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Singh on song with 67 at Augusta

Written by: Staff

AUGUSTA, Georgia, Apr 6 (Reuters) Former winner Vijay Singh rattled up four birdies in five holes to set the early pace in the US Masters first round today while holder Tiger Woods ground out a level-par 72.

Champion in 2000, Fijian Singh picked up shots at the 11th, 13th, 14th and 15th for an opening 67 in difficult conditions at a sun-baked Augusta National.

That left him one ahead of American Rocco Mediate, who birdied the same stretch of holes in a blemish-free display.

Another American, Arron Oberholser, opened with a 69 to finish a stroke better than world number three Retief Goosen and fellow South African Tim Clark.

Mediate, a five-times winner on the PGA Tour, was delighted to be back at a challenging venue where he feels comfortable.

''It was fun, I had a blast today,'' a smiling Mediate told reporters. ''I putted better today than I may ever have putted here.

''The greens were very fast but they're excellent, as always.

The years that I've played here have helped me. If I missed it today, it was where I could still play a second shot to the green.

''It's firm out there and the ball is running. I think the golf course is harder for the longer hitter right now because there's so much trouble out there.'' World number one Woods moved to one under by spectacularly holing out from the fairway for an eagle-two at the par-four 14th.

However, he then ran up a double-bogey seven on 15 before finishing in style with a birdie-three at the last.

DUVAL SLUMPS Of the other big names in the first major of the year, 2003 champion Mike Weir opened with a 71 while former world number one David Duval slumped to an 84, his worst round at Augusta.

Left-hander Phil Mickelson, the 2004 champion, was at even par after seven holes, level with playing partner Ernie Els.

Twice winner Ben Crenshaw, who has not made the cut at the Masters since 1997, produced a superb display of chipping and putting to return a 71.

''There were a few miracles out there,'' the 54-year-old Texan said after mixing four birdies with three bogeys.

''It's quite a test and one hard course. It's one difficult hole after another. You must hit a long ball here.

''This is definitely a young man's course,'' added Crenshaw, Masters champion in 1984 and 1995.

''That's where we are with the game right now. We're lengthening courses all over the globe.'' Augusta National has been stretched to 7,445 yards since last year's tournament, making it the second longest course in major championship history.

Reuters PG VP0155

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