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Published: 4/9/2004

Rose colored glasses

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Justin Rose took advantage of an early tee time to shoot 67 and lead by two shots. Justin Rose took advantage of an early tee time to shoot 67 and lead by two shots.
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - Young Justin Rose saw Augusta National Golf Club the way he d always imagined it yesterday.

“It was a joy to be out there,” said the South African native who resides in England. “Not like last year, which was such a shame, trudging through mud and all that sort of stuff.”

Well, yes and no.

Rose parlayed an early tee time into a 5-under-par 67 before the most serious of the rain came, before lightning caused a mid-afternoon delay of more than two hours and before the first round of the Masters was suspended by darkness at 7:45 p.m.

Rose owns a two-shot lead over Chris DiMarco, who became the first Masters competitor in more than three decades to ace the sixth hole, and 50-year-old Jay Haas. Darren Clarke and Chris Riley were in the clubhouse another shot behind after 2-under 70s, while Ernie Els and Alex Cejka were on the course at 2-under with one hole to go when play was halted.

Eighteen players - including Tiger Woods, who was 4-over after 14 holes - failed to complete the first round of the year s first major championship and will return to the course early this morning to finish up before starting their second rounds.

Woods again struggled off the tee, with many of his shots being errant to the right. But it was a short iron shot that flew the fifth green and caromed down a knoll and into the woods, resulting in a double-bogey 6, which really soured his round.

Phil Mickelson also had a sloppy double en route to an even-par 72 start. The par-3 16th was again a nemesis for the lefty with his tee shot landing in the fringe on the back of the green. Because of the tremendous undulation and break, his putting line was along the fringe and the ball, on his first attempt, stopped rolling even before dribbling onto the green. It took three more putts for him to find the cup.

Defending champion Mike Weir double-bogeyed the par-5 15th just before play was stopped, hitting his second shot into the water and later missing a short putt. Like Woods, he was 4-over and nine shots behind the leader.

Rose jumped right into his round, sinking a 25-foot birdie putt on the first hole and two-putting from 40 feet for a birdie on the par-5 second.

“It was a dream start,” he said. “It got me into the tournament right from the start.”

His pro career was another story.

In 1998, as an amateur, he pitched in on the last hole to tie for fourth in the British Open at Royal Birkdale. He turned professional the next day, a couple weeks before his 18th birthday, and struggled mightily over the next several years.

Rose broke through with four international wins in 2002 and tied for fifth at last year s U.S. Open.

He thinks his development as a player has justified his decision to turn pro at such a tender age.

“I m 23, I ve been through a lot of great experiences and won four times, have my U.S. and European tour cards, so I feel very comfortable with the position I m in,” he said. “Sure, there were times I kept thinking what a long, uphill struggle it was. But I ve really enjoyed the past two seasons. I ve been in the top 50 in the world for most of that time, so I feel like I m at the right end of the game.”

The end of his game yesterday was the same as his start as Rose finished birdie-birdie.

Earlier, he hit a perfect shot to within four feet of the flag at the par-3 sixth, a 198-yarder with a tough pin position atop a ridge: “I was pretty proud of myself.”

But his playing partner, DiMarco, stepped up next and knocked his 5-iron tee shot right into the cup.

“Sometimes a hole in one is pure luck,” Rose said. “Not that one. It was right on the stick all the way.”

How unusual is an ace at No. 6? The last player to accomplish it during tournament play was Charles Coody in 1972.

“When the fairways are firm, I can compete here,” said DiMarco, who added a birdie at the par-5 15th for his 69. “When it s not getting any roll, this course is really too long for me.”

Contact Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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