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Just like old times, Lee Westwood again rides atop Masters leaderboard

Just like old times, Lee Westwood again rides atop Masters leaderboard

By Steve Elling | Senior Golf Columnist

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Longtime sideman Billy Foster took the lay of the land before the first round of the Masters on Thursday and sent his boss an urgent text message.

Tough pin placements, the caddie told his boss, world No. 3 Lee Westwood.

Of course, we're paraphrasing.

"He used slightly more flowery language than that, but we'll stick to 'tough,'" Westwood laughed.

They couldn't bury the flags deep enough in the corners to halt the attacking Westwood in the first round at Augusta National, where he matched his career low at the venue with a 5-under 67 to take a one-stroke lead.

Of course he did.

Of all the game's biggest stars, Westy was perhaps the biggest player who came in under the radar. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald had all won this season, and rising American Hunter Mahan had won twice.

Westwood, on the other hand, let a victory slip away in the final round at a European Tour event in the Middle East, and though he had played terrifically at times, particularly at the Honda Classic and Accenture Match Play, he hadn't won since last year.

"I played well today, and I've been playing well all year and I just tried to continue with that," the Englishman said. This is a golf course that I love playing. It seems to suit my game."

And they give you half a green suit if you win.

Westwood, who turns 39 on April 24, hit 16 greens in regulation and only missed two fairways. He reeled off four straight birdies on the front nine -- all after perfect shots to within 10 feet -- and unlike several other early leaders, didn't take a header coming home.

"But if you look at my stats this year, they have this proximity-to-the-hole stat and I'm fairly high up on that, and this is a second-shot golf course," Westwood said. "I figured if I drive the ball well, which I generally do, then I'm going to have a chance to get it close to flags and from there, it's just an issue of how many putts I hole."

With Westwood, that is usually the case.

Westwood held the 54-hole lead in 2010, but was out-dueled on the final day by Phil Mickelson, who won his third green jacket. Westwood finished second, another close call in a major for a player who has five finishes of T3 or better in majors since the start of 2009.

Westwood dropped 20 pounds in the offseason training regimen, and that should only help him in a week that could be long, and possible wet, for any front-runner.

"I've had a lot of top-threes, so I've obviously been there or thereabouts," he said. "I've done a lot of fitness work through winter and start of this year to strengthen up. This is a demanding golf course. There are a lot of hills out there. You're concentrating all the time. It's mentally draining and physically draining.

"So both, both should help me as the week goes on."

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