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Woods grabs spotlight as Leishman takes lead

By Reuters - Apr 05,2018 - Last updated at Apr 05,2018

Tiger Woods of the United States plays an approach shot on the eighth hole during the first round of the 2018 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, on Thursday (AFP photo)

AUGUSTA, Georgia — Tiger Woods grabbed the spotlight but playing partner Marc Leishman snatched the early first-round lead at the US Masters on Thursday with a bogey-free front nine including three birdies.

When Woods teed off on a cool sunny day at Augusta National the other two members of his threesome, Australian Leishman and Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, were the invisible men as the massive galleries gathered round to catch a glimpse of just one player.

But as the trio made the turn, Leishman had caught everyone's attention by surging to the top of the leaderboard, one shot clear of Fijian Vijay Singh and Swede Henrik Stenson.

Leishman, who missed the 2015 Masters to be with his wife who was battling a life-threatening illness, was not rated among the favourites for the Green Jacket having missed the cut in three of his five previous visits to Augusta National.

But the Australian finished tied fourth in 2013 and once again showed he can navigate his way around one of the world's most famous and trickiest layouts.

The man of the moment, however, was Woods who was making an Augusta National homecoming of sorts in his first Masters since 2015.

Dressed entirely in black, Woods, bidding for a fifth Green Jacket, got his day off to a wobbly start when he sent his opening tee shot deep left into the pines but he was unrattled and recovered to make par.

Although Woods was playing his first Masters in three years the former world number one looked right at home, rolling in a 10-footer at the par-four third to collect his first birdie and draw a roar from the crowd.

But still on the comeback trail following spinal fusion surgery last April, Woods showed a touch of competitive rust by carding back-to-back bogeys at the fourth and fifth holes to reach the turn at one over par.

Fans were treated to a trip down Memory Lane not Magnolia Lane as Singh, the 2000 Masters champion, set the early pace with three birdies in his opening four holes.

The trip, however, was a quick one as the 55-year-old Fijian slipped back into the pack with bogeys at six and seven before getting one back with a birdie at the 11th.

The crowds will be in for a full day of drama, with many of the late starters also expected to mount Masters challenges.

Among them are Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, who is bidding to complete the career grand slam and join Woods, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen and Gary Player in that elite club.

The last group out could also shake up the leaderboard with world number one Dustin Johnson and Englishman Justin Rose, runner-up in two of the last three years, bringing the curtain down on day one.

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