Clark in Masters lead

2009-04-09 19:50
Tim Clarke (AFP)

Georgia - Tim Clark of South Africa grabbed the early clubhouse lead in the first round of the Masters on Thursday with Tiger Woods set to open his assault on the Grand Slam of golf later in the afternoon.

Clark, bidding to become the first player to win both the par-three contest and the main event, went out in one-under 35, but three birdies on the back nine gave him the lead.

With perfect playing conditions drawing much of the fire out of Augusta National, England's Ross Fisher was set to join him at four-under until a bogey at the last meant he had to settle for a 69.

Also at three-under for the day was Kevin Sutherland of the United States while Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand was leading the Asian challenge at two-under, despite a damaging triple-bogey six at the fourth.

Clark, looking to make it two in a row for South Africa after Trevor Immelman's triumph last year, said he had drawn confidence from his win in the fateful par-three contest on Wednesday.

"We had receptive greens and they certainly didn't play the course at its full length," the 33-year-old from Durban said.

"It certainly set up well for me but as the week goes on it sets up harder for a guy who hits like me."

Fisher said he was disappointed to finish with two bogeys.

"But for a first Masters appearance and first tournament round, to walk off this course with a 69 and feel slightly disappointed I've got to be pretty happy with that," he added.

Out on the course there were encouraging starts also for Greg Norman, playing at Augusta for the first time in seven years, and twice former winner Bernhard Langer.

Both were one-under through 12 holes.

Playing for the 52nd and last time, 73-year-old Gary Player went out in a remarkable one-over 37, but a double-bogey six at the 10th set him back.

World No.2 Phil Mickelson bogeyed the opening hole but grabbed the dropped shot back at the next hole and was one-under at the turn the same as Ireland's Padraig Harrington, who is shooting for a hat-trick of major wins.

American legend Arnold Palmer set the ball rolling for the third straight year by smacking a ceremonial drive up the fairway of the par-four first before retiring to watch the action.

Tournament favourite Woods was not due out till the penultimate grouping of the opening day at 1:52 pm (1752 GMT) partnered by US Ryder Cup teammate Stewart Cink and top Asian Jeev Milkha Singh of India.

Woods came into Augusta hot on the heels of his victory at Bay Hill, his 66th career tournament win on the US PGA Tour and first since returning to action in late February following eight months on the sidelines to recover from major surgery on his left knee.

The world No. 1 is seeking his fifth Masters title, which would be one short of the Nicklaus record of six green jackets, and his 15th major title, three short of the all-time best of 18, once again the property of Nicklaus.

Woods has exuded confidence in the buildup to the tournament, even entertaining thoughts of pulling off an unprecedented Grand Slam of all four majors.

"I know I can do it. I've done it," he said referring to his four-in-a-row "Tiger Slam" that ran from the 2000 US Open to the 2001 Masters.

"It's just a matter of winning the right four at the right time. Hopefully it will start for me this week."

Woods will have ahead of him defending champion Trevor Immelman of South Africa, who will be in the company of Adam Scott of Australia and 18-year-old New Zealand amateur Danny Lee.

There will be youthful ambition behind him also in the final grouping of the day in the shape of 19-year-old Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa and 23-year-old Anthony Kim of the United States.


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