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Lynn leads at Augusta, Woods off to strong start

- Associated Press - Thursday, April 11, 2013

AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - Unheralded David Lynn was contending again at a major championship. Jamie Donaldson turned in a rare ace at the sixth hole. And Tiger Woods? He was right in the mix for a fifth green jacket, just as everyone expected.

The Masters got off to quite a start Thursday.

Lynn, a 39-year-old Englishman, shot a 4-under 68 for the clubhouse lead at Augusta National, showing his runner-up finish in last year's PGA Championship was no fluke.

Under gray skies with a growing chance of rain, Lynn birdied four of five holes around the turn and rolled in a testy 15-foot putt at the final hole to save par. It is his first Masters appearance, but he hardly looked like a rookie.

"It's about playing the percentages," he said. "When I was on the ninth, I turned to my caddie and said, `We're leading the Masters.' He just looked at me and smiled. I told him, `I'd rather be leading it Sunday afternoon.' But it's not a bad thing to see your name up there leading the Masters. That's always something I can look back on."

Lynn was still talking about his round in the media center when another name surged to the top of the board. Marc Leishman of Australia ripped off four straight birdies on the back side and was at 6 under with two holes to play.

Donaldson turned in the shot of the day, acing the 180-yard sixth for the 24th hole-in-one in Masters history. He is only the fifth player to make a 1 at the hole known as Juniper, with its towering tee box and a green at the bottom of the hill. Donaldson was the first to do it since Chris DiMarco in 2004.

Of course, most eyes were on Woods, the overwhelming favorite coming into the tournament. He has already won three times this year and reclaimed his No. 1 spot in the world rankings.

But Woods hasn't captured a major since 2008, and it's been eight long years since he claimed his fourth green jacket at Augusta. He is still four majors shy of tying Jack Nicklaus' record 18 championships _ a mark that becomes a little more daunting each time the 37-year-old Woods fails to win one of golf's biggest events.

Maybe this will be the week he breaks the longest major-less drought of his career. Woods made the turn with a 2-under 34, putting himself solidly in contention in the early going.

"I feel comfortable with every aspect of my game," Woods said. "I feel that I've improved and I've gotten more consistent, and I think the wins show that."

Lynn is feeling good about the way things are going, too. In just the second major appearance of his largely overlooked career, he finished second behind Rory McIlroy at Kiawah Island.

He moved from the European to the American tour this year, a change that seems to have rejuvenated his passion for the game.

"It's given me a second wind," Lynn said. "Everything is new. I'm going to different places every week, different courses. It's like I've started my career again almost."

About three hours before Woods teed off, the tournament began with ceremonial shots from three of golf's greatest players _ 83-year-old Arnold Palmer, 77-year-old Gary Player and the 73-year-old Nicklaus.

Palmer was clearly pleased with his effort, which settled right in the middle of the fairway. He pumped his right fist as the crowd roared.

"The only nerves are to make sure you make contact," Nicklaus quipped. "It doesn't make a diddly-darn where it goes."

Sandy Lyle, John Peterson and amateur Nathan Smith followed the former champions to the tee, beginning their rounds under gray skies after three warm, sunny days of practice. There was a good chance of rain by late afternoon.

Jim Furyk opened with a 69, while the group at 70 included Lee Westwood, David Toms, Tim Clark and Kevin Na.

If Woods is in contention heading to the weekend, he'll likely have plenty of competition.

"Obviously, Tiger is Tiger," said Scott Piercy, who was playing in Woods' group along with Luke Donald. "He's always going to be that target. He knows it, and that's how he wants it. But there's a lot of people getting closer. And the golfing gods, or whatever you want to call them, have a lot to do with winning. A bounce here, a bounce there. A lip in, a lip out."

Three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo said about 20 players could win the Masters, all from what he referred to as the second tier but "pretty darn good."

Donald, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter. Brandt Snedeker and Bill Haas. Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

Not to mention three-time winner Phil Mickelson, defending champ Bubba Watson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy.

"Yes, Tiger is the favorite," Faldo said. "He's strong. He's determined. We will see. But he's going to be chased by a lot of really good players."

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