AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Craig Parry was tied for the lead early in the third round of the Masters yesterday when a thunderstorm hit Augusta National, postponing play for almost three hours. He double-bogeyed his first hole back, after the rain. So did his playing partner, Ian Woosnam, the tournament's defending champion.
It was unsettling, to say the least. Woosnam double-bogeyed the next hole, putting his defense of his title in, well, double jeopardy. But Parry, the new kid, a 26-year-old Australian in his second Masters, didn't flinch at all.
He gained back three strokes on par before darkness ended his round after 14 holes, and with all but six golfers completing play, was atop the leader board by two strokes over Fred Couples, Ray Floyd and Ian Baker-Finch. His total is 11-under par.
"It's not surprising to me at all that Parry's there," said Baker-Finch, the 1991 British Open champion and a fellow Australian. "He's a tough player, a gritty player."
He will need more grit today. Those who didn't finish yesterday will start where they left off today at 8:15 a.m., then play the fourth round in the afternoon. Baker-Finch, the only one of the four leaders who finished, shooting a 68, said it was "maybe worth three shots" not to have to play in the morning.
Parry shrugged. He does that a lot, as the American golf world is discovering. Upbeat, confident and nonchalant as an upstart leader for the last two days, he said his morning date shouldn't be a problem.
"There are rain delays all over the world," he said. "You get used to them. Maybe if I had a bunch of holes to play, it might be trouble. But just four holes, that doesn't matter. I'll just play, go get some lunch, and go play again."
Couples and Floyd will resume play today on the 15th tee, as will Parry. Woosnam will face a 3-foot birdie putt on the 14th green. He elected not to attempt the putt in the darkness. He is five shots off the lead.
Parry, who has spent the past four years on the European tour, was impressive in outplaying the defending champ after the rain. lTC While Woosnam staggered, Parry got on a roll with his putter.
"It was very difficult to play after the rain, and the double-bogey was a rocky start," he said. "I just said to myself, 'OK, just be patient; you'll have some chances.' Then I made putts on the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th."
An 18-footer on eight gained back one stroke, a 15-footer on 12 another. Then came the par-5 13th, always a test for a short hitter such as Parry, 5 feet 6, 168 pounds. But yesterday he reached the green in two and birdied.
"I didn't try for the green the day before, but I drove it better today, and the distance was perfect for my 3-wood," Parry said. "I said I wasn't playing that well yesterday, but today was pretty good."
Regardless, Parry faces long odds today in his bid to become the first Australian to win the Masters. Only five times in the previous 55 tournaments have golfers with as little or less Augusta National experience won the title.
After the first Masters in 1934, two won in their first appearance (Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, Gene Sarazen in 1935). Two won on their second try (Jimmy Demaret in 1940, Herman Keiser in 1946). Parry's only prior Masters experience was in 1990, when he shot 80 in the first round and missed the cut.
But he said he is not awed by the prospect of dueling down the stretch at Augusta with such players as Floyd, Couples and Baker-Finch.
"I can do it, why not?" he said. "I've played with them all over the world."
The last round of the Masters is another matter altogether, of course, and the company will indeed be tough. Baker-Finch is probably the hottest golfer in the draw. His 68 yesterday was his seventh straight sub-par round at Augusta, tying a record.
"I was just thrilled to finish mostly," he said, "so I don't have to get up early. I literally ran to the 18th tee. But I played well. I will say this: An Australian is going to win this tournament sometime soon. If not tomorrow, soon enough."
A victory by Parry or Baker-Finch would be the fifth straight at the Masters by a non-American. It appears the American hopes for breaking the streak are riding solely on Floyd and Couples.
Floyd had the lead for much of the afternoon, returning from the rain with a flurry of birdies. He was 11 under at one point, 4-under for the day and ahead by two strokes. But he bogeyed the 12th and 14th, the latter with a three-putt. He gained two strokes on par in his 14 holes.
L Couples was steadier, with 11 pars, two birdies and a bogey.
Three shots off the lead was Nick Price, who played and finished the back nine after the rain and had three birdies, completing a 67. He certainly can't be discounted: In 1986, he shot the lowest round in Masters history, a 63.
"Seems a long time ago," he said. "My game has changed a lot. The problem has been my putting. I tend to lose confidence. But I'm feeling good right now. We'll see what happens."
The leader board after yesterday's incomplete third round, which will resume today at 8:15 a.m.
* Craig Parry, 11-under with four holes to play.
* Ray Floyd, 9-under with four to play.
* Fred Couples, 9-under with four to play.
* Ian Baker-Finch, 9-under, round completed.
* Nick Price, 8-under, round completed.
* Jeff Sluman, 7-under, round completed.
* Bruce Lietzke, 7-under, round completed.
* Ted Schulz, 7-under with two to play.
Third-round scores: Page 9B