Hoey and McGinley take to Augusta course


Debutants Paul McGinley and Michael Hoey have been getting their first taste of the unique experience that is the US Masters as the 66th staging got underway at Augusta, with Hoey enjoying the better start of the two.

British amateur champion Hoey, vying for the silver medal awarded to the top amateur, was first of the two Irish newcomers to take to the famous old Augusta National course but in a nervy opening took five at the par four first hole.

The 23-year-old from Belfast was just short of the green in two and failed to get up and down to save par.

But the up-and-coming Shandon Park golfer has since steadied the ship, carding a birdie at the next, the first of the par fives and considered one of the more accommodating holes of the notoriously difficult venue, before recording a confidence boosting par at the third.

In the following group, Paul McGinley, playing alongside Jesper Parnevik and Chris DiMarco, suffered an inauspicious introduction to Masters golf, bogeying both the opening holes to slip immediately to two over par.

Four Americans share the early lead on one under, with Scott Verplank, Scott Hoch, Kirk Triplett, and Jeff Sluman the only players on the course below par.

Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke, both Masters veterans, start their challenges later today.

Harrington, erratic of late, will hope to string together four good rounds and gets his challenge underway at 5.55 p.m. Irish time while Clarke, second at the Bellsouth Classic a fortnight ago, partners Phil Mickelson and Angel Cabrera at 6.30 p.m.

Earlier, three-time champion Sam Snead struck the ceremonial first shot, and an unfortunate spectator, at the par-four opening hole.

"Slammin"' Sam lived up to his name, flattening a spectator with the ceremonial opening drive but was still warmly applauded by the hundreds of spectators who lined both sides of the fairway.

The 89-year-old golf legend sliced the traditional first tee shot about 100 yards into a crowd near the scoreboard and struck a male spectator directly between the eyes, knocking the man flat onto his back.

Snead, a seven-time major champion, was quickly taken away in a motorcart. The injured spectator was taken to a nearby hut for treatment. No one had time to shout "Fore" before the shot, the first ceremonial shot in memory here to injure a fan.

Snead, who won the Masters in 1949, 1952 and 1954, then returned to the clubhouse, having paved the way for the 89-strong field to begin the first round of the tournament proper.

Defending champion Tiger Woods will be bidding to become the third back-to-back winner of the Masters after Jack Nicklaus in 1966 and Nick Faldo in 1990.

Meanwhile, America's Hal Sutton has withdrawn from the Masters, citing a pulled muscle on his right side.

The 43-year-old, whose lone major title came at the 1983 PGA Championship, pulled out just before he was to have teed off in the first round with England's Nick Faldo and compatriot Frank Lickliter.