Thursday, April 10

Notes: SubAir keeps the greens dry

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- If The Masters was just a putt-putt contest, the tournament likely would have started Thursday.

The opening round was rained out for the first time since 1939, but the greens held up just fine against nearly 4 inches of precipitation.

Augusta National has installed a ''SubAir'' system that literally sucks the water out of every green. It takes four hours to totally dry the greens, half that time to make them playable.

''The greens don't have much water,'' said Will Nicholson, chairman of the competition committees. ''They're soft, but that SubAir system sucks it out very, very well.''

SubAir was invented by Marsh Benson, a former course superintendent who's now senior director of the club grounds.

In 1994, Benson came up with the idea of hooking large blowers to pipes that already run beneath each green. They can be used to suck water out of the grass, or reversed to blow hot air on a frosty morning.

The first SubAir was installed on the 13th green. Since 2001, the system has been used on every hole -- most noticeably at No. 8, where a large plume of water was spraying into the air Thursday.

''It looks like a sprinkler has broken,'' Nicholson said. ''That's water being sucked out of the green and thrown into the atmosphere.''

Rookie Byrd
Jonathan Byrd will be playing in his first Masters. He doesn't expect it to be his last.

The 25-year-old Byrd qualified for his first major by finishing 39th on the money list last year, earning more than $1 million.

''It's definitely a dream come true and you kind of pinch yourself to think that you're actually going to play in it,'' said Byrd, who was PGA Tour rookie of the year.

Then, he added, ''There's another part of you that says, 'This is what I've been working for, this is what I see myself doing for the rest of my life.'''

Byrd is from Columbia, S.C. -- about 70 miles east of Augusta.

''I can't imagine Thursday morning, being there on the first tee box when they announce Jonathan Byrd,'' his father, Jim, said. ''I know I'm going to have some tears in my eyes.''

Byrd, an All-American at Clemson, is a little nervous about being tapped as the hometown hero of sorts at Augusta.

''I'm going to know so many people following me,'' he said.

Bargain prices
The Masters has been called the toughest ticket in sports. If you're lucky enough to land one, it might be the best bargain, too.

Tickets for the four-day tournament cost $125 -- compared with $400 for the cheapest Super Bowl ticket and $175 for a box seat at a World Series game.

Once inside, fans used to paying $6 for a hot dog at a big league park might be surprised at the concession stand prices.

The most expensive item on the menu is $2.50, the cost of the chicken breast and Masters club sandwiches. The famed pimento cheese sandwich goes for $1.25, while a domestic beer sells for $1.75.

TV guide
USA Network postponed its live coverage of The Masters when the tournament was called off Thursday for rain, the first time in 64 years the first round was scratched.

USA will expand its live coverage on Friday, starting at 2 p.m. ET until conclusion. Initially, coverage was supposed to run from 4 to 6:30 p.m.

The network will repeat its coverage from 8-10:30 p.m. ET.

Player's takes
Three-time Masters champion Gary Player has never been one to hold back his opinion.

During a wide-ranging interview, the 68-year-old golfer offered his thoughts on autograph seekers, the women's issue at Augusta National, comparisons between Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus and other topics.

''Any man who charges to give an autograph should get his butt kicked,'' Player said. ''It's the public who makes the stars what they are. The amateur is the heart of the game, not the professional.''

Player, who lived in South Africa during the days of apartheid, said if it were his club, he would let a woman in.

''Eventually, it will happen,'' he said. ''But that's just my opinion.''

He said the media's penchant for comparing Woods and Nicklaus is silly because they're playing different games.

''Tiger plays with a metal club head, the ball goes farther, on a perfectly manicured fairway, with his own jet and $5 million a week,'' Player said. ''Jack played on a lousy fairway, with lousy balls and wooden clubs and he got around on a Greyhound bus.''

According to Player, the only conclusion that can be drawn: ''Tiger in his era is the best and Jack in his era is the best.''

Harrington's choice
Padraig Harrington expects to play the PGA Championship in August, even though his wife is scheduled to give birth to their first child the day after the tournament.

''She'll push me out the door to play,'' he said.

Caroline Harrington is the force behind her husband, arranging his travel and accompanying him to most tournaments.

''She's competitive herself,'' the Irish golfer said. ''She's watching and living golf as I play golf. She celebrates the birdies and feels discouraged by the bogeys.''

She is in Augusta this week for The Masters, following her husband.

''I'm not dependent,'' her husband said, ''but it's nice to have her there.''

The baby is due Aug. 18, the day after the final round of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club near Rochester, N.Y.

''She'll join me on tour and come along as she can,'' Harrington said. ''We're a new and growing family. I don't know what to expect. We'll learn as we go.''

No one has gone on to win after leading the first round since Ben Crenshaw in 1984. ... Jay Haas is playing in The Masters for the 20th time, the most for any non-winner. Next on the list: Scott Hoch and Nick Price with 18 apiece.

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