AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Eagles were plentiful at Augusta National on Thursday as former British Open champion Paul Lawrie posted the early clubhouse lead with Swede Henrik Stenson in Masters control out on the course.
Britain’s Lawrie eagled the par-five 13th and par-five 15th on the way to a three-under-par 69 in the opening round while Stenson eagled the par-five second and par-five eighth to reach six under after 13 holes.
“The greens are in fantastic condition and rolling pretty well,” Lawrie told reporters after covering the back nine in four-under 32. “This course is all about the speed and patience and I struggled with that on the front nine but then I got into it in the back nine.”
American Scott Verplank was at three under after eight holes with the ominous figure of Tiger Woods and fellow Americans Patrick Cantlay and Jason Dufner a further stroke back.
Tournament favourite Woods, seeking a fifth green jacket at Augusta National, had completed 10 holes, amateur Cantlay six and Dufner three.
Low scoring was always likely for the early starters after the severely contoured layout had been softened by heavy rain on the eve of the tournament and Lawrie and Stenson took advantage.
Lawrie, who won his only major title at the 1999 British Open, was one over after 10 holes but caught fire over the closing holes to set the early pace in the season’s opening major.
Stenson, who won the biggest title of his career at the 2009 Players Championship, golf’s unofficial fifth major, raced to the turn in five-under 31 before picking up his sixth shot of the day at the par-four 10th.
Woods, who ended a two-and-a-half-year title drought on the PGA Tour with victory at last month’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, had to work hard for his outward one-under 35.
He scrambled for par at the opening hole after hooking his drive well left into pine trees, and also at the par-five second after his tee shot ended up in the creek to the left of the fairway.
Woods then sandwiched birdies at the third and eighth around a bogey at the seventh before picking up another shot at the 10th to sit four shots off the early lead.
U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, who squandered a four-shot lead going into the final round here last year, and three-times Masters winner Phil Mickelson were among the late starters.
The 76th Masters began with a moment of nostalgia when the “Big Three” of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player launched the tournament with their ceremonial shots off the first tee.
Editing by Julian Linden and Frank Pingue