Poulter aces hole, Woods hanging around on day 1 of Masters

;AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – Justin Rose has the first round of the Masters down pat.

It’s the rest of the tournament he must master.

On a warm, sunny opening day that featured Ian Poulter’s hole-in-one, a solid start to Zach Johnson’s title defense and Tiger Woods plodding around the course, Rose shot a 4-under 68 that put him atop the leaderboard.

Sound familiar? It should.

In 2004, the Englishman led after the first and second rounds but faded to a tie for 22nd. Returning to Augusta last year, Rose surged to the front again with a 69 on Thursday, but didn’t come close to matching that score the rest of the weekend, settling for a fifth-place tie three strokes behind Johnson.

On Thursday, he got off to another quick start.

“I’ve learned you can’t count your chickens too early,” said Rose, who won the Order of Merit as the top golfer on the European Tour in 2007. “Obviously, the first round has been great to me here.”

Rose actually struggled in the beginning, with bogeys on two of the first four holes. But he played the rest of the round at 6 under, surging past early clubhouse leaders Poulter and Robert Karlsson, who posted 70s.

“Eventually you’ve got to say, ‘OK, it’s time to step up,’ ” the 27-year-old Rose said. “But I’m not putting too much pressure on myself. I’m just coming into my prime, I feel. I’ve got 10 to 15 good years in front of me.”

Woods plodded through the first 12 holes with nothing but pars. He was on the ropes a bit with two straight bogeys, but quickly pulled himself up with a chip-in from just off the green at No. 15, bringing out his first fist pump of the tournament.

Of course, it’s early. No matter what happens in the opening round, Woods likely will remain the overwhelming favorite to win his fifth green jacket – the starting point for an unprecedented Grand Slam.

“I feel good about how I played all day,” Woods said after signing for a 72. “I feel good about how I played all day. I hit it really well. I hit a lot of good putts that just didn’t go in. I’ve just got to stay patient out there and hopefully it will turn.”

Johnson, a low-key guy from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, came into the week as little more than an afterthought to Woods, despite an improbable win last year.

Johnson’s victory was viewed as a fluke of the weather. Cold, blustery conditions made it possible for him to play it safe and claim the green jacket with a 1-over 289, tied for highest winning scorer in Masters history.

Still, he’s the only player in the field with a chance to win back-to-back titles, a feat accomplished by only three other golfers. His defense started with a 70.

“All in all, a pretty good solid round,” said Johnson, who shot 35 on the front side and matched it on the back. “I’m very, very honored to be the defending champion.”