After first day, Masters' name is mud

April 12, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Arnold Palmer wasn't the only one in trouble yesterday, when the crowd-pleasing legend found himself 91st out of the Masters' field of 93 after play was suspended.

Arnie's Army was in danger, too. So was anyone who set foot on Hootie's links club for men on the post-monsoon day they attempted to play 36 holes of golf.

A loyal member of Arnie's fabled brigade attempted to cross between the eighth and third holes to get a better view of Palmer as he attempted to make par at No. 3. Instead, the woman's motorized wheelchair got stuck in the mud.

Support troops dug out the embedded chair - a great sucking noise emanating from the smelly quagmire. And then Arnie's Army pressed on, many of them delivering kudos to the oldsters like Palmer and Jack Nicklaus for sticking to their plan and not withdrawing from the tournament, despite the obviously surreal conditions.

"If I could walk the course, let alone hit it 237 yards when I'm Arnie's age, I'll be happy," said Mike Groblewski of Milwaukee, who made a special point to follow Palmer yesterday.

"For us, we're just happy he and Jack are out here. That's a lot of walking for those guys. This place is like a shrine. Just seeing him out there brings back all the memories. It's worth it," Groblewski said, lifting his mud-caked feet as a badge of honor.

"We've been everywhere to see these guys," he said.

After shooting an 11-over-par 83 in the first round, Palmer was undaunted.

"On the first nine, I messed up a number of makeable putts. And when you can't make the green on two shots on a par-4, it's going to make for a long day," Palmer said.

"I didn't drive the ball well and other guys were hitting 50 to 75 yards past where I was, so what does that tell you? But I'm going to sit down a minute, get a little bite to eat, maybe hit a few practice shots and head back out again."

By late afternoon, Palmer was looking at about nine miles of trudging through the water-logged fairways yesterday - had the horn not sounded at 7:30 p.m.

What merciful sound for almost everyone in the field, including Tiger Woods, who was tied for 23rd after he finally started sinking birdies.

"It was so soft and there's mud balls. The fairways aren't cut as low as they normally are, so you can catch some fliers," he said.

They'll show you the azaleas and the quaint little bridges over not-so-troubled water here at Augusta, but because they're into tradition and sanitized proceedings - pins and T-shirts for social or political causes were emphatically banned yesterday - the TV cameras didn't show off the real substance of this PGA major.

We're talking about the muck, the gunk and the slick, slippery danger that lurked everywhere - and that was 24 hours before today's protest by Martha Burk.

From the days when Augusta National was the former Fruitland Nurseries, the holes are named things like Flowering Crab Apple (No. 4) or Yellow Jasmine (No. 8) or Holly (No. 18, a par 4 that plays like a par 5, with the tee box somewhere to the west of the Mississippi and the uphill climb reminiscent of a grassy wall.).

Yesterday, the traditional names for the holes should have been scrapped in favor of more appropriate monikers. The Camellia (No. 10) could have been The Bogey Maker (everyone had a bogey somewhere in the first round.) Amen Corner (Nos. 11-13) deserved a far less sacred designation.

Don't let the sepulchral tones of that tinkling piano music CBS insists on playing fool you. The real theme song for this Masters should be far more messy. Something to reflect the mood of the week.

Maybe instead of the annoying tune from Kenny Loggins, CBS should resort to The Doors' "Light My Fire" about how it's "no time to wallow in the mire."

Wallow they did at Augusta yesterday. This formerly bucolic outpost was indeed mud country. After 10 months of verbal mud-slinging, the stuff was finally real.

It figures that a Canadian (Mike Weir, 6-under after 30 holes) and an Irishman (Darren Clarke, 4-under after 28 holes) would top the leader board. They do mud well.

If this was horse racing, Clarke would have been happy to call himself a mudder. The Irish shipper slogged his way through the slop to take the lead, proving that Woods is hardly the only one who relishes adverse conditions.

"Four-under was a very, very good score. Four-under for this golf course is a very good score," Clarke said.

"Nobody wants to play in wet, muddy conditions. We want to play in a T-shirt with the sun on our backs. No one wants to play on wet fairways with mud balls."

First they prayed for the rain to stop, then they prayed for darkness to fall. How else to end the misery - especially for the oldsters like Palmer and Nicklaus, who may be re-thinking their appeal to Augusta National Golf Club chairman Hootie Johnson to reverse the age limit for past champs.

Nicklaus and Palmer won the right to play, with Palmer competing for the 49th time yesterday, but while the heart was willing, the legs and arms were mightily challenged by the conditions and the prospect of 36 holes in one day.

"I didn't play very well. I got close to what I deserved. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, and that's what I should have done: Got out of the kitchen. I was terrible," said Nicklaus, who shot his worst round (13-over 85) in 2,235 PGA Tour rounds.

With a record six green jackets, Nicklaus might have been a far cry from his former Masters brilliance. But yesterday was a muddy, messy mulligan when it came to ego and pride. Augusta's pristine tradition of perfection was seriously slimed.

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