AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — A pair of Masters rookies grabbed the early 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.
Sweden's Jonas Blixt and American Kevin Stadler 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 didn't include four-time winner Tiger Woods, out of the game until summer as he recovers from back surgery.
A player with plenty of experience, Miguel Angel Jimenez, was the leader on the course. The 50-year-old Spaniard, who has never won a major title, made the turn with a 4-under 32.
Scott pushed his score to 3 under with a birdie at the par-5 eighth hole, 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.
Also, Scott is attempting to grab the No. 1 spot in the world rankings for the first time in his career.
Two more veterans, Steve Stricker and Brandt Snedeker, also were at 3 under, while two-time major champion Rory McIlroy was lurking another shot back as he approached the turn.
Stadler is the part of the first father-son duo to play the Masters. His dad, Craig, was the 1982 champion, while Kevin earned a spot in the field with his first PGA Tour victory at Phoenix.
The Masters 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 the last 24 major championships have been divvied up among 21 winners.
Jason Day, Sergio Garcia and former Masters champion Zach Johnson are the only players from the top 10 who have won anywhere in the world this year. Only one of the past seven winners on the PGA Tour was ranked in the top 75.
"I think if you're outside the top 50 in the world this week, you've got a great chance," U.S. Open champion Justin Rose quipped.
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.
Even without Woods, the show goes on at a tournament that rarely fails to deliver plenty of drama.
"It's a huge loss," Scott said. "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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