of the Masters on Thursday, as Justin Rose underlined his credentials as a potential winner.

The 27-year-old Englishman produced a scintillating opening round of 68, moving from two-over after five, to four-under after 13, including four birdies in a row from the sixth.

That gave him a share of the first-round lead alongside comeback man Trevor Immelman of South Africa.

They were one stroke clear of Americans Brian Bateman and Brandt Snedecker and in-form Englishman Lee Westwood, and two ahead of a quintet consisting of Ian Poulter, Jim Furyk, Sweden's Robert Karlsson, Stephen Ames of Canada and defending champion Zach Johnson - who rekindled his top form on returning to the scene of his upset win last year.

Shot of the day went to the outspoken and at times outrageous Englishman Poulter who fired the 11th ace to be recorded at the 170-yard par-three with a eight-iron en route to his 70.

It was the first hole-in-one at the Masters in three years since Immelman aced the same 16th.

Former wonder-boy Rose said he had learned a lot from his experience of last year, when he was in contention until the penultimate hole on Sunday. It was the third time in four appearances in the Masters that he has led after the first round.

"At the age of 27 you begin to say that you can't put it down to experience or lack of experience. Eventually you have to say it's time to step up," he said.

"But I'm not putting too much pressure on myself, though, as I am just coming into my prime and there is plenty of time left ahead."

Immelman provided the heart-warming tale of the day bouncing back to top form four months after undergoing surgery to remove a non-cancerous tumor from his diaphragm.

As ever, though, the focus of attention on a sunny, warm opening day was on Woods, who is on record as saying he believes he can become the first man to complete the Grand Slam of all four majors - a feat previously thought to be nigh on impossible.

Once again there were no early fireworks from the four-times winner of the Green Jacket who curiously had failed to break 70 in his 13 previous first rounds at Augusta.

Twelve straight pars were followed by morale-sapping bogeys at the par-five 13th, where he fluffed a chip from the back of the green, and at 14, where he pulled his drive into trees and could only hack out onto the fairway.

But just when it looked like he was in some trouble, Woods once again produced the goods with a magical chip in for eagle at the 15th.

He parred his way in from there for a level 72 and it is now six years since be bettered par on Masters opening day.

(AFP April 12, 2008)


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