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Woods launches Masters title defence

Written by: Staff

AUGUSTA, Georgia, Apr 6 (Reuters) Tiger Woods launched his US Masters title defence today by parring the first three holes, despite missing the fairway off the tee with his opening shot.

Chasing a fifth green jacket at Augusta National, the world number one pulled his drive into the left rough beside two pine trees but was able to punch out his second through to the back of the green.

In bright sunshine, American Woods two-putted for par from 40 feet.

The 10-times major winner reached the green in two at the 575-yard second but wasted a birdie chance by three-putting from 60 feet.

He then parred the third to stay level for the day.

Australia's Rod Pampling, who struck the opening tee shot of the tournament in the first group out, was the on-course leader at two under after 12 holes.

The 36-year-old, who tied for fifth on his Masters debut last year, birdied the par-four third and the par-four ninth to reach the turn in two-under 34.

ONE CLEAR Pampling then parred the next three holes to stay one stroke clear.

Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand and Americans Rich Beem and Ted Purdy were tied for second at one under.

Jimenez and Beem had completed nine holes, Campbell seven and Purdy one.

Of the other big names among the early starters, world number three Retief Goosen was at even par after five holes, level with 2003 champion Mike Weir, also after five, and 2000 winner Vijay Singh, after three.

In-form Phil Mickelson, winner of the 2004 Masters, was among the afternoon starters.

The American left-hander, who romped to a 13-stroke victory at the BellSouth Classic on Sunday, was scheduled to tee off at 1330 with South Africa's Ernie Els and Shingo Katayama of Japan.

Conditions are expected to remain dry for the rest of the day, with a mixture of sunshine and a few clouds in the afternoon.

Reuters PDS BD2222

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