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Rediff.com  » Sports » Jeev has flying start at Masters

Jeev has flying start at Masters

April 11, 2008 10:11 IST

India's Jeev Milkha Singh buried the ghost of his past at the Masters Tournament with a solid one-under-par 71 at Augusta National on Thursday.

The 2006 Asian Tour number one birdied all the par fives on a sun-kissed day at the year's opening Major and was especially delighted with his par on the opening par four, 455-yard hole.

China's Liang Wen-chong, meanwhile, endured a tough Masters debut when he signed for a 76, lamenting poor driving which often left him amongst the pine trees at Augusta National that led to six bogeys.

In his Masters debut last year, Singh ended his campaign in a creditable tied 37th place but left with a bitter taste in his mouth after a final day 79 that included an ugly quadruple bogey eight on the first hole.

"Oh yes," beamed Singh when asked if he was delighted with his start.

"I drove the ball really well and hit it at the right places. I made a few mistakes but I think you're allowed a few on this course. I'm pretty pleased with my round. I birdied all the par fives and had a few chances. The greens are tough and you can't be too aggressive out there. I left a few short but I'm happy with one under par.

"It's the best score in five rounds for me here at Augusta National. Under par on this course is always good. I'll try to do the same tomorrow and maintain my process and routine."

The tenacious Singh, three shots off the early first round lead, was staring at a bogey but drained a 12-foot putt for par on the opening hole to launch his campaign on a strong note. He had vowed to get the better of the hole which brought him down on his knees 12 months ago.

"It was a good par. I holed a 12 foot putt so that got me going," said Singh, who outscored playing partners, reigning British Open champion Padraig Harrington and 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir by three and two shots respectively.

With the course drying out after a one-hour fog delay, Singh said he was always cautious on the devilish greens.

"The course was playing different from the practice rounds. The greens were quicker and firmer but we'd expected that. The course is in excellent condition," said Singh.

Singh said that when he received the Masters invitation in January, it gave him a huge confidence boost which resulted in two runner-up finishes in Indonesia and Korea.

"When you get invited to one of the best Majors in the world, you get a jump start. I am happy to be here and I did play well after getting the invite. Things fell into place and I had two seconds, which I should have won. But I'm here now and that's in the past and I aim to make the most from this," he said.

Liang felt the might of the 7,445-yard Augusta National course as he pencilled two birdies and six bogeys on his card.

"I definitely felt the challenge that it provided. I think I can do better. My driver wasn't good as I kept hitting it left and right. On the short putts, I didn't stroke them solidly enough. I could see the lines but didn't give it enough," said the 2007 Asian Tour's Order of Merit champion.

The 29-year-old, one of three Asian Tour players invited to the Masters, said he was calm on the first tee despite being at his first Masters but sent his drive into the fairway bunker which led to a bogey.

He birdied the par-five second hole after finding the green in two but three putt bogeys on the third and sixth hole took away the momentum that he was hoping to build upon. Three more bogeys on the back nine against another birdie on the par five 15 saw him sign matching halves of 38s.

"I didn't feel any different on the first tee shot. I treated it like any other tournament. However, there was such a big crowd on the golf course and I was always concerned of hitting stray shots into the crowds. My playing partner Rory Sabbatini hit a spectator on the ninth green and it shocked me a little bit," he said.

Liang believes he can still play his way into the weekend rounds and become the first Chinese to do so.

"I will try harder tomorrow, I think I can do better on this course," said Liang.

"Golf requires a solid foundation and on a course like this, it will test your skills and it showed that I still need improvements."

He also hoped that his presence at the prestigious Masters will spur young Chinese kids to learn the game and become world beaters. "I'm sure a lot of people back home are watching the Masters on TV as golf is a growing sport back home.

"The media now covers golf and everyone can watch the Masters. I hope I can be the role model and I'm sure the younger generation can do better as they have better resources and facilities behind them now. I started playing when I was 15 but the kids now are learning the game at a much younger age," he said.