- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

AUGUSTA, Ga. Perhaps Tiger just wants to keep things interesting.
In search of an unprecedented fourth consecutive victory in golf's modern majors, Tiger Woods spotted the field a handful of strokes at the 65th Masters yesterday. The 25-year-old phenom posted a shaky opening-round 70 on the 6,985-yard, par-72 layout, lagging behind first-round rabbit Chris DiMarco (65) and an impressive pack of players in the 60s.
"I thought I played pretty solid today. I'm very pleased," said Woods, who fought an erratic driver and a balky putter around Augusta National, overwhelming bogeys to start each side with birdies at Nos. 3, 7, 9 and 15. "Anytime you shoot in the red in a major championship the first day, you are going to be in all right position… . Everyone knows it's awfully hard to go out there and shoot in the mid-60s every day."
But one glance belied Woods' post-round bravado. Judging by the grimace on his face as he scanned the 14 names ahead of him on the interview room leader board, Woods knows he missed a rare chance to take advantage of Augusta National.
Paced by DiMarco, who wore a green shirt to celebrate his first Masters start, the 93-man field converted the soft, windless conditions into a record-setting red-number day. Ten players carded 68 or better, a first-round tournament record.
"I would never call playing Augusta National easy, but it was about as easy today as you'll ever see it," said Phil Mickelson after an opening 67.
In fact, DiMarco made his 65 look extremely easy, needing no putts longer than 15 feet despite his lack of experience at Augusta National.
"I had a blast out there," said the 32-year-old from Orlando, Fla., who notched his first PGA Tour victory at the Pennsylvania Classic last year. "It was [a pretty easy round]. I heard how hard the course was, people saying don't hit it here and don't hit it there. But you know, if you are playing well, I don't care where you are playing, you are going to play well.
DiMarco, best known for the "psycho" putting grip which makes it look as if he's trying to strangle the shaft, rolled the ball beautifully on the layout's rain-slowed greens, coasting home mid-range birdie putts at Nos. 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13 and 15 against a lone bogey at No. 3.
One behind DiMarco, 1998 PGA Championship runner-up Steve Stricker and Argentina's Angel Cabrera carded matching 66s. The high-profile trio of Mickelson, two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen and electric John Huston stand two back of DiMarco. Four players, highlighted by 23-year-old amateur James Driscoll, are positioned three back after 68s.
"The course was out there for the taking today," said Stricker, who won the World Match Play Championship earlier this season in Australia. "But I expect the course will dry out a little more and the pins will be in slightly tougher positions tomorrow… . I'd be surprised if you see another day like this one."
Woods certainly hopes not, because tougher conditions always favor better players.
"With the greens being soft and receptive, the guys who are hitting it kind of borderline can get away with it," he said. "Once the greens become baked out, borderline shots won't work out anymore, not to these greens."
With daily temperatures expected to reach 85 throughout the rest of the tournament and no more rain in the forecast, tougher conditions are on the horizon. And if he simply starts making the 15-footers that eluded him yesterday, so is Woods. After all, the last time Woods opened with a 70 at the Masters (1997), he finished 66-65-69 to win by 12 strokes and shatter every conceivable tournament record.
"I've prepared well for the tournament," Woods said. "I've hit the ball reasonably well in the practice rounds. You know, I just need to go out there and execute."
But after yesterday's performance at an almost incomparably benign Augusta National, Woods finds himself locked in a six-way tie for 15th. And many of those players who once feared the 65th Masters would turn into a Woodsian rout are now staring down at him with newfound confidence.
"I don't think there's much pressure on any of us, because nobody expects us to win," said DiMarco, voicing the sentiment shared by the rest of the field. "Tiger has always been incredible at dealing with that [pressure], but he can't win them all."

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