Too much rain makes 1st round go away till today

Initial round postponed for first time since 1939

The Masters

April 11, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Darrell Sallee and his wife, Marty, had a sinking feeling as they walked from their car to the front gates of Augusta National yesterday morning. It wasn't the mud under their feet, but the other golf fans walking toward them.

The Sallees, who had made a 60-mile drive from Greenwood, S.C., to watch the opening round of the 67th Masters, quickly received the news. Rain - up to about four inches and counting - had washed out the round completely.

"That's not all rain out there; some of it's tears," Marty Sallee said as she did a little food shopping across the street from the club early yesterday afternoon.

The Sallees won't be back this weekend because the opening-round badges were the only ones they could procure for this year's tournament. The 93 players will be back again today, hoping for the end of the weeklong rain and perhaps the two-year reign of Tiger Woods.

Yesterday marked the first time since 1939 that the opening round was postponed completely because of bad weather and the first time in 20 years that any round was wiped out. In 1983, the second round was postponed and the tournament finished on a Monday.

Hoping not to do that again, players will try to go 36 holes today in an effort to catch up. Considering a forecast that calls for intermittent rain until about 10 this morning, it seems unlikely the first two rounds will be finished by tonight.

"I think it's probably more probable that we'll have three or four groups on each side still on the golf course Saturday morning," said Will Nicholson, chairman of the tournament's competition committee.

Said perennial contender Phil Mickelson: "This won't have an effect on the outcome of the tournament. The guys who are playing well will have a greater chance to take advantage of a full day."

It's just another reason for Woods, trying to become the first player in history to win three straight Masters, to be considered the heavy favorite. Unless a lot of his shots get caked in mud, his strength, touch and fitness should give the three-time champion a big advantage.

"I think it certainly favors someone who is hitting the ball high, long and straight," Woods, 27, said earlier in the week. "You've got to keep the ball in the fairway. But you've got to get it out there.

"These fairways are playing soft right now, and they're picking up mud, too, so you've got to get some luck and hopefully not pick up too much mud on your tee shots. It's a Catch-22. You want to hit it so you run over the mud, but you don't want to hit it quite as far either."

According to Nicholson, the club didn't consider allowing the players to lift, clean and place their shots in the fairway. Even if the course gets wetter and muddier, the Masters won't go to winter rules.

"We believe that's the traditional way to play the game, and that's the way we intend to play the game," Nicholson said.

Asked if he thought lift, clean and place would ever be implemented at Augusta National, Chris DiMarco, who has contended in his two previous appearances, joked: "There will be a woman member before that happens."

This marks the second straight year since the course underwent a major renovation intended to make it play longer, faster and more difficult in dry conditions that rain will turn the tournament into what six-time champion Jack Nicklaus has called "gorilla-style" golf - a test of strength.

"It will be tough, especially on this course," said two-time champion Bernhard Langer. "With all the side-hill and uphill [lies], 36 holes is going to be quite a test, but most of us are fit."

Said tour veteran Jay Haas: "We've done this many times before [in regular tour events]. It's our job to deal with it."

In the 20 hours or so between the time play was called yesterday and the first balls are scheduled to be struck today, the club's maintenance staff will work feverishly to sop up several fairways and the runoff areas around a few greens.

The biggest problem could be on the par-4 third hole.

"We had a terrible time even this morning finding some places for relief from casual water," Nicholson said. "And with any more rain on it, I'm not sure there would be any place on the third hole there would be relief from casual water."

Some players spent the extra day hitting balls or hitting malls. Langer said he was going to practice, and Mickelson said he would work out and take his family to a movie.

"The good thing about it is that the whole field will be playing in the same position," said reigning British Open champion Ernie Els of South Africa. "I think they made the right decision. I've never seen weather like this in a major."

The Masters

When: Today through Sunday.

Where: Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.

Course: Par 72, 7,290 yards.

Today's TV: USA Network, 2 p.m. (live) and 8 p.m. (tape); chs. 13, 9, 11:35 p.m. (highlights show).

Defending champion: Tiger Woods.

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