In aura of Augusta, Driscoll the amateur handles it like a pro

Ex-Va. star birdies way to a 68 in first round

The Masters

April 06, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. - James Driscoll wanted to be inconspicuous shortly after he arrived here for his first Masters. Staying in the famous Crow's Nest above the clubhouse at Augusta National, Driscoll tried to avoid getting in the way of those attending the annual champions' dinner Tuesday night.

"I was running up to drop off my clubs and take a quick shower," Driscoll recalled yesterday. `There are two ways you can go out ... and I could see a bunch of people through the glass window in the door and I tried to go the other way."

Driscoll nearly ran right over former champion Seve Ballesteros.

The former University of Virginia star, who earned his invitation here by finishing second in last year's 39-hole U.S. Amateur, wasn't inconspicuous yesterday. His name went on the leader board when he birdied three of his first four holes in the opening round of the 65th Masters, and stayed there after a 4-under 68. It was the lowest Masters round by an amateur since 1983.

It put Driscoll, 23, in a similar position to where former U.S. Amateur champion Matt Kuchar was here three years ago and could put him in the same territory as the most storied amateur in the tournament's lore, Billy Joe Patton, who led in 1954 after two rounds as well as through 12 holes on Sunday.

"This place oozes with history," said Driscoll. "The people that are walking around the clubhouse that have won so many majors. ... You never know who you are going to bump into, but it is great to stay in the Crow's Nest and be able to take it all in by being here 24 hours a day."

Driscoll might be playing in his first Masters, but he played the course seven times before this year. He is also using a caddie, Marion Harrington, who worked for Ballesteros during the first of his two Masters victories.

"I think I had to calm him down a couple of times, actually," said Driscoll, whose round included a 30-footer for birdie on the par-3 fourth hole and holing out from a bunker on the par-3 16th. "He's won the tournament before. When I heard that, I was pretty much certain I was going to pick him up and use him."

Driscoll also brought his own gallery with him, including his parents, all six of his siblings and various other relatives and friends from Brookline, Mass.

"It can help or hurt," said Driscoll, who had a similar entourage at last summer's U.S. Amateur, where he won the last three holes in the 36-hole final to force a playoff with Jeff Quinney but lost on the third extra hole.

"If you're playing badly, you feel bad that so many people are here. But if you're playing well, there's nothing better," he said.

Driscoll put off turning pro so he could play at the Masters, and have another crack at the Amateur, scheduled for the historic East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

"Playing this tournament is one thing, but I think playing as an amateur is more special," he said.

The inspiration to compete here comes not only from Kuchar and Patton, but also from what former Duke star Jenny Chuasiriporn of Timonium did in the 1998 U.S. Women's Open, when she lost in a playoff to Se Ri Pak.

"That was a crazy year for amateur golf," said Driscoll. "I think Jenny Chuasiriporn almost won the Open that year. Amateurs now are just - I don't know if they're more confident or better, but there are young kids seeming to do really well all the time."

Driscoll wasn't the only amateur to play well yesterday.

Mikko Illonen of Finland shot even-par 72 while playing in the same threesome as Tiger Woods.

"I enjoyed playing my own game," said Illonen, 23, the reigning British Amateur champion. "I played my own game. I'm quite happy with 72. It's a big moment for me. I hope it's a big moment for Finnish golf."

Illonen, who took up golf a decade ago at the insistence of an older brother, will be going back home next week to finish out his military commitment.

"I'd rather be playing," said Illonen, who also plans to turn pro after he finishes the one-year tour of military duty.

Illonen shared a few words with Woods during the round. The two could be seen chatting as they walked up the second fairway after both had bogeyed the first, Illonen by three-putting.

"He gave me word about my three-putt, something about him doing that when he was an amateur," said Illonen.

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