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Rose grabs share of lead on a dull day at Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The cheers broke the morning calm at Augusta National when Arnold Palmer took a mighty swing at his ceremonial tee shot. For the next 11 hours Thursday, the Masters went mute.

Throw together a course that has grown 500 yards with brittle conditions, and there wasn't much to cheer.

Justin Rose was as proud of his 15 pars as his three birdies in a round of 69, which left him atop the leaderboard with Masters rookie Brett Wetterich. It was the highest score to lead the first round at the Masters in eight years.

Tiger Woods tossed away a solid round with bogeys on his final two holes for a 73. Phil Mickelson shot a 76, his worst start at the Masters in 10 years, and still was optimistic about winning another green jacket. Never mind that no one has ever won the Masters after opening with a score worse than 75.

Then again, this was not the Masters everyone has come to embrace the last several years. Birdies were rare. And the so-called "cathedral of golf" was every bit of that for one reason.

It was quiet.

"I was chatting with my caddie, and we were discussing how muted the atmosphere was," David Howell said. "But very pleasant."

Maybe it was pleasant for the nine players who managed to break par, a group that included Howell and David Toms at 70, and Rich Beem, Tim Clark, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson and Augusta resident Vaughn Taylor at 71.

It was a nightmare for the dozen players who couldn't break 80.

The average score was 76.187, highest in four years.

And it wasn't much fun for just about everyone else who finally saw what Augusta National looks like at 7,445 yards in super slick and dreadfully dry conditions.

"It's hard. And when you start playing defensively, it plays harder," Steve Stricker said after a 77. "It's one shot after another where you're up against it. You're nervous on every shot."

Rose hasn't played in five weeks while taking care of a sore back and put together the most remarkable round because it contained no bogeys. He hit a wedge to tap-in range at No. 3, holed a bunker shot on No. 5 and rolled in a 15-foot birdie from the fringe on No. 14.

"That's exciting to go bogey-free on any course on any day," Rose said. "But first round at Augusta on a day where obviously the scores are pretty high makes it a very pleasing round. Yeah, one that I'm very happy with, for sure."

Wetterich can't relate to any of this as an Augusta National rookie. His experience comes from practice rounds, especially one with south Florida neighbor Raymond Floyd, a two-time Masters champion.

"I thought it was a good test of golf out there," Wetterich said. "To me, they don't have to do any changes."

And then there was Toms, who last year said the Masters has so many rules that players "walk around on egg shells." If that had been the case Thursday, the sound would have been deafening.

Ernie Els opened with a double bogey, then took bogey on the par-5 second. He shot 42 on the front nine. U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy was some 50 yards in front of the green on No. 2 when he hit wedge long into a bunker, then hit that shot back toward the fairway, finally pitched up to about 8 feet and three-putted for an 8. He also took a double bogey on the par-3 12th, but still managed a 75.

"You feel like the course is going to get you somewhere," Ben Crenshaw said after a 76. "It doesn't matter who you are."

It got Mickelson just about everywhere.

Bidding to become only the fourth repeat winner at the Masters, he was even par through three holes and, after missing the green on the par-3 fourth, chipped to 4 feet. But he missed that putt, and it spiraled out of control from there. A muffed chip on the fifth led to double bogey, and he dropped shots on each of the next two holes.

Mickelson shot 40 on the front, and it got worse before it got better. Birdies on the 15th and 16th, and scrambling pars on the final two holes put him at 76.

"Even par is going to be in the hunt tomorrow," he said. "If I can go out there and shoot a solid 68, I'm in contention."

He made it sound so simple. The course was anything but that on Thursday, and it doesn't figure to get any easier. Along with a dry forecast, the temperatures are supposed to get much cooler.

And if that's the case, the course will only get faster.

"The golf course is winning right now," Billy Mayfair said after a 76. "I expect it will probably win this week."

Justin Rose hits to the eighth green Thursday in the first round of the Masters tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. - AP