Thursday, November 11, 2010

Woods Trails Australian Masters Leaders by 4 as Putts Fall Short

Tiger Woods opened his Australian Masters title defense with a 2-under par first round that leaves him four shots behind the three leaders.

Woods, the world's No. 2-ranked golfer, recovered from an early bogey at the Victoria Golf Club to hit three birdies at the 6,886-yard (6,297 meter) course in Melbourne. He said his putting let him down after he missed just two fairways.

"That was probably the highest score I could have shot today," Woods told reporters. "I didn't make anything. I kept leaving every putt short, my speed was just slightly off, not hard enough."

Woods, 34, hasn't won since his two-shot victory at nearby Kingston Heath 12 months ago and faces the prospect of ending 2010 without a title to his name. His best finishes were at the Masters Tournament and U.S. Open, where he tied for fourth.

Less than two weeks after winning the 2009 Australian Masters, Woods crashed into a fire hydrant outside his Florida home. The single-car accident led to an admission by the 14-time major champion that he repeatedly cheated on his wife, causing the eventual end of his marriage to Elin Nordegren.

He lost sponsors including Accenture Plc, AT&T Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co.'s Gillette razors, while his record five- year run atop the Official World Golf Ranking ended last week when England's Lee Westwood took over as No. 1.

Woods entered today's opening round as the bookmakers' favorite for the tournament, which also features seven-time U.S. PGA Tour winner Sergio Garcia of Spain, 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy and fellow Australian Robert Allenby, who are 1- over and 2-over, respectively. Garcia hit three bogeys and a double bogey in a 2-over-par 73.

Early Start

After teeing off at 7.27 a.m. from the 10th hole, Woods took 19 putts on his first nine holes and needed to sink a 7- foot putt for par on the final hole to avoid his second bogey.

While he left several putts short, Woods said his ball- striking was the best in an opening round since deciding in August to remodel his swing with the help of coach Sean Foley.

"I certainly have not hit the ball like this first round," he said. "I've played better on stretches for six, seven, eight holes, but nothing like this for the entire day. I really hit it good."

Australians Adam Bland and Alistair Presnell, who have shared rooms on the second-tier Nationwide Tour in the U.S. for the past two years, are tied atop the leaderboard with countryman Daniel Gaunt after 6-under-par rounds of 65.

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