U.S. presence weakened without Couples, Azinger, Mickelson

April 07, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer The Los Angeles Times contributed to this article.

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Because the PGA Tour doesn't have a disabled list like other pro sports, there is no official pronouncement of players' injuries or their absences from this week's Masters.

But with former champion Fred Couples out with a herniated disk, and rising star Phil Mickelson sidelined with a broken leg suffered during a ski trip earlier this year, the chances of an American-born player winning here have been lessened considerably.

Along with Couples and Mickelson, Paul Azinger is also missing, receiving chemotherapy treatment for cancer that was diagnosed late last year. Azinger is hoping to be back on the tour this summer, and will try to defend his PGA Championship in August.

"Without Couples and Azinger, that opens two spots in the Top 10, and that opens the winning position quite possibly," said former champion Ray Floyd, who'll be playing in his 30th Masters. "You've got two of the top five players out. As far as Americans, we have a wonderful crop of young players. The Masters isn't always won by a player who's won before."

Nor has it been won by an American-born player lately. Since Larry Mize's victory in 1987, Couples is the only one to win, two years ago.

Funk struggling

One American player whose chances this week seem distant, at best, is Fred Funk. The former University of Maryland golf coach has been struggling this season. He is 59th on the money list, with $89,252.

In 10 tournaments going into the Masters, Funk has only one Top 10 finish, a tie for eighth at Phoenix. He has missed two cuts, including three weeks ago at Bay Hill. His last event was a tie for 78th at The Players Championship.

"It's coming around," Funk said before teeing off in yesterday's Par-3 Tournament. "This isn't a tournament you want to come into working on your game. But just being here is a big thrill."

This is Funk's second straight appearance at the Masters. Last year's debut was only a cameo, with Funk missing the cut after rounds of 73 and 77. "I was very nervous," he said. "Hopefully, this year will be better."

But Funk's chances of winning survived another day when he finished second to Vijay Singh in the par-3 tournament. Nobody has won the nine-hole and the Masters in the same year.

Course praised

The condition of the course is great, even for Augusta National. "It's hard for me to imagine anything in this condition," said Floyd. "I always say it can't get any better, but every year it does."

Said five-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus, whose tournament record of 17-under 271 in 1965 was equaled by Floyd in 1976, "The fair ways are the best they've ever been. The only way to keep the scores up is to keep the greens firm and fast. If it rains tonight, you've got a bunch of players who can win. If it doesn't, there's a whole lot less. Maybe 20."

Hold the chiles

A long-standing Masters tradition is that the reigning champion gets to set the menu for the Champions Dinner the next year. This week, Bernhard Langer chose German soup, a Thanksgiving-type dinner and Black Forest cake for desert.

The dinner caused Ben Crenshaw to remember what he did in 1985 after winning in '84: He had a big tray of appetizers and jalapeno chiles that he tried to disguise as pickles.

"Well, both Jack [Nicklaus] and [chairman] Hord Hardin were digging in, and all of a sudden they both grabbed for a big glass of water," Crenshaw recalled. "I looked over at Hord later and he had sweat all over his forehead. But he never said anything. He just stuck in there."

Tighter tickets

One of the toughest tickets in sports just got a little tougher. The Masters, which has allowed public sale of tickets for the three practice rounds, will discontinue that policy next year. Instead, only those who have previously attended a practice round will be eligible to buy a ticket.

It was estimated that upward of 50,000 were on the course Tuesday.

MASTERS UPDATES

For updates of the Masters Tournament, call Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6100 after you hear the greeting.

PAIRINGS

Pairings and starting times for today's first round in the Masters tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club (a-amateur):

a.m. .. .. .. .. .. . .. ..Tommy Aaron, Gay Brewer

8:38 a.m. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Billy Casper, Doug Ford

8:46 a.m. .. .. .. .. .. .. .....Dudley Hart, Fred Funk

8:54 a.m. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...Gil Morgan, Jim McGovern

9:02 a.m. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Hale Irwin, Johnny Miller

9:10 a.m. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...John Inman, Bob Estes

9:18 a.m. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Nolan Henke, Billy Mayfair

9:26 a.m. .. .. .. .. ..Charles Coody, a-Jeffrey Thomas

9:34 a.m. .. .. .. .. ..Bill Glasson, Mark Calcavecchia

9:42 a.m. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Howard Twitty, John Adams

9:50 a.m. .. .. .. .. .Mark O'Meara, Blaine McCallister

9:58 a.m. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Rick Fehr, Mike Standly

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