Rose, Wetterich shoot 69, takes lead

Thursday, April 05, 2007
By Adam Van Brimmer
Morris News Service

Justin Rose will forever be remembered as the 17-year-old amateur who contended at the 1998 British Open.

His Masters Tournament career is memorable as well, albeit for a failure rather than a success. A third-round 81 dropped him from the lead to 20th place in the 2004 Masters.

But the Englishman is 18 holes closer to replacing those sad memories with happy ones after shooting a 3-under-par 69 Thursday in the opening round of the 2007 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

Don't count on him forgetting that 81, though, a round he called a valuable lesson he applied Thursday.

"I think experience is generally what makes players better and better as they go throughout their career," Rose said. "It was a very positive (experience) as I look back at it. Sometimes you learn more from situations that go badly than when things go well."

Rose is tied for the lead with Masters rookie Brett Wetterich heading into Friday's second round.

The duo are a shot clear of David Howell and David Toms and two shots in front of an five-player group that includes Tim Clark, the 2006 Masters runner-up, Augusta native Vaughn Taylor and 2002 PGA Championship winner Rich Beem.

A steady breeze and firm conditions kept scores low on the Masters' opening day. The leaders were the golfers best on and around the greens. Rose, for example, hit just five greens in his round yet needed only 20 putts. His short game play included a hole out from the bunker at No. 5.

"Certainly my short game was unbelievable and that is why I managed to shoot such a good score and play a bogey-free round," Rose said. "I put myself in spots where yo could up and down the ball. My course management was good enough I was no short-siding myself in impossible positions where you can't get the ball up and down."

The tourney favorites fared poorly because of course management. Defending champion Phil Mickelson sprayed drives left and right of the fairway and missed a handful of putts under 10 feet to finish with a 4-over-par 76, equaling his worst round ever at the Masters.

"There are birdies out there to be had," Mickelson said. "But you have to make the short putts."

Four-time winner Tiger Woods graced the leaderboard briefly late in his round. He birdied the par-5 15th hole to get to 1-under for his round only to bogey Nos. 17 and 18.

"I need to get organized," Woods said. "I just threw away a good round of golf by bogeying the last two holes."

And Vijay Singh, the 2000 Masters winner, wasn't even the top player by that name. Jeev Milkha Singh, a rookie and the first golfer born in India to play in the Masters, shot an even-par 72, one stroke better than Vijay.

Rose and Wetterich filled the favorite void Thursday, with most patrons reminiscing about Rose's British Open run. He finished tied for fourth in the 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale, two shots behind winner Mark O'Meara.

Wetterich grabbed public attention more recently. The former Nationwide Tour veteran broke through last year by winning the Byron Nelson Championship and posted two top-10 finishes last month in Florida.

He was the runner-up to Tiger Woods at the World Golf Championships-CA Championship at Doral two weeks ago.

The Doral duel with Woods gave Wetterich confidence coming to Augusta.

"It's nice to know you can go head-to-head playing with the best player in the world," he said. "I know he wasn't playing his best golf that day, but it's still nice to know I didn't shoot myself in the foot and drop seven shots and come in 10th."

Wetterich finished strong Thursday. He made three birdies and a bogey on his second nine to shoot 34 and pull into a tie with Rose.

Wetterich remains cautiously optimistic about the rest of the tournament, though, a feeling echoed by the rest of players on the leaderboard.

"It's nice to shoot 3-under and see your name at the top of the leaderboard, but it's only Thursday," Wetterich said. "An awful lot can happen in the next day and the next two days after that."

Reach reporter Adam Van Brimmer at adam.vanbrimmer@morris.com or 404-589-8424.