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THREE SHARE LEAD AS RAIN FAILS TO DAMPEN AUGUSTA

The story was in their faces. The glory was in their games. Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods gave a glimpse of golf's greatness - past, present and future - at the Masters on Thursday.

With lines of age etched in his smiling, tanned face, Nicklaus, 55, fashioned yet another great round, a 5-under-par 67 that put him one stroke out of the first-round lead at Augusta National, tied with Corey Pavin and David Gilford of England.Boyish charm lighted the handsome face of Mickelson, 24, as he recounted a brilliant 66 that tied him for the lead with defending champion Jose Maria Olazabal and David Frost.

And oozing from the impassive, teen-age gaze of Woods, the 19-year-old U.S. Amateur champion, was the calm that allowed him to make his ballyhooed Masters debut with an even-par 72.

"I just kept on saying to myself, `The game hasn't changed. One shot at a time. Low scores wins,"' Woods said. "Every time I step up on the first tee I get nervous. No matter what kind of tournament it it is, I get jitterbugs on the first tee."

If he was nervous, he certainly handled the hoopla very well with four birdies and four bogeys.

Nicklaus, meanwhile, reminded all of how magnificent he was at his best.

He holed a 5-iron for an eagle 2 on No. 5 and drew huge galleries and thunderous applause in the far reaches of Amen Corner where, on this rainy day, the brilliant beauty of the dogwoods and azaleas in bloom where almost obscured by a garden of colorful umbrellas as the thousands of fans huddled trying to stay dry.

They were more than warmed by the four-birdie, no-bogey 32 Nicklaus shot on the back nine.

"I sort of gear my year to get started here," Micklaus said, sounding very much like he thinks he'll still be in the hunt on Sunday for the tournament he has won six times. "I guess maybe I point for this golf tournament."

Mickelson gave a glimpse of the greatness predicted of him with a round in which he battered the flags all day.

"I didn't make any long putts except for No. 13," said Mickelson, who rolled in a 20-foot eagle putt there. His spectacular round included a pair of two-putt birdies, three 3-foot birdie putts and a 4-inch birdie putt. He bogeyed No. 11 and No. 18, missing the green both times.

At 4-under-par 68, two strokes off the lead, were Mark O'Meara and Chip Beck.

All took advantage of a defenseless Augusta National course.

Rain came overnight and this was not the same hard, fast, fearsome course the players tried to tame in the practice rounds. The greens softened, and Augusta National was there to be had. And it was.

Playing in anything from a drizzle to a hard shower, player after player battered par.

Seven players were at 69, eight more at 70 and 10 at 71 on a soggy day in which par became a meaningless standard.

"They had the course exactly where they wanted it, and then the rain got them," said Davis Love, three strokes back at 69. "We knew the rain was coming. We knew the low scores where coming. What they need now is some wind and sun."

The golfers found the inconvenience of playing in rain more than made up for by the softness of the greens.

Irwin, Love, Scott Hoch, David Edwards, Ian Woosnam of Wales, Wayne Grady of Australia and Lee Janzen were at 69. Craig Stadler, Jumbo Ozaki of Japan, Mark Calcavecchia, Ben Crenshaw, Paul Azinger, Nick Faldo of England, Brian Henninger and John Huston were at 70, while Jay Haas, Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, Dan Forsman, Bill Glasson, Payne Stewart, Raymond Floyd, Tom Lehman, Bernhard Langer of Germany, Fred Couples and Colin Montgomerie of Scotland were at 71.

U.S. Open winner Ernie Els of South Africa, just 25 years old, shot a 32 on the back nine to save an even-par 72.

Olazabal, the Spaniard trying to defend the title he won here last year, had a bogey-free 66 in which he made four birdies and eagled the par-5 No. 15. In one stretch, from No. 11 through No. 15, he played five holes in 5 under par.

Frost also made no bogeys in shooting his 66.

Nick Price, winner of the British Open and PGA Championship last year, shot a 4-over-par 76.

"Shots that the last few days were pitching forward quite a ways now are coming to a quick stop, and in some cases even coming back," said Irwin, who felt the course was playing about two strokes easier because of the rain.

"It's a much different golf course than we saw the last three days," said Irwin.