published Friday, April 6th, 2012

Lee Westwood leading by one in Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Lee Westwood opened the 2010 Masters with a 5-under-par 67 and finished in second place behind Phil Mickelson.

He repeated the first part of that performance Thursday.

Westwood shot his Masters-best round by hitting 16 greens in regulations and needing just 31 putts to take a one-shot lead over Louis Oosthuizen and Peter Hanson.

"It's nice to get off to a good start and have a platform to build from," said Westwood, who is ranked No. 3 in the world. "I played well today and I've been playing well all year, and I just tried to continue that."

There's only one way for Westwood to finish better than he did in 2010 -- to win. He's among the game's best players without a major championship and has finished second twice -- in that Masters and the 2010 British Open.

"If I sit down at the end of my career and there's no major championship wins, I'll be disappointed," the Englishman said. "If there's five, six, I'll be delighted.

"But you know, at the end of the day, that won't actually change that much, will it?"

Before pondering the end of his career, Westwood stayed in the moment Thursday.

He birdied four consecutive holes beginning with an 8-iron struck to within four feet of hole No. 5. Then he made a 10-foot putt and a 6-footer and "chipped it stone-dead on 8," Westwood said. "So I had a run of holes where I hit it close."

A star-studded group of Paul Lawrie, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Francesco Molinari, Ben Crane, Jason Dufner and Bubba Watson shot 69s.

Westwood stole a bit of the spotlight from the three big favorites: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy. But they did not play their way out of contention. In fact, all three seemed pleased with their opening days.

McIlroy, the mop-haired redhead who announced his presence on the world golf stage one year ago, birdied the last two holes to shoot a 1-under 71 that has him tied for 14th.

Woods shot an even-par 72 and then said he was going to the range to work on a few swing glitches. Mickelson struggled with his driver and lost his tee shot on No. 10 and finished at 2-over 74 with a birdie on the last hole.

"That birdie on 18 was a big momentum birdie for me," Mickelson said later, "because I can get out here and birdie 1, 2 or 3 [today] and I'm right back at even par. Then I can start trying to catch the leaders."

Oosthuizen birdied four of his last six holes, including the final three, to get to 68.

"It's always nice seeing your name on any leaderboard, but it makes it a little bit sweeter over here," the 2010 British Open leader said.

Rains that began Wednesday afternoon and lasted into the night softened the fairways, resulting in muddy golf balls -- which often act like knuckleballs in baseball and are harder to control -- for almost every player. Those who played in the morning seemed to have more problems than those who played as the fairways dried out.

"It was pretty even the whole way, and I expected it to be worse," said Oosthuizen, who birdied No. 18 with a mudball. "You want to play the ball down -- that's always nice in a major."

A state-of-art sub-air system under the greens was able to remove much of the moisture, resulting in typical Augusta National greens.

"They're in fantastic condition and rolling pretty well," said Lawrie, who played in the third group out and shot a 69 for the rest of the field to chase. "In a couple of days, I'm sure the course will play pretty fast, which is what they want."

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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