Love back on top of game

By Charles I. Robinson

   AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Let Love rule.
   That was the theme of the day on Thursday as round one of the Masters saw Davis Love III shoot an unpredictable 5-under 67 and grab a one-shot lead at Augusta National Golf Course.
   "All I had to do was eliminate the silly mistakes," said Love, a two-time Masters runner-up. "I'm not shocked the way I played today. I'm shocked the way I played the last two weeks."
   You couldn't tell that Love, a player who generally makes his presence felt at the start of each PGA season, actually failed to make the cut in the last two tournaments and has yet to finish above 16th place this year.
   He made his best-ever showing in the opening round of a Masters. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the longer, more demanding Augusta National tormented the legendary Arnold Palmer to the point of no return.
   After carding an 89, tying his worst score in the event, the 72-year-old Palmer will play his 147th and final Masters round today.
   Palmer is calling it quits.
   "I just think it's time," Palmer said. "My golf has been pretty lousy of late, and it doesn't warrant being here playing."
   Despite Palmer ending his day with a par on No. 18, it was painfully evident that he could no longer combat the challenges of such a difficult course.
   "I'm not any different than most people," Palmer said. "I like to think there's always a couple more good rounds in my body, and maybe there are. But I haven't shown up here."
   It figures to be a touching goodbye for Palmer, whose aggressive play and "Arnie's Army" first forged their way onto the national scene at Augusta.
   While one of the old breed gets set to move on, the new breed keeps trying.
   Sergio Garcia used three straight birdies to pull even with Love atop the leaderboard, then missed a three-foot putt for par on the 18th. Garcia is tied with Argentina's Angel Cabrera at 68.
   Trying to finally win his first major, Phil Mickelson finished the day with a promising 69. He made up for missing a couple of close putts by pitching in a 160-foot birdie on No. 11.
   Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington also tallied 69s, while defending champion Tiger Woods was three shots back with a scrappy 2-under 70.
   "The way the golf course is playing, 70 is a lot better score than it would have been last year," Woods said. "Even par or better today is going to be a good round.
   "I just wanted to shoot even par or better. It's not one of those golf courses where you can just turn it on. You've got to keep plugging."
   Overall scoring standards took a slight dip as the field produced an average score of 74.118 -- an extra stroke compared to last year's opening round.
   Seven players failed to break 80.
   "The soft greens definitely helped," Love said.