Augusta National brings out the best in Westwood

By Simon Evans

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - World number three Lee Westwood grabbed the first round lead at the Masters on Thursday, once again showing he has the skill set to deal with the unique challenges of Augusta National.

With his five-under-par 67, Westwood has now finished par or better in eight of his last nine rounds at the iconic course which the Englishman described as a "Disneyland for adults."

There was certainly nothing 'Mickey Mouse' about Westwood's opening round which included a run of four straight birdies on the front nine.

"The golf course suits my game. It was originally designed as a second shot golf course and my iron shots are one of the strengths of my game," he told reporters. "And, basically, you know, over the years, I've just gained experience and learned how to play the golf course.

"I listened to Phil Mickelson do an interview the other day and he said he can get around here when he's not playing that well, and that is basically because he knows where to miss it and that only comes from experience."

Westwood, who has 21 wins on the European Tour and two on the PGA Tour, has yet to claim a major championship but the 38-year-old from Nottinghamshire is certainly no stranger to the top of the leaderboard.

Westwood believes both his fitness and his experience could give him the edge in the coming three rounds.

"I have been in this position a lot recently, in contention.��I've had a lot of top threes, so I've obviously been there or thereabouts," said Westwood.

"I've also done a lot of fitness work through winter and start of this year to strengthen up and this is a demanding golf course.��There are a lot of hills out there.��You're concentrating all the time.��It's mentally draining and physically draining.

"So both those should help me as the week goes on.

"I'm trying not to let myself get carried away or anything.��I just wanted to come out today and start steady and strong and play my way into the tournament, which I've done."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)