Scott begins defence with birdie

The Bolton News: Adam Scott birdied the opening hole at Augusta (AP) Adam Scott birdied the opening hole at Augusta (AP)

Adam Scott made an ideal start to the defence of his title as the 78th US Masters got under way in perfect conditions at Augusta National on Thursday.

Scott was fortunate to see his tee shot on the opening hole narrowly miss a deep fairway bunker, but made the most of his good fortune with a brilliant approach to within three feet of the hole.

The Australian duly holed out for a birdie to kickstart his campaign to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods as the only men to win back-to-back Masters titles.

In contrast, playing partner Matt Fitzpatrick got off to a nightmare start with a double-bogey six, the 19-year-old US Amateur champion from Sheffield driving into trees and then pitching over the green with his third shot.

Sweden's Jonas Blixt was setting the early pace on three under par after 12 holes, with former US Open champion Webb Simpson making birdies at the first three holes before a double-bogey at the fifth halted his charge.

Italy's Matteo Manassero, who has struggled for form since winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last year, was two under par after birdies on the second and third.

Pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy was in danger of dropping a shot on the first after spinning his approach back off the green, but almost holed his pitch and was left with a tap-in to save par.

Three hours earlier, Jack Nicklaus had been able to claim bragging rights after joining Gary Player and Arnold Palmer in getting the tournament under way.

The trio formerly known as golf's 'Big Three' - they have 13 Masters titles between them - continued their role as honorary starters by each hitting a tee shot on the par-four first hole.

And it was six-time champion Nicklaus, 74, who produced the longest drive by around two feet from 78-year-old fitness fanatic Player, with both players splitting the fairway on a hole ranked the second hardest on the course last year.

Palmer, who will undergo back surgery after the Masters, had also found the fairway with his drive, although the 84-year-old's effort was comfortably the shortest of the three.

Four-time champion Tiger Woods, missing the event for the first time following back surgery, wrote on Twitter: "It never gets old watching the honorary starters tee off. One of the oldest and best traditions in the game."

Fitzpatrick bounced back with a birdie on the par-five second, but Scott and McIlroy both missed out after finding the same bunker at the front of the green.

McIlroy made amends on the third to get to one under par, three behind Blixt who failed to convert a seven-foot eagle putt on the 13th but tapped in for his sixth birdie of the day.

The 29-year-old was two shots ahead of a chasing pack which featured veteran duo Fred Couples and Miguel Angel Jimenez, the 54-year-old Couples picking up shots on the fifth and eighth and 50-year-old Jimenez making birdies at the second and sixth.

The par-five 15th usually provides a good birdie opportunity but Blixt ran up a bogey six to drop back to three under and into a share of the lead with Jimenez and another veteran in Sandy Lyle.

Jimenez, the oldest winner in European Tour history, had picked up another shot on the seventh while 1988 Masters champion Lyle, 56, had birdied the second, third and fourth.

McIlroy and Scott were only a shot off the lead in a seven-strong group on two under, Scott having birdied the sixth and McIlroy the fifth.

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