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Watson makes shaky start to Masters defense

Defending champion Bubba Watson of the U.S. gestures after hitting his tee shot on the fourth hole during first round play in the 2013 Maste
Defending champion Bubba Watson of the U.S. gestures after hitting his tee shot on the fourth hole during first round play in the 2013 Maste

By Julian Linden

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - There were no miracle shots or tears of joy from Bubba Watson at the Masters on Thursday when the American launched his title defense.

Unlike his final round last year, when he produced one of the greatest shots seen at Augusta National to win the green jacket, Watson was unable to conjure up any magic this time.

He shot a three-over 75, his worst first-round score in five appearances at the Masters. His score was not enough to knock him of contention but left him a long way off the lead.

Instead of the tears that followed his playoff win last year, there were only groans this time as he struggled with his putter on the lightning fast greens.

"There's going to be bad days and good days." said Watson, who is nine shots back of co-leaders Marc Leishman of Australia and Spaniard Sergio Garcia.

"I hit the ball really well. I can't complain about my ball striking. I just didn't putt well."

The left-handed Watson was solid from tee to green but had 35 putts in his round, among the highest totals from the opening round.

"I never got the speed right, never got the ball to the hole," he said.

"They were slower than what I was expecting. The balls weren't rolling out like they normally do over the past years, so I just left a lot of putts short, a lot of putts were breaking different than I was expecting."

Watson burst into tears when he attended his pre-tournament new conference on Tuesday as the memories of his win from last year came flooding back.

But he said he had no problems controlling his emotions when he was on the course Thursday, adopting the approach that he was back at work.

"I gave the jacket up two weeks ago when I was here, so nobody owns the jacket. Everybody is playing for it right now," he said.

"I didn't feel any different. I didn't feel any more pressure to myself. I just didn't get the speed right on the greens. If I two‑putt all those, I shoot one‑under, which would be a nice score."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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