Eventful day at Augusta

By Charles Robinson
STAR STAFF
crobinson@starhq.com

   AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Pure vanilla. Those are the last two words you would use to describe Thursday's happenings at Augusta National Golf Course.
   Round 1 of the Masters saw the youngest player in the field finish at the top of the leaderboard, Tiger Woods struggle mightily with his game, Tom Watson deal with the saddest of news, Arnold Palmer draw the most rousing of support and the weather change from dry to wet, keeping 18 players from finishing their 18 holes.
   Twenty-three year-old Justin Rose contributed to the feel-good part of the round, who shot a 5-under 67 to grab a two-shot advantage over grizzled veteran Jay Haas and Chris DiMarco.
   Rose, who's trying to finish off a slow climb to the top -- he turned pro after a fourth-place finish in the 1998 British Open, then missed 21 straight cuts -- took a big step in his road to recovery with a fifth-place showing at last year's U.S. Open.
   He finished Thursday by sinking a 12-foot birdie putt.
   "There were times when you're thinking this is going to be a long, uphill struggle," Rose said. "But the last couple of seasons, I've recently enjoyed the situation I've been in. Hopefully, it's time to move onward and upward even more.
   "If you want to be one of the best players in the world, now is the time to start coming through."
   DiMarco, who played with Rose, stayed at the leader's heels, partly thanks to the shot of the day -- an ace on the par-3 sixth. The ball struck roughly two feet from the hole before going into the cup.
   "Just a perfect shot," DiMarco said.
   Haas, 50, had just one bogey in his round, a good start in his quest to become the oldest champion of a major event.
   Chris Riley and Darren Clarke were next on the leaderboard, each scoring a 70, with Colin Montgomerie, European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer and hometown favorite Charles Howell III another shot back.
   Due to the rain that invaded Augusta National, Woods was unable to get past the ninth hole. And it was just as well, because Tiger was languishing with a less-than-adequate 40, which included a double bogey on No. 5.
   However, the two-hour delay that followed didn't change Woods' luck. Through 14 holes, he was four over par when darkness chased him off the course without a single birdie on his card.
   Woods will be among 18 players who return at 8:45 a.m. today to finish the round.
   Carding a 76, Watson no doubt had a deeper issue on his mind. About two hours before he teed off, he learned that his long-time caddie, Bruce Edwards, had died in Florida of Lou Gehrig's disease, for which there is no known cure.
   At the end of his day, Watson spent some time sharing memories of Edwards. He remembered that Edwards, at last year's Masters, cried in the Augusta National parking lot after he missed the cut.
   "He thought that was going to be his last Masters," Watson said. "Of course, it was."
   On a much happier note, Arnold Palmer had his army out in full force as the 74-year-old golfer began his 50th and final Masters event.
   Although Palmer registered an 84, the cheers for him were bounfiful, reaching a fevered pitch when he nailed a 40-foot putt that climbed a steep slope and banged into the pin before falling into the cup.
   "I would have loved to have made the cut," Palmer said. "I may make it yet, (but) I'll have to quit after 9."
   Ernie Els was at 2-under through 17. Phil Mickelson was at 2 under until a double-bogey on No. 16 led to a day-ending 72.