The 67th Masters began under the lights. On a Friday morning.
Doesn't make sense? Very little about the opening day of last
week's memorable Masters did. "It was a weird, weird day," said
Ernie Els. ¬∂ How weird? There was golf from dawn till dark as
tournament officials tried to pack the first 36 holes into one
day. The squeeze play didn't work: Only 18 of the 93 golfers
completed both rounds before darkness halted play. "It's amazing
that we played all day and didn't get in 36," said Lee Janzen,
who got in 33 holes before missing the cut the next day. "I
played 36 in six hours last week." On Friday the first 18 took
that long. There were a couple of reasons why. First, there
were more players than could be accommodated by the two-tee
start, so three groups making the turn from the back nine had
to wait until the final threesome had teed off on number 1.
That created a 30-minute logjam between nines. And the course,
drenched by four inches of rain in five days, was so difficult
that only four players were under par at day's end.
"My God!" said Ben Crenshaw when asked to describe the conditions
after staggering in with a first-round 79. Former champions Tommy
Aaron (1973) and Charles Coody (1971) shot 92 and 83,
respectively, and as they headed to the clubhouse for the
45-minute break between rounds, Sandy Lyle, the 1988 winner and
the third member of their group, said, "They're going for a power
nap." Lyle, who shot an 82 himself, was then asked if he was
looking forward to the second 18 that afternoon. "I don't think
so," he said. "Not really, no."
Call it the Longest Day at the Masters. Or the Wrongest Day.
Nothing happened the way it was supposed to. Friday couldn't have
been crazier if Hootie Johnson had suddenly declared that the
green jacket given to the winner would be replaced by a plaid
party hat. For instance....
Portable floodlights were set up on the range and by the practice
green. By 6:45 a.m., about 20 minutes before sunrise and 45
minutes before the first tee times, players were pounding balls
among eerie shadows, giving golf's most glamorous event the feel
of a high school football game. "We've played under the lights
before when we've had early starts in the fall, like at the
Disney and in Las Vegas," said Tour veteran Jeff Sluman, "but
never at Augusta." At least the portable lights were classier
than parking cars around the practice green and turning on the
April 20, 2003
Tiger Woods, going for his third straight Masters title, played
the first 21 holes without making a birdie. In a related matter,
there were unconfirmed reports that hell froze over. When Woods
finally made that first birdie, at the par-5 13th hole, he smiled
broadly and theatrically marked a one in the air as he walked off
the green. His first-round 76, which put him 10 strokes behind
the early leader, Darren Clarke, was Woods's first full round
without a birdie since the 1999 British Open.
By the end of the day a familiar lefthander led the tournament,
but not the one you'd expect. This southpaw, Mike Weir, also bats
from the other side of the border, Canada. Conventional wisdom
says that Augusta can be handled only by long hitters. Said Weir,
who's a wiry 5'9" and 155 pounds, "I'm not a bomber, that's for
sure. The talk was that this would be a bomber's week, but if
you're consistent and have a good putter in your hands, that's
the great equalizer."
By Friday morning Augusta National had been decorated with acres
of chocolate frosting. That's how it appeared, anyway. Actually,
the chocolate was mud oozing up from the ground trampled by
thousands of fans. The fairways were fine, as green as ever, but
the crosswalks and the spectator areas outside the ropes looked
like motocross tracks. Several of the hilly areas of the course,
including the hill in front of the clubhouse, near the 1st tee,
were roped off for safety reasons. The downhill 10th hole, which
drops nearly 90 feet from tee to green, was a world-class Slip 'n
Slide for unsuspecting fans not wearing spikes or hiking boots.
The messy quagmire wasn't the worst part, though. "It was
smelly," said Sluman.
The star of the day was an amateur, Ricky Barnes, who went
head-to-head with Woods and smoked him by six shots. A senior at
Arizona and the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, Barnes is cut
from the Arnold Palmer mold--powerful, good-looking and with a
go-for-broke style of play. "I don't know much about him," said
Brad Faxon, looking up at Barnes's first-round 69 on a
scoreboard, "but I bet he's long." Good bet. Barnes often
outdrove Woods and ranked fifth in distance, at 287.75 yards a
drive, through two rounds. (Phil Mickelson led the field with a
298-yard average.) "Obviously Ricky Barnes wasn't intimidated by
Tiger Woods," said CBS analyst Lanny Wadkins. Back in 1971, when
he was the reigning Amateur champion and played in the Masters,
Wadkins had been paired with defending champion Billy Casper in
the first round and missed the cut. "I know what [Barnes] was
feeling," Wadkins said. "The kid has a lot of heart. That's what
I like. He was cool."
On the 1st tee, Barnes, 22, hit a nervous quick-hook into the
pine straw, then took a cue from Woods, who told him to relax,
that it was going to be a long day. Barnes rallied with a
showstopper, hooking a 197-yard four-iron off the needles and
around some trees, stopping his ball 15 feet from the flag.
"See?" said Woods. Tiger had his own problems coming out of the
gate. He missed the green on his approach, flushed his first chip
shot through the putting surface, then watched his second chip
check up and roll back to his feet. Fortunately for him, he then
chipped in for a bogey 5.
The unexpected turn of events seemed to galvanize Barnes. "He
pulled off a great shot, probably the most important shot of the
day," said Andy Barnes, Ricky's caddie and older brother, who's
played on the Canadian tour for the past two years. "That settled
him down and got him thinking, 'I made a two-putt par and Tiger
is scrambling.' Tiger made a great 5, but it shows you how
difficult this course is."
Barnes has the size (6'1", 200 pounds) and the attitude of a
hard-hitting strong safety. Even the badge of honor over his
right eye--he needed six stitches after taking an elbow from
Arizona forward Rick Anderson, a friend, in a recent pickup
basketball game--fits the image. Must be in the genes. Barnes's
father, Bruce, was a punter for the New England Patriots. "Ricky
loves this stuff," Bruce said last Saturday. Ricky's mother,
Cathy, says he was a natural athlete who excelled at all sports
while growing up in Stockton, Calif., but played on the high
school soccer and football teams. "We didn't always know he'd do
something like this," she said of his star turn at Augusta, "but
we hoped and wished and dreamed he would."
Barnes even has the swagger of a young Palmer. When Andy said
that his brother was "dumb enough" to believe he could win the
Masters, Ricky was asked if that was true. "Probably," he said.
The Wrongest Day was also lowlighted by the worst score of Jack
Nicklaus's 2,235-round pro career, an 85 in the first round. "The
course wasn't the problem," Nicklaus said. "I was." Even the
73-year-old Palmer beat Nicklaus with an 83, a terrific
performance that validated his decision to return for a 49th
Masters after announcing that the 2002 tournament would be his
last. Nicklaus and Palmer had both written to Hootie Johnson
asking that he rescind the age limit he'd put on former
champions, and when the two past champions bumped into each other
in the clubhouse, Nicklaus jokingly asked Arnie, "Why'd you have
to write that darn letter?"
Friday ended as it began, in darkness and under the lights, when
play was suspended at 7:30 p.m. The 75 players left on the course
slowly trudged back to the clubhouse, cleaned up and headed
straight for home. Jerry Kelly, who completed 34 holes, didn't
last long once he got there. "I couldn't get through a quarter of
a period of hockey," said Kelly, who had planned to watch the
Flyers-Maple Leafs playoff game. "Not even close. I fell asleep
three or four times in the chair."
He could be excused. It had, after all, been a long day.