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Weather a factor in Augusta
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            AUGUSTA – Firm and fast.

            Those may have been the two most overused words during the first round of the 2007 Masters Tournament Thursday. With little rain recently, a dry Augusta National made for a difficult day, reflected by higher scores and slightly frustrated golfers. Only nine players finished below par.

            “It was tough,” said Augusta native Vaughn Taylor, who was tied for fifth at 1-under 71. “The greens are very firm and fast. You feel like you have a small bucket to land it in, and if you don’t, you’re going to have a tough putt or chip. You’ve got to shape your shots and really think your way around the course.”

            Gusty winds also wreaked havoc for the players, who struggled to adjust to the cool, dry and windy conditions.

            “You aren’t going to get a lot of rounds in the 60s in this wind,” said 1981 Masters champion Tom Watson. “It’s tough, especially with this northwest wind.”

            Sea Island’s Davis Love III, playing in the fifth group of the day, said he was fortunate to have an early tee time when the course was still damp with morning dew. He finished at even par.

            “This is probably the best we’re going to catch this course,” he said. “By the turn it had gotten a lot tougher. All the moisture was out of the course, and it certainly played harder. It was very tricky out there. Make a mistake on the wrong side of the hole, and you will pay the price. The course is drying out fast, and unless they water them the greens are going to get crusty.”

Ernie Els said Augusta National was as firm and fast as he’s seen in quite some time.

            “The fairways were firm, even the rough was pretty firm,” said Els, who finished at 6-over 78. “Everything was firm out there. If you mishit a shot today, you really paid the penalty.”

            2002 PGA Champion Rich Beem had one of the more impressive rounds of the day, carding a 1-under 71. Green speed, Beem said, was a large part of what made the course so tough Thursday.

            “These greens, you have to have perfect line and distance for the ball to go in,” Beem said. “Once you start factoring in some windy conditions, with these big slopes, it gets real interesting real quick.”

            Thursday’s frustration was perhaps most evident in defending champion Phil Mickelson, who struggled throughout the day and finished at 4-over 76. He bogeyed the first, fourth, sixth and seventh, double bogeyed the fifth and carded a 40 on the front nine. Mickelson, winner of two of the last three Masters, thinks he can make up ground today.

            “Even par is going to be in the hunt (today),” he said. “I didn’t drive it as well as I wanted to, but I got it done in the end. I’m more worried about the short putts I missed. (Today’s) goal is to shoot in the 60s, and I can get right back in it.”


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