Thursday, April 10

Rain postpones first round of Masters



AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Augusta National finally met its match -- Mother Nature, not Martha Burk. Four days of heavy rain turned golf's hallowed grounds into a muddy mess and forced the first round of the Masters to be postponed for the first time since 1939.

Weather warning
The threat of more rain gave Augusta National little choice on Thursday.

Tiger Woods, chasing history as he goes after his third straight title, didn't even make it to the golf course. Those who did never got much farther than the clubhouse.

''We believe this golf course is unplayable,'' said Will Nicholson, chairman of the competition committees. ''This golf course will just not take any more water.''

The 93 players will return Friday for 36 holes -- weather permitting -- as The Masters continues on a strange path through uncharted waters.

Augusta National endured nine months of criticism leveled by Burk and the National Council of Women's Organizations against the club's all-male membership. She still plans to protest Saturday -- the first day sunshine is in the forecast.

Where'd the money go?
Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson's decided to eliminate event sponsorships this year, meaning that coverage of The Masters on the USA Network and CBS will be commercial free. But it's not expected to be a big loss for CBS, even though The Masters is typically the highest-rated golf event of the year.

In years past, the rights deal between Augusta National and CBS allowed the network to show only four minutes of commercials per hour of Masters coverage; 16 minutes of commercials per hour fill a typical network broadcast.

In exchange for the lost revenue this year, Augusta National reportedly is forgoing the collection of its rights fee, believed to be worth at least $3 million, and may split production costs for the event with CBS. The concessions made by Augusta National are expected to offset any losses CBS may incur because of the controversy surrounding this year's event.

CBS Sports spokeswoman Leslie Ann Wade declined to comment on reports concerning the rights fees or the production costs. Augusta National officials refuse to comment on finances, spokesperson Glenn Greenspan said.

-- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com

The club closed its gates Monday for the first time in 20 years because of rain and lightning, and even part of the fabled Par 3 Tournament was rained out Wednesday.

Now this.

''I'd like to see something good happen here because of all the negative press,'' David Toms said. ''But we don't play in a dome. They'll get the tournament in, and they'll have a great champion.''

That begs two questions -- when and who?

The forecast is for more showers in the morning, and officials are skeptical about being able to finish two rounds by darkness Friday.

When they do get around to the golf, the soggy turf should play right into the hands of Woods, the two-time defending champion, and others who hit the ball high and far. That's what it might take to navigate a 7,290-yard course that will seem even longer.

Stamina also figures to play a big role.

''If you're not under 32 and can hit 280, you've got no chance,'' said Loren Roberts, who is 47 and averages 254 off the tee. ''I don't know. I've been wrong before.''

Most everyone thought postponing the first round was the right move.

''Evidently, they felt it was unplayable,'' Woods said.

Starting times already were pushed back 30 minutes, and officials rescheduled to 11 a.m. because of more overnight showers that brought the rainfall to 4 inches since Sunday.

Unlike Monday, the club opened the gates to 30,000 fans who had nothing to do but visit the gift shop, spend $1.25 on pimiento cheese sandwiches and walk gingerly through the ugly mixture of brown slop that oozed up and covered trampled grass along the fairways.

They stood four-deep around the practice range, peering over each other's head, even though nobody was hitting balls. A few dozen fans sat in their folding chairs at Amen Corner, waiting for players that never came by.

''They're probably desperate to see a shot,'' Scott Verplank said.

The Masters is the annual rite of spring in golf, where dogwoods and azaleas blaze under warm, sunny skies. This felt more like winter, with dreary, low-hanging clouds and temperatures in the upper 40s. Snow was possible two hours away in Greenville, S.C.

Masters rain delay
Workers couldn't get waterlogged Augusta ready for play.

It was the fifth consecutive major championship interrupted at some point by rain, dating to last year's Masters when Augusta National smelled like a dairy barn with all the muck.

''I told friends last year, 'I've never seen it like this. You'll never see it like this again.' I was wrong,'' Lee Janzen said. ''It's worse this year.''

Only this time, the course was not suited for play.

An hour before The Masters was supposed to start, officials moved a hole about 10 feet to higher ground. They used hand mowers to trim the landing areas in the fairway, but none of it mattered. On the third and seventh fairways, there was simply nowhere to take relief from casual water.

Players are allowed to lift, clean and place their balls in the fairway at regular PGA Tour events to cope with the mud. That doesn't happen at the majors, and Nicholson made it clear that the ball is played as it lies at The Masters.

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

No one was surprised.

''There would be a woman member here before that happens,'' Chris DiMarco said.

Few players were disappointed they had to wait until Friday to start the Masters, having spent the last couple of days slugging 3-irons into par 4s and slogging through fairways.

Verplank broke the news to about a dozen of them in the dining room, and no one believed him. Only when PGA Tour rules official Mark Russell made it official did the giddiness begin.

''Write in your paper that Thomas Levet is tied for the lead on the first day of The Masters,'' the gregarious Frenchman said as he changed out of his shoes.

Some players either practiced for a few hours or made plans to go to the movies.

''I've got a nice house with a lot of friends,'' Roberts said. ''I've got to get back to a poker game that's been going on the last three days.''

Even though the day was lost, fans still milled about Augusta National. All they could do was use their imagination as they gazed at greens without flagsticks and a course without players.

David Ziff came from Atlanta for his first Masters experience with a friend who arranged for the tickets. Driving down Washington Road, they heard on the radio that the first round had been called off.

''We had a look of shock,'' Ziff said, holding three bags of Masters merchandise. ''I'm going to walk the course, look around and go back to Atlanta. At least I can say I've been here.''







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AUDIO / VIDEO  
Video
 Rain Delay
Players react to the weather conditions at Augusta.
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 2003 Masters
Andy North and Scott Van Pelt look at the problems the players will be facing on Friday.
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