Senior moment

Casper's 106 adds up to one ghastly outing

The Masters

Through Sunday * Augusta National Golf Club * TV: Today, 4 p.m., USA Network

Golf

April 08, 2005|By John Eisenberg

AUGUSTA, GA — AUGUSTA, Ga. - Billy Casper put five balls in the water on the seventh hole of his round yesterday at Augusta National.

"The wind was blowing the wrong way," Casper, 73, explained with a wink.

He finished his front nine in 57, obliterating the Masters record for highest nine-hole score. Later, after hitting his tee shot on his final hole, he spotted a friend in the gallery and said, "I need a par for a 105."

He double-bogeyed.

Casper, winner of the 1970 Masters, shot 106, easily the highest 18-hole score in tournament history.

"I don't care. I still had a great time," he said.

He has a lifetime exemption to the tournament because he won it, enabling him to keep coming back to play even if it becomes embarrassing. Some criticize the Masters for cluttering up its field with old-timers who can't break 90, but the fans love it, and in a way, it's refreshing to see a major sports event so respectful of its tradition.

But then Masters chairman Hootie Johnson sent letters to Casper and two other former champions before the 2002 tournament, suggesting they no longer play because it was too embarrassing. Casper hadn't broken 90 in his past four rounds.

Feelings were hurt, and the old guys stopped playing. But Casper still returned every year for the annual champions dinner. Last year, he bought a ticket and followed the tournament as a fan.

Then, for some reason, he started wanting to play again. His children and grandchildren urged him to do it. He underwent hip replacement surgery and felt great. When the Masters entry form came in the mail, he sent it in with a note saying he planned to play.

"I kept waiting to get a phone call from them saying, `What in the world are you doing?' " Casper said. "But they never called."

A three-time major champion in his prime, he honed his game with extra practices and brought more than a dozen family members with him to the course yesterday. But he harbored no visions of success. His other hip was sore. His belly bulged.

"I had a pretty good idea it was going to be one round and out," he said.

Starting on the back nine because of a 5 1/2 -hour rain delay, he triple-bogeyed his first two holes, then went par-bogey-par-bogey to reach No. 16, the famous par-3 where Masters are won and lost on Sundays. Casper pulled a 9-wood out and sent a ball soaring toward the green. It plopped in the water.

Moving to the drop area, he pulled out a 7-iron and hit another ball. It, too, plopped in the water.

Without changing clubs, Casper hit three more in the water in rapid succession as the crowd watched in silence, increasingly horrified.

"It got to be a challenge. I was bound and determined to get one up there," Casper said.

Grudgingly, he switched to a 6-iron and landed a ball on the green on his first try. The crowd applauded. When Casper putted out, he turned to one of his playing partners, Charles Coody, the 1971 Masters winner.

"What's that [total score], Charlie?" Casper asked.

Coody refused to tell him, so Casper asked his other playing partner, Tommy Aaron, the 1973 champion.

"That's a 14, Billy," Aaron said.

After the front-nine 57, tournament scorekeepers pulled his tally from the boards around the course. Casper played on. Shooting your age is normally a feat, but he reached 73 with six holes to go.

His gait noticeably slowing, he teed off on his next-to-last hole and trudged down the fairway.

"Just a couple more, pop," one of his grandchildren shouted.

"A couple more what?" Casper replied, playing to the crowd.

When he exhaled, drew back and rocked a drive down the middle on his last hole, he shook his head and said, "It's getting dark and I'm just figuring it out."

But then he sent his approach shot far to the right.

"Hit a rock!" he shouted.

When he finally tapped in, his longest day was over. Reporters intent on inspecting the wreckage surrounded him after his stop in the scorer's tent.

"What did you shoot, Billy?" someone asked.

"Sixty-three," he said with a smile.

Then he revealed he hadn't signed his scorecard, preferring to disqualify himself and expunge his day from the record.

"I have it in my pocket. You can see it. There are a lot of 5's and 6's and one 14," he said.

Reporters asked if he thought he shouldn't have played, whether it was embarrassing, and if the Masters was right to suggest that some former champions shouldn't play. Casper just kept smiling.

"This is a wonderful tournament," he said. "As I walked around today, a flood of memories came back to me. I just wanted to do this one more time before I got old. I had to get it out of my system. And I did. That's it. I'm done."

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