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Inspired Nicklaus Plays as if He's 46 : Golf: At 53, he shoots a five-under-par 67 to share lead with four others. Kite plays through back pain and shoots 73.


AUGUSTA, Ga. — When Jack Nicklaus got to the first tee Thursday in the Masters tournament, he was told that Arnold Palmer had birdied the first three holes.

"That relaxed me a little bit and got me off to a positive frame of mind," Nicklaus said. "I couldn't let Arnold be low senior."

So Nicklaus shot a five-under-par 67 and wound up sharing the first-round lead with Corey Pavin, Lee Janzen, Tom Lehman and Larry Mize.

Palmer? He couldn't keep up his birdie pace. He bogeyed five of the next six holes for a 38 on the front nine and finished with a 74.

Nicklaus, 53, who hasn't won on the regular tour since the Masters of 1986, was rejuvenated on a warm day at the Augusta National Golf Club.

But then, the Masters usually brings out the best in Nicklaus, who has won the tournament a record six times.

Nicklaus' game deserted him last year. He missed cuts on the PGA Tour and didn't win a Senior event.

When he visited the interview room Wednesday, there was only a small gathering of reporters. But he packed the room Thursday.

He got a birdie on the first hole, a par-four of 400 yards, then recorded hree more birdies, a bogey and an eagle on the 500-yard 15th hole.

That was part of the drama of the first round of the Masters. There was also the question of whether Tom Kite could play.

Kite, the U.S. Open champion, suffered a severe back spasm on Tuesday at the driving range. He has spent long hours in the Centinela fitness van, undergoing therapy.

On the driving range before his round, he had his caddie tee the ball for him.

Nonetheless, he teed up his own ball on the first hole early in the afternoon and drove it crisply down the fairway. He finished with a 73, one over par, and grateful that he was able to play 18 holes.

The leader board was crowded Thursday, but some renowned players were not on it.

Fred Couples, the defending Masters champion, shot a par 72. Davis Love III had a 73 and Greg Norman, Payne Stewart, Seve Ballesteros and Ben Crenshaw each had a 74.

But two former Masters champions, Raymond Floyd and Bernhard Langer, were very much in contention, with 68s. Nick Faldo, who won the Masters in 1989 and 1990, was one under at 71. So was two-time winner Tom Watson, who birdied the last five holes after a triple-bogey eight on the 13th hole.

Before Nicklaus won his last Masters title in 1986, when he was 46, he was written off by a columnist as an over-the-hill player.

Nicklaus used that clipping as an inspiration, pasting it on his refrigerator door.

Asked if were there were any articles on his refrigerator this year, Nicklaus smiled and said, "No, I probably wasn't even worth an article this year."

He said his age isn't a deterrent.

"It wasn't phenomenal at age 46 (when he won the Masters) and I can't be much different now at 53," he said. "I think I controlled the ball as well today as I have in years, and, when I control the ball, then I think I can play.

"Most people, when they get older, can control the golf ball but they can't putt. That hasn't been my problem. My problem is that I haven't been able to control the ball.

"(Ben) Hogan controlled the ball but couldn't get it into the hole. So did Sam (Snead) and Byron (Nelson), and I'm a little bit the other way."

Augusta National, with its spacious fairways and no rough, is supposed to be a long hitters' course. But Pavin, the 5-foot-9, 140-pound former UCLA standout, doesn't agree.

"The most important thing is to play within your game," he said, adding that a good short game is as important as long drives.

Pavin chipped in from 30 feet for a birdie on the par-four third hole and he said, "That chip-in really calmed me down."

He went on to get five more birdies, along with a bogey.

Golf Notes

Tom Lehman, playing in his first Masters, wasn't intimidated. He birdied the first hole on his way to a 67. Lehman was on the tour in the early 1980s and then played on mini-tours all over the world before rejoining the PGA Tour in 1992. He was a pro at North Ranch Country Club in Thousand Oaks in 1987. . . . Lee Janzen, who also had a 67, played in the Masters for the first time last year and barely made the cut. "There are so many ghosts out there that the first year was intimidating," he said.

Larry Mize, who won the Masters in 1987 with a 140-foot chip shot that beat Greg Norman in a playoff, wasn't sure until last Friday that he would be able to play here. Then, his wife, Bonnie, gave birth to Robert Hogan Mize earlier than expected, allowing him to be there for the birth and still play here. . . . Raymond Floyd, who won the Masters in 1976 and finished second in 1990 and 1992, is playing in the tournament for the 29th time. Even so, he said he still found himself in positions on greens where he had never putted before. . . . Tee times were changed from 8:15 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. today because of an anticipated storm.

LEADERS Player: Score Jack Nicklaus: 34-33--67 Lee Janzen: 35-32--67 Tom Lehman: 35-32--67 Corey Pavin: 32-35--67 Larry Mize: 33-34--67 John Huston: 35-33--68 Ray Floyd: 33-35--68 Bernhard Langer: 34-34--68 Lanny Wadkins: 35-34--69 Ted Schulz: 35-34--69 Craig Parry: 34-35--69 Dan Forsman: 34-35--69 Bob Gilder: 34-35--69 Eight tied at 70 OTHERS Player: Score Jose-Maria Olazabal: 35-35-70 John Daly: 36-34--70 Gary Player: 37-34--71 Ian Woosnam: 35-36--71 Paul Azinger: 35-36--71 Tom Watson: 36-35--71 Nick Faldo: 36-35--71 Fred Couples: 37-35--72 Nick Price: 38-34--72 Davis Love III: 38-35--73 Tom Kite: 35-38--73 Craig Stadler: 37-36--73 Greg Norman: 36-38--74 Arnold Palmer: 38-36--74 Seve Ballesteros: 38-36--74

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