Birdies Return to Augusta

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Chad Campbell kept pouring in birdies, five in a row to start his round, then four straight on the back nine as the gallery kept up its endless cheering on a day of record scoring. There were 354 birdies and six eagles. There were 38 rounds under par, half of those in the 60s. For all those staggering numbers, what made the Masters come to life Thursday was the sweetest of sounds. The roars returned to Augusta National.

"This day was reminiscent of how it used to be," Tiger Woods said. "You could go out there on that back nine and make some birdies, and if you caught some good gusts, you could shoot some pretty good numbers."

No one did that better than Campbell.

The quiet Texan led a charge that dispelled the myth that the thrill was gone from the Masters, getting off to the best start in tournament history before two late bogeys forced him to settle for a 7-under 65 and a one-shot lead over Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan.

Woods got into the action, too, running off three straight birdies late in the afternoon until his momentum stalled and he shot 70. Even so, it was his first time to break par in the first round of the Masters in seven years.

And more than 11 hours of action-packed golf gave the tournament the excitement it had been missing for most of the decade.

"It is nice to hear some noises again," Sandy Lyle said.

Augusta National cooked up the perfect formula for record scoring — warm sunshine and only a gentle breeze, along with inviting hole locations and greens that were soft and smooth.

"They must have felt sorry for us," Campbell said.

Masters chairman Billy Payne had said this year would be an important test to show that supersizing the golf course — it has been stretched more than 500 yards this decade — would not take the birdies out of the Masters.

The weather was ideal, yes, but the club did its part, too, with greens softer than they have been all week and hole locations that allowed players to attack the pins.

The 38 rounds under par — and the 19 rounds in the 60s — both set a Masters record for the first round.

Greg Norman played for the first time since 2002, and the 54-year-old Shark was shocked by all the changes. Even more shocking was that he shot a 70 and was mildly disappointed.

"Really could have shot a nice, mid-60s score today," Norman said. "I'm not complaining."

The average score was 72.25, nearly two shots easier than a year ago and the lowest since it was 72.06 in 1992.

"You could tell the way guys were tearing the place apart that ... you could definitely go get it," Woods said.

The four-time Masters champion figured that out even before he got to the back nine. If the cheers weren't enough, all he had to do was look at the white leaderboards that were filled with red numbers.

Larry Mize, in his rookie year on the Champions Tour, became only the second player over 50 to shoot a 67. The other was Jack Nicklaus, who did it twice.

Shingo Katayama also had a 67, while the group at 68 included 48-year-old Kenny Perry, former Masters champion Mike Weir, Sean O'Hair and former U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera.

British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington opened with a 69, a strong start in his bid to join Woods and Ben Hogan as the only players to win three successive majors.

The Irishman once said Augusta National was among the few courses that could control the scores by how the course was set up, and it was so perfect that he wondered whether the club had more power than he imagined.

"They got a nice, sunny day with no wind," he said. "Do they have control over that?"

The course was only 10 yards shorter than last year, at least according to the scorecard, but the tees were moved forward on several holes, and the pins were in generous spots, where the ball could easily funnel down a slope near the cup.

"It is interesting for us and it is exciting for us when there is a buzz like that out there," Harrington said. "But definitely, when you hear a lot of cheers around, it makes you a little bit more anxious to be part of that, just a little more urgency to make sure you are making birdies, too."

That's what made Phil Mickelson so disgusted.

The two-time Masters champion, who has a chance to go to No. 1 in the world with a victory, failed to take advantage of the easier hole locations and made only two birdies in his round of 73.

"I drove it terrible," Mickelson said. "I played terrible."

A year ago, shooting a 73 would have been a relief on a course that players felt had become more like a U.S. Open. On a day like this, and a course like this, it felt like an opportunity wasted.

Campbell wasted a chance to make major championship history with his incredible opening round.

No one had ever started a Masters with five straight birdies, and Campbell added to that with four straight birdies on the back nine, including an 8-iron that narrowly cleared the bunker at the par-3 12th and settled 5 feet away. Then there was a beautiful pitch to a foot on the 15th that put him at 9 under for the round.

The course record at Augusta National is 63. No one has ever shot lower in any major. Campbell could not help but think of the record, and the gallery was there to remind him.

"They were yelling everything," Campbell said. "You know, 'One more. Get to 10. 63.' I heard it all. It was good, though."

But he pulled his tee shot on the 17th into the trees and made bogey, then three-putted for a bogey from 40 feet on the 18th. Even so, it was the best opening-round score at Augusta since Chris DiMarco had a 65 in 2001.

Furyk putted for birdie on every hole and was the only player without a bogey on his card.

"That doesn't happen very often here," he said.

Woods was late to the party, not making a birdie until the ninth hole and cringing as so many birdie putts burned the edge. But he came to life with a two-putt birdie on the 13th, then a 20-foot birdie up the slope on the 14th, and another two-putt birdie from just off the back of the green on the par-5 15th.

"You could tell the way guys were tearing the place apart," Woods said. "You could definitely go get it."

He was not the least bit concerned dropping a shot at the end of his day, leaving him five shots behind. Woods has never broken 70 in the first round, yet he still has four green jackets.

And as fun as it was Thursday, no one is sure what to expect over the next three days.

"At some stage, you really expect to be tested right to the end of your limits," Harrington said. "And sometimes, the last nine holes, they set the golf course up easy. But it's somewhere between now and then, and I think you'll find that were will be maybe a tougher wind and a tougher day."

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