AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — A trio of Masters rookies shared the early clubhouse lead at Augusta National on Thursday, while defending champion Adam Scott was off to a strong start in his quest to keep the green jacket despite a stumble in Amen Corner.
Americans Jimmy Walker and Kevin Stadler and Sweden's Jonas Blixt opened with 2-under-par 70s, making their way around the course just fine despite this being their Masters debut. They are among a record two dozen rookies in the field, which doesn't include four-time winner Tiger Woods, out of the game until summer as he recovers from back surgery.
Gary Woodland of the U.S. and K.J. Choi of South Korea also opened with 70s.
"I kept it in play and hit a bunch of greens and kept away from the three-putts, so it was a good thing," Stadler said.
Stadler is part of the first father-son duo to play the Masters together. His dad, Craig, was the 1982 champion, while Kevin earned a spot in the field with his first PGA Tour victory at Phoenix.
The elder Stadler didn't fare nearly as well as his son. Craig opened with an 82 in what he has said will likely be his farewell as a Masters competitor.
"I played like a moron," Craig Stadler said.
The 35-year-old Walker is having a breakout year on the PGA Tour, picking up the first three victories of his career. He kept up his strong play at Augusta, where ripped off a run of four straight birdies starting at the 14th.
Scott pushed his score to 4 under with a birdie at the 10th, showing early on that he has the game to make a run at being the first back-to-back Masters champion since Woods in 2001 and 2002. Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo are the only other repeat champions in the tournament's 81-year history.
The first major flub for Scott came at the par-3 12th, a tiny little hole in Amen Corner that caused big trouble for a number of players. He took a double-bogey, knocking him down the leaderboard a bit.
But Scott bounced back with a birdie at the 14th and was tied for the lead among those still on the course, even with Bill Haas, Brandt Snedeker and Louis Oosthuizen at 3 under.
If Scott finishes no worse than a tie for third place, he will take over the No. 1 spot in the world rankings for the first time in his career.
What he really wants is another green jacket.
Among those with afternoon tee times: Phil Mickelson, attempting to join Woods and Palmer with a fourth green jacket, and 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson.
The tournament began early Thursday with three shots right down the middle of the fairway.
Just not terribly far.
Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player hit the ceremonial tee shots with fans already lining both sides of the first fairway on a brisk, sunny morning. Still competitive even after all these years, Nicklaus went last and hit a drive that went about a yard past Player's shot.
"But it's not bad when you think he used to outdrive me by 50," Player quipped.
The "Big Three" combined to win 13 green jackets, including seven in a row at the start of the 1960s.
This Masters is far less predictable. Without Woods or a dominant figure, it's seen as the most wide-open tournament in years.
A bunch of brash Augusta rookies are eager to fill Woods' shoes, and they're well aware that the last 24 major championships have been divvied up among 21 winners.
"It's a huge loss," Scott said of Woods' absence. "But, as every year here, this event produces something special no matter what. It just has a way of doing it. It's not going to involve Tiger this year, but it will involve someone else and it will be a memorable event anyway."
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