Oz trio in front, but Tiger lurks

Daniel Gaunt, Alistair Presnell and Adam Bland lead round one at the Australian Masters – but Tiger Woods is on their heels.

Daniel Gaunt has joined fellow Australians Alistair Presnell and Adam Bland as the first round leaders at six-under 65 in the opening round of the Australian Masters at Victoria Golf Club in Melbourne.
But the event’s star attraction and defending champion, Tiger Woods, though four shots back after a 69, is playing some his best tee-to-green golf in a year and if a little tweaking can get his putting back to anything near what it used to be, he could still be a considerable threat to an Australian victory.
As it was on Thursday, though, Presnell and Bland, who travel and room together to save costs on the Nationwide Tour in the US, fired 65s in the morning to lead the way before Gaunt, a winner on the Challenge Tour in England earlier this year, joined them with a strong afternoon round.
Gaunt, the world number 225 went on a blitz through the middle of his round with five straight birdies around the turn from his seventh (the 16th) as well as another at the sixth (his 15th) could have taken him to an outright lead into the second round if he hadn’t missed a short putt at the last.
But being in the morning field on Friday, the 31-year-old is well-placed heading into his second round considering a substantial change in the weather is expected during the afternoon’s play.
In the meantime early-starter Presnell, out safely in 34, eagled the short, par-four first and then holed a hat-trick of birdie putts – all in the four-to-six metre range – at four, five and six to skip to seven under.
His one blemish, a bogey, came at his last, the par-five ninth, when he tugged his second shot left.
Bland’s bogey-free round started quietly enough but ended in a rush. After turning at one-under, the 28-year-old South Australian birdied five of the last six holes.
Seven players finished with four-under rounds of 67 to sit two off the pace in a share of fourth.
They were morning tee-offs Andre Stolz, Craig Hasthorpe, Luke Bleumink and Gareth Paddison along with afternoon trio of Steve Collins, Matthew Millar and Kurt Barnes.
Six players finished with 68s, while tournament favourite and title-holder Tiger Woods played impeccably from tee to green but failed to make it count with the putter to finish with a two-under 69.
The world number two dropped a shot early at his third hole but redressed the balance at the long par-five 17th.
He birdied the first, and picked up just one more shot at five in the run home.
“I hit it pretty good in China last week but not like this,” he said. “I gave myself a bunch of looks… for birdie.
“Every putt was just a little bit shy. I felt I was hitting them on all my lines but I wasn’t hitting them hard enough and they were dying in front of the lip.
“If I just could have holed a few more putts, it could been a really good round. It could have been easily four, five, six under… but I’m right there.”
Colombia’s Camilo Villegas was the next best of the vaunted ‘big five’ with an even par 71 after a birdie on 18, while Australia’s 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy was one over.
Two-time winner Robert Allenby was a further stroke back on two over after he mixed five birdies with seven bogeys while Spain’s Sergio Garcia slumped to four over before successive birdies on his closing two holes rescued his round and he also finished on two over.