Rose, Immelman share the lead as Tiger sputters

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Justin Rose overcame a rugged start with four straight birdies that carried him to a 4-under 68 and his name atop the leaderboard at the Masters.

Updated: May 04, 2008 08:21 IST
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Augusta (USA):

Justin Rose overcame a rugged start with four straight birdies that carried him to a 4-under 68 and his name atop the leaderboard, which is becoming a tradition like no other - at least on Thursday at the Masters.

It was the third straight time he has held at least a share of the 18-hole lead at Augusta National.

Trevor Immelman, who made a weekend getaway to Augusta a few weeks ago with Rose and Ian Poulter, also shot 68. They were one shot ahead of Lee Westwood, Brandt Snedeker and Masters rookie Brian Bateman.

Tiger Woods failed to make a birdie for the first time since the opening round in 2003, although there was no reason to panic. His lone highlight was chipping in for eagle from 25 feet behind the 15th, the ball falling on the final turn that sent Woods into a fist-pumping crouch. It helped him salvage an even-par 72, putting him in a tie for 19th, four shots behind.

"I played a lot better than what my score indicates," said Woods, who has never shot better than 70 in the first round of the Masters. "I kept myself in the tournament. I'm right there."

But he was hardly alone.

Eighteen players broke par on a warm, gentle day that might be as good as it gets this week - receptive greens, only a trace of wind and several hole locations that allowed for birdies.

There were a few surprises, such as 51-year-old Mark O'Meara, who celebrated the 10-year anniversary of his green jacket with a 71. And among the familiar faces were Phil Mickelson, the '04 and '06 champion, who opened with an amazing birdie and settled for a 71.

There also was a familiar sound - a few of those Augusta roars - even if Woods did not hear them.

"The way the golf course plays now, you don't really shoot low rounds here anymore," Woods said. "You've just got to plod along. It's playing more of a US Open than it is a Masters. There was really one roar I heard all day, and that was Poulter's eagle. But other than that, it was really quiet."

Woods must not have been listening closely to a few familiar sounds on a warm, spring afternoon in golf's prettiest garden.

Mickelson was 60 feet over the first green in a walkway, his ball on pine straw. Using a putter, the ball scooted up the slope and rattled the pin before falling, turning bogey or worse into a birdie.

"It was at least a two-shot swing, possibly three," Mickelson said.

Defending champion Zach Johnson, hoping to prove last year was no fluke, could only shrug when his 45-foot birdie putt went up over a ridge and into the cup for a birdie on the fifth.

Poulter used an 8-iron from 169 yards on the 16th, watching the ball funnel down the slope and into the cup for an ace.

There was a big ovation again for Arnold Palmer, smacking his ceremonial tee shot so far that he never saw it land - but that was only because of soupy fog that caused a one-hour delay. More cheers followed Gary Player up the 18th fairway as the three-time Masters champion set a record by playing for the 51st time. He shot 83.

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