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Poulter wows the crowd, eagles few and far between
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    Without a doubt, the loudest roar of Thursday’s opening round of the Masters rose from the 16th hole, where England’s Ian Poulter wowed the crowd with a hole-in-one — the first on No. 16 since 2005.
    Poulter opted for an 8-iron on the 170-yard par-3 with an all-water fairway, and the cheers bouncing through the pines were the unmistakable approval reserved for elusive eagles.
    “Unbelievable buzz,” said Poulter, who knew it was going to be a good shot as soon as it left his club. “It was a special moment, and the hairs on the back of (my) neck were standing up. It was great.”
    His shot broke the silence of a relatively quiet day at Augusta National, which prompted the world’s best golfer to say the course is playing more like the U.S. Open.
    “There are really no roars out there because you can’t — it’s hard to make the eagles and the big birdies,” said Tiger Woods, one of just three golfers to card an Eagle Thursday. “The golf course is playing so much more difficult now being longer, and it has dried out this week. As the week has gone on, it’s gotten drier, and it’s going to get more that way towards Sunday.”
    On the 13th hole, Boo Weekley treated Augusta National patrons to the only other eagle of the day. Woods’ shot came on the par-5 15th.
    “It was a pretty easy little pitch,” Woods said. “It was straight uphill. The ball was sitting up. It was pretty soft underneath.”

ESPN’s early round coverage
    For the first time, ESPN is televising the first two rounds of this year’s tournament, including Wednesday’s Par-3 Contest. Augusta National was drawn to the network because of its household name and international reach but was cautious before inking the deal.
    “I think you will discover that ESPN will be very respectful of the tradition of the Masters,” club chairman Billy Payne said. “We have discussed at length how we would like for them to portray the Masters. “We are very much comfortable with their talent, their capability.”

The young ones
    Twenty-one players under the age of 30 are competing in this year’s Masters, and all of them are gunning for their first major championship. The youngest of the clan is 20-year-old Drew Weaver, the British Amateur champ who attends Virginia Tech.
Notes: The start of Thursday’s opening round was delayed for an hour because of heavy fog. … Former Georgia Southern golfer Buddy Alexander was prominently featured in Thursday’s Augusta Chronicle in a large photograph showing him laughing with Woods on the practice putting green. Alexander, a two-time All-American and a former U.S. Amateur champion, is currently the golf coach at the University of Florida. … Georgia athletic director Damon Evans was spotted strolling around the course Thursday. The Georgia Southern football team opens the 2008 season at Georgia on Aug. 30.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.