AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - American Chad Campbell raised hopes of the lowest score at a major championship before a faltering finish earned a one-shot lead on seven-under-par 65 in the U.S. Masters first round on Thursday.
Nine under with two holes to play on a vulnerable Augusta National layout, Campbell bogeyed 17 and 18.
That put him a stroke in front of fellow Americans Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan, who bogeyed the last on a glorious spring day that contained hardly a breath of wind.
While four-times winner Tiger Woods began and ended poorly to shoot a 70 in the favorable conditions, Campbell led a glut of low scores on a course trimmed by 10 yards since last year.
With several tees pushed forward on a layout measuring 7,435 yards, the Texan set a Masters record by starting with five consecutive birdies.
Out in five-under 31, Campbell reeled off four birdies in a row from the 12th before finding a bunker with his approach on 17 and three-putting the 18th green.
A par-par finish would have earned the 34-year-old the 24th 63 recorded in a major.
“I got off on a roll and it’s always nice to make a couple of birdies to start, much less five,” a beaming Campbell told reporters.
“I felt like I was hitting it well all day. Unfortunately I ended up with two bogeys to finish but overall I‘m pretty happy with the round. By no means is it easy out there but if you hit good shots you really get rewarded.”
Former U.S. Open champion Furyk was also pleased after carding a flawless six-birdie 66 in the opening major of the season.
“I hit a lot of really good iron shots and kept the ball in play with my driver,” the former world number two said after shooting his lowest round at Augusta in his 13th appearance.
“I made enough putts but I hit a lot of really close shots on that back nine. I had two birdie putts inside three feet and I knocked it pretty close on 16.”
World number one Woods, bidding for his 15th major title, parred the first five holes before running up a bogey at the 180-yard sixth.
A superb approach to three feet set up his first birdie at the par-four ninth and he picked up further shots at 13, 14 and 15 before bogeying the last after overshooting the green with his approach.
“A score could have been had out there the way the guys were tearing the course apart,” said Woods.
“You could go get it. I just hung in there. I knew the back nine could be had.”
British Open champion Padraig Harrington opened with a 69, twice winner Phil Mickelson shot a 73 and South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen carded matching 75s.
Irishman Harrington, bidding for a rare third consecutive major victory, was satisfied with his position.
”I could have shot a couple better but that is kind of irrelevant when it comes to 72 holes,“ the 37-year-old said. ”We all know things will get a little tighter toward the end of the week.
“Today was definitely one of the more generous days ever around Augusta and you’ve got to feel it’s going to get a little bit tougher as we go on the next three days.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez