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Lawrie shares Masters lead, Woods three back

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - The par-four 18th took a brutal toll on the players as Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson both came unstuck there in Thursday's opening round of the Masters.

Tournament favorite Woods bogeyed the hole after driving well left into the pine trees and Swede Stenson, who had led the field by two shots standing on the 18th tee, wound up with an ugly quadruple eight to tie the worst score there.

Woods finished with a level-par 72 to lie three strokes behind early leaders Paul Lawrie of Britain, Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez and Italy's Francesco Molinari while Stenson, who had eagled the second and eighth, returned a 71.

Heavy rain on the eve of the tournament had softened the severely contoured layout and organizers, in response, set up several very tough pin positions to give the course extra bite for the first round.

"I hit some of the worst golf shots I've ever hit today," four-times Masters champion Woods told reporters after offsetting three birdies with three bogeys. "I squeezed a lot out of that round.

"I just hung in there and grinded my way around the golf course and stayed very patient, stayed in the moment. I could have shot one, maybe two better, but I got a lot out of that round.

"It's brutal out there, it's very, very tough. Some of these pins, like that pin on five, we haven't seen that in a while. The majority of the pins were tough."

Woods bogeyed the last two holes as the shifting breezes intensified at Augusta national after a sun-splashed morning of relative calm.

TOOK ADVANTAGE

Former British Open champion Lawrie was among the early starters and he took advantage, eagling the par-five 13th and par-five 15th on the way to a three-under-par 69.

"The greens are in fantastic condition and rolling pretty well," Lawrie said 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."

A bogey at the 14th was followed by a birdie on 15 before the Swede again faltered at the 16th.

The Swede, who celebrated his 36th birthday on Thursday, then limped to the finish with his nightmarish eight at the last which began with a wayward drive into the trees and ended with a missed three-foot putt.

U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, who squandered a four-shot lead going into the final round here last year, was one under after nine holes and three-times Masters winner Phil Mickelson was level after eight.

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 Frank Pingue)