ONE of the maxims of golf is that it is ''not how, but how many'' and American Chris DiMarco hammered home the point with a brilliant seven-under-par 65 on his Masters debut at Augusta yesterday.

DiMarco, possessor of one of the ugliest putting grips ever seen, posted his score just as Tiger Woods began his major clean sweep bid with a bogey five.

Even though Woods battled back to be two under at the turn in a group with Sergio Garcia and defending champion Vijay Singh and world number two Phil Mickelson had five birdies in six holes from the 12th for a 67, the early part of the day belonged to DiMarco.

The 32-year-old's grip has been labelled the ''psycho'' method. He has a standard-size putter, but spreads his hands in the manner that Bernhard Langer employs with his broomhandle.

When he unveiled it he was the butt of endless comments from his fellow competitors. He found it worked, though, and since the idea is to get the ball into the hole in the fewest possible strokes he was not to be deterred.

DiMarco said: ''I deliberately put on a green shirt today because it's my first Masters and green is synonymous with Augusta.

''The game was no fun until I tried this putting grip about six years ago. I had so much of a struggle from five feet and in and it helps me stay smoother and strike it better."

Partnering 1988 winner Sandy Lyle, the first drama came when the third member of the group, Australian left-hander Greg Chalmers, hit a spectator on the head with his opening drive.

The man was felled and play was held up while medical attention arrived and took him away, but when it resumed DiMarco went to the turn in 32 and then coming home added further birdies on the 12th, 13th and 15th.

Lyle, in contrast, went into the water for a double bogey on the 12th and finished in 74, while just behind Nick Faldo had a triple-bogey six at the same hole and carded a three-over 75, the same as Padraig Harrington.

Ian Woosnam, Britain's other past champion, did better with a 71, while Paul Lawrie had 73, Colin Montgomerie, in the second last group, was one under after seven and Darren Clarke one over with four to play.

Harrington had birdied the first two holes, but collapsed to an inward 40 with bogey sixes at the 13th and 15th and other dropped shots on the 14th and 17th.

Mickelson was lying second in the clubhouse, but with an eagle at the 13th and birdies at the next two Steve Stricker surged to six under and second on his own.

Meanwhile, Woods's first shot flew right into the trees and from there he went into a bunker. But when he birdied the third, seventh and ninth to turn in 34 he was probably remembering that when he won by 12 in 1997 he had started with a front nine 40!