Oosthuizen in hot pursuit of Westwood at Augusta

Apparently the after-dinner conversation at the Masters Champions Dinner between Gary Player and Nick Faldo suggested that Louis Oosthuizen was playing particularly well.

The 2010 Open champion delivered seven birdies by way of support of that contention in his opening round of the 2012 Masters at Augusta National and played his way to a four-under-par 68 to be one stroke off the lead together with Swede Peter Hanson.

World number three Lee Westwood turned in four-under, but he was unable to convert that start into a really low opening round as he bogeyed 10, recovered that shot on the 13th, and then played par golf all the way until a good birdie on 17 took him to five-under-par 67.

By way of contrast, Oosthuizen birdied 17 and 18 – and his birdie on the final hole was only the second of the day on the hole playing hardest of all on a course that seemed a little schizophrenic as it gave the players plenty of chances for birdie but snatched them back whenever they were off line from the tees.

“I hit a lot of fairways at the end,” said Oosthuizen, “and then I hit it pretty close and made a few putts. So it was a good round.”

But pre-tournament favourites Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson were particularly severely hit as they strayed too frequently from the tee.

Woods’ level-par 72 did not make him happy: “I hit some of the worst golf shots I’ve ever hit today,” Woods said after he hit just six of 14 fairways.

Mickelson hit just four of the first nine greens in regulation in his round of 74, and McIlroy must have thought his nightmare final round from last year’s Masters was starting up again as he made a double bogey six on the opening hole.

And then he pushed his tee-shot on 10 right – almost as if trying to compensate for the horrible snap-hook there last year that started his crash – but saved par. Bogeys on 11 and 13 saw him slip to one-over, but a big birdie on 17 saw him claw his way back to level and then another from the fringe at the back of 18 had him one-under 71.

Westwood hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation en route to equalling his career low at Augusta National. “My ball striking was very good. It has been all year,” he said.

Oosthuizen, a good friend of 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, finished third in last week’s Shell Houston Open after holding the 54-hole lead. And he was motivated by his friend’s victory: “I just tried to watch what Charl did. It needs a lot of patience out there,” he said.

Schwartzel himself had an up-and-down round for his level-par 72 – it included four birdies and four bogeys – but he was by no means out of contention.

He was joined at level-par by Rory Sabbatini, with Tim Clark on a satisfactory one-over-par 73. The 2008 champion Trevor Immelman had a poor six-over to start.

“I felt anything around 70, 71, I would be very happy,” said Oosthuizen.

“It feels good,” he said, when asked how it felt to hole that tricky putt on the last for a share of the lead. “I tried to just get perfect pace on it.”

It was the climax of a really good finish as he made four birdies in his final five holes, and bogeys on seven, 11 and 13 – where he hit his second into the water – were not enough to stop him from feeling satisfied with his day’s work. “I played solid after the fifth hole – I made a huge putt on the fifth for par and it got my round going,” he said.

“I came in this week with a lot of confidence,” he added. “I feel that I’m swinging it well and playing well. There’s a long way to go but it’s a good start.”

Clearly, Player and Faldo know a thing or two.

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