Going soft

Heavy rain earlier in the week has softened the fairways and it's making life a bit difficult. Robin Barwick reports from Augusta

Randal Lewis

The soft ground conditions for the first round of the 2012 Masters work both ways: the greens become more receptive on the one hand, but the course plays a lot longer on the other. For many of the senior golfers in the Masters field, almost all of whom are past champions at Augusta, low scoring was particularly hard to come by.

Amateur Randal Lewis, at 54 the oldest ever winner of the US Mid-Amateur title, which qualified him for the Masters, is the only golfer aged over 50 in this year's field not to own a Green Jacket. In his first ever-competitive round at Augusta Lewis shot 81, nine over par, which was five shots better than 1988 champion Sandy Lyle, if nothing else.

"A soft golf course doesn't help," admitted Lewis after his round. "I was hitting a lot of hybrids in there today. It's tough to come into these greens with hybrids with any kind of level of accuracy."   It is one thing to hit the green at Augusta National, but to score well, approach shots need to find the part of the green.   Craig Stadler, the 1982 Masters champion now aged 58, struggled up the hill to the first green, eventually holed out for bogey and set the tone for his round, matching the 81 posted by Lewis.

Even the timeless Tom Watson - aged 62 - shot 77, five-over-par, to confirm how tough Augusta was playing yesterday.

However, one champion of yesteryear did hold his ground among the mud-splattered balls and gouged pitchmarks; 54-year-old Bernhard Langer, who was champion here in 1985 and 1993. The German golfer, who is now a dominant force on the Champions Tour, plotted his way around the Augusta golf course with his usual faultless course management to shoot a level 72, for a share of 29th place. Langer is the highest-placed golfer in the field over the age of 50, tied with 52-year-old Fred Couples, the winner here in 1992.

Langer knows the value of par at Augusta as well as anyone, and he mirrored the scorecard for the first 10 holes yesterday. The run came to an end after he left a chip much too short onto the 11th green, but Langer made amends at the 13th, when he boldly reached the par-five green in two with a perfectly executed fairway wood. Two putts later and he was back to level par.

Another dropped shot came at 14 when Langer's long-iron approach was just inches short of the top tier of the green, and his ball rolled 20 feet back to the front. Three putts later and Langer was a frustrated figure, but then his shot of the day may have been a wedge to the 15the green, which spun back to within four feet of the hole to set-up Langer's second birdie in three holes. In the company of Americans Charles Howell III and Jason Dufner, who is a shot of Lee Westwood's lead, Langer tees off at 9:18 this morning.

Article courtesy of Mercedes-Benz, International Partner of the Masters Tournament

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