Singh leads at Masters

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Vijay Singh was at the top of the Masters leaderboard. No surprise there. Phil Mickelson was right in the mix. That's to be expected.

Updated: February 25, 2007 11:39 IST
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Vijay Singh was at the top of the Masters leaderboard. No surprise there. Phil Mickelson was right in the mix. That's to be expected. Tiger Woods got off to a sluggish start at Augusta National. Sounds about right. Still, there were plenty of surprises on Day 1: Rocco Mediate and Arron Oberholser were Singh's closest challengers, and Ben Crenshaw - who was talking retirement a day earlier - put himself in contention with a stunning round. Showing no regard for the longer, tougher course, Singh put up a bogey-free, 5-under 67 that gave him a one-shot lead over Mediate on Thursday. Mickelson shot 70, part of a group three strokes off the lead that included two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen. He said it's much easier to play the Masters now that he's a past champion, having won in 2004 when he captured his first major title. He added the US PGA Championship last year. Singh and Mediate had something in common. They were the first two players to make birdies on the 11th hole, a tough test that became even harder when Augusta National decided to lengthen its course to 7,445 yards - the second-longest in major championship history behind Whistling Straits. That's where the similarities end. Singh is a three-time major champion who won the Masters in 2000. Mediate qualified for Augusta based on a sixth-place finish at the US Open last summer. Otherwise, he's been mired in one of the worst slumps of his career, finishing 114th on the money list a year ago - an improvement on his 176th-place showing in 2004. "I haven't been here in a while,'' Mediate quipped as he walked into the interview room. "Still the same, though.'' Strong contention Woods, the defending champion, came in as an overwhelming favourite to win his fifth green jacket - only Jack Nicklaus has more - and felt good about his opening 72. He finished strong with a birdie at No 18, leaving him solidly in contention. He started last year with a 74, but went on to beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff. Plenty of golfers were struggling on the longer course. US Open champion Michael Campbell had a 75. Two-time Master winner Jose Maria Olazabal struggled to a 76. So did American Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, two days after he was uninjured in a random, drive-by shooting on the way to pick up his family at the Augusta airport. David Duval had an 84 for his worst Masters round ever. Mickelson and Goosen were joined at 70 by South Africa's Tim Clark and Australia's Geoff Ogilvy, another Masters rookie. Two major winners from 2003, Mike Weir (Masters) and Ben Curtis (British Open), were part of the group at 71, joined by the biggest surprise of the day. Crenshaw broke par at Augusta National for the first time since he closed with a 68 in 1995 to capture his second green jacket. (AP)

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