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Kiwi Lee shares second place at US Masters

NZN 7/04/2016

Danny Lee has shaken off a discouraging buildup to make a sublime start to the Masters at Augusta National.

The New Zealand No.1 carded a four-under 68 at the first men's major of the year to share second place, two strokes behind world No.2 and defending champion Jordan Spieth of the United States.

Lee, 25, matched Spieth's six birdies but also recorded two bogeys to sit alongside Ireland's Shane Lowry. They are a stroke ahead of six accomplished golfers - world No.3 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, Spaniard Sergio Garcia, Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen and England trio Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter.

In gusty conditions, Lee emerged from a tumultuous front nine, where he mixed three birdies with two bogeys, to play some flawless golf coming home. He added another three birdies, including a deft putt from off the green at the par-three 12th and a pinpoint tee shot on the par-three 16th.

His tee-off on the par-four 18th hole found trees deep to the left but he recovered to save par and make comfortably his best start to a major.

Lee rated his round among the top five of his professional career.

"I mean it's tough out there. It's blowing 25 miles all day, a lot of times it felt like 50 miles an hour," he said.

"It was very hard to commit to a line on the putting green because the wind was blowing so hard. I really tried to focus on my routine and I did a great job today."

World No.38 Lee's preparation for his second tilt at the Masters was marred by a nagging wrist injury and a parting of ways with his long-time Canadian caddie Kurt Kowaluk, replaced by American bagman Michael Hartford.

The partnership appeared to hit it off, with Lee avoiding the dismal scoring which marred the opening round for several top players such as World No.5 Rickie Fowler and former world No.1s Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, who all carded 80.

Lee is the first Kiwi to qualify for the Masters since Michael Campbell in 2010.

He has teed off at the famed tournament once before, when he missed the cut in 2009 - his final tournament as an amateur.

It has been a career-long ambition to return, something he sealed by making his breakthrough PGA Tour win in West Virginia last year.

"After I made the winning putt at the Greenberg Classic all I was thinking about was coming back to this place," he said.

"I got here a little bit early, last Thursday, and played a lot of practice rounds. I'm having a blast out here."

Lee has only made the cut once in four major appearances, placing 43rd at last year's PGA Championship.

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