Augusta, GA – Lee Westwood matched his lowest round at Augusta National Thursday with a five-under 67 and the Englishman is the first-round leader of the Masters.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open Champion at St. Andrews, and Peter Hanson are tied for second at four-under 68.
Westwood, the third-ranked player in the world, is this generation's best player without a major championship. He's been close several times, including a second here two years ago, but, with so much hype placed on others, Westwood is in prime position.
"I've come close recently," Westwood said in a televised interview. "I've won pretty much everywhere, and all there is to win other than a major championship. That's my primary focus now."
Westwood's name wasn't mentioned in the trio of pre-tournament favorites.
Tiger Woods, a four-time Masters winner, who earned his first PGA Tour victory in almost three years just a few weeks ago, was two-under par through 16, but bogeyed his last two for a 72 and a tie for 29th.
Woods hit the ball well left several times on Thursday, took two penalty shots and was happy just to get in at even-par.
"I hit some of the worst golf shots I've ever hit today. I just hung in there, grinded my way around the golf course, and stayed very a patient, stayed in the moment," Woods stated in a TV interview.
Rory McIlroy led after 63 holes last year, then a disastrous drive at the 10th derailed his chances. He exorcised his major championship demons with a romping victory at the U.S. Open, but he still had to cast out the memories at Augusta National.
He birdied the last two holes for a one-under 71. McIlroy's score was made more impressive considering he opened the championship with a double-bogey at one.
"It was huge," McIlroy said of his last two holes. "To finish under-par for the day, I'm very pleased."
Phil Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion, didn't get much going on Thursday. He rolled home a 20-foot birdie putt at the 18th, but was undone by a terrible drive at the 10th, the same hole that started McIlroy's descent one year ago.
He lost his drive off the 10th tee and made triple-bogey, only the second of his long Masters career. Mickelson, who won at Pebble Beach this year after a brilliant final-round comeback paired with Woods, finished with a two-over 74 and a share of 55th.
Thursday's first round was rife with fascinating stories, including that of world No. 1 Luke Donald.
There was an announcement that an investigation was ongoing about an incorrect scorecard, but the matter was resolved when it was determined the scorecard faxed in for Donald looked like a three was recorded on the fifth. It was actually a five, so Donald wasn't disqualified, but he struggled to a three- over 75.
The leader through most of Thursday's first round was Sweden's birthday boy, 36-year-old Henrik Stenson. He walked to the 18th tee at five-under par, thanks to two eagles but drove left into the trees at the last.
Stenson punched out, but was still in the pine needles, then chunked his third. After slamming his club in frustration, Stenson knocked his fourth over the green. Add it all up, and Stenson made a quadruple-bogey eight.
"Very disappointing finish," Stenson said in a televised interview.
Paul Lawrie, the 1999 British Open Champion, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Francesco Molinari, Bubba Watson, Ben Crane and Jason Dufner are tied for fourth at three-under 69.
Everyone is chasing Westwood after a steady, yet spectacular round on Thursday.
He broke into red figures at the par-five second hole, where he reached the green in two and two-putted from almost 60 feet away. Westwood dropped a stroke at the fourth, but that kicked off a great run from the former world No. 1.
He birdied the par-four fifth, then knocked his tee shot to seven feet at the sixth. Westwood made it three in a row with another seven-footer at No. 7. The Englishman picked up his fourth consecutive birdie after he nearly chipped in for eagle at the par-five eighth.
Westwood bogeyed the 10th when he missed the green, then missed an eight-foot par save. He got a stroke back with a birdie at the par-five 13th, but waited a few holes to take the outright lead.
At the 17th, Westwood poured in a 10-foot birdie putt for sole possession of first. He parred the last and is the first-round leader after a brilliant round that saw him hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation.
"I played well today," said Westwood. "I've been playing well all year. I just tried to continue with that. Hit a lot of fairways and 16 greens in regulation and rolled a few nice putts in."
Former champions Zach Johnson and Vijay Singh were joined in a tie for 10th by Scott Stallings and Jim Furyk at two-under 70.
NOTES: Westwood shot 67 at the Masters two times prior to Thursday's first round...Defending champion Charl Schwartzel had an even-par 72 in round one...There were thunderstorms forecast for Thursday evening and only a light rain fell late in the day.