Rose makes long wait worthwhile as Harrington, Clarke struggle

Joint overnight leader Justin Rose had a long wait before resuming the Masters today – but a better idea of how to handle it.

Joint overnight leader Justin Rose had a long wait before resuming the Masters today – but a better idea of how to handle it.

Three years ago, on his last visit to Augusta, the 26-year-old was the halfway pacesetter and then, having struggled to get the pressure of the situation out of his brain, crumbled to a Saturday 81.

“You’ve got to find ways to fill your day up until your tee time,” said Rose, whose opening three under par 69 was matched only by Masters rookie Brett Wetterich on a tough day when the average score was over 76.

Purely through the luck – or perhaps the bad luck – of the draw Rose was the last player back into action at just before 2.15pm local time this afternoon.

“I’ll probably watch a little bit of ’Little Britain’ and ’Ali G’ dvds, just stuff to occupy your mind,” he added.

“It’s good. I have a lot of family around me this year, a lot of friends in town. It’s a lot easier just to have some fun and hang out – it should be no problem.”

Incredibly, Rose hit only five greens in regulation yesterday, but used his putter on them only 20 times.

It was a simply inspired performance from someone who did not have their place in the event confirmed until Monday last week and who spent the whole of March wondering if he would be fit enough to participate.

“I was a little worried definitely,” said the Englishman, who because of a herniated disc problem in his back is playing his first tournament for six weeks.

“I’ve worked very hard on my fitness and my rehab. I’m just sort of cautious of making sure I’m fully warmed up by the time I get to the practice range and stretch a little bit more than I normally would.

“You might see me out there learning back into extension. I’m just really trying to keep myself moving.”

He was the only player to get through the opening day without a bogey and his birdies came when he wedge to two feet at the third, sank a bunker shot on the 455-yard fifth and holed a 14-footer from the fringe at the 14th.

Less than 18 months ago Wetterich was at the US Tour qualifying school, but since then he has won his first title, made the Ryder Cup and only two weeks ago was runner-up to Tiger Woods at the CA world championship.

While Woods bogeyed the last two holes for a 73, Rose’s compatriot David Howell conjured up the only eagle at the 530-yard 15th to sit alongside David Toms in third place on 70.

“I went with a three-iron, which my caddie thought was barely enough (to get over the lake), and he was right. It landed one foot short of the green and it looked like it nearly went in.”

Howell was asked if the caddie had actually thought it the wrong club. “You’d have to ask him, but he said I sounded strangely confident for some reason, so he let me go with it.”

Two years ago the Swindon golfer was in the hunt and paired with Woods in the third round. He managed only a 76 against the world number one’s brilliant 65.

“It was pretty difficult circumstances the first time in a major with Tiger. I was disappointed with the way I handled the situation, but it’s all experience and hopefully I can use that this week.”

Howell’s delight at his start was all the more because he has not had a top 20 finish all season.

“I didn’t come in with a lot of confidence. I was a little nervy on the first tee wondering how the day was going to go.” He double-bogeyed the short fourth, but battled back superbly to put himself into the hunt to become Europe’s first major winner since Paul Lawrie in 1999.

Although four back, Woods is still the big danger to that, of course. And when thoroughly annoyed by his finish the four-time champion, seeking a third successive major and 13th in all, will not have forgotten that he overcame a seven-shot first day deficit two years ago to beat Chris DiMarco in a play-off.

Henrik Stenson is only three behind Rose and Wetterich and Luke Donald is alongside Woods, but the other Europeans needed to repair some damage today.

Ian Poulter and debutants Kenneth Ferrie and Bradley Dredge had 75s, while Colin Montgomerie and his fellow Scot Richie Ramsay, the US Amateur champion, shot 76.

Padraig Harrington hit a wedge into the water for a triple bogey eight at the 15th en route to a 77, Lee Westwood had eight on the 13th in his 79, a score matched by Paul Casey playing with Woods and by Sandy Lyle.

They all returned hoping they might still make the cut, but surely heading out are Darren Clarke after his worst-ever 83 – Harrington and Westwood have not scored higher on the course either – and Seve Ballesteros after his worst-ever 86.

And already out is Ian Woosnam, who withdrew before teeing off because of a bad back.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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