Parry Never Takes the Masters for Granted

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There's nothing better than the weekend at Augusta National for Craig Parry - not just during the Masters, but even before it gets started.
 
Parry played with an Augusta National member on Sunday, a day like no other at major championships. It was hard to tell the course was getting ready to stage one of the most famous tournaments in golf. Augusta looked more like a member-guest outing at a regular tournament.
 
Mark O'Meara played with a good friend from Utah. Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer played with their sons.
 
'This is special,' Parry said. 'It's quiet. I think it's the best time to come, because there are no spectators. You just go out there and enjoy it for what it is.'
 
Another reason Parry enjoys it so much is that he never knows when his next Masters will be his last.
 
The 39-year-old Australian nearly won the green jacket in 1992, leading the tournament with 15 holes to play until he fell apart and shot 78. He tied for 13th that year, which remains his best finish. Worst yet, he has only played the Masters six times since.
 
'Every year I come here feels like my last year, so that makes it special,' Parry said.
 
He had no reason to believe he would be back this year. Parry wasn't even among the top 75 in the world ranking to start the season, but picked up top 10s in the Mercedes Championships and the Ford Championship at Doral, and in between won the Heineken Classic in Australia.
 
That allowed him to get into the top 50 after The Players Championship - the final cutoff for the Masters - but he had to wait to get his invitation from Augusta National. Those who qualified last year got their invitations the week after Christmas.
 
But he couldn't wait to arrive. There weren't many other places he would rather be.
 
Ditto for Steve Flesch, especially considering his alternative would have been the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta. Flesch was among five players eligible for the Masters who withdrew when the tournament started two days late because of rain, and now will finish Monday.
 
'It's been so bad lately, you can't get into any kind of rhythm playing,' Flesch said, noting that weather has interrupted play at eight of the 14 tournaments this year.
 
He played the back nine at Augusta on Saturday afternoon. As some players were just starting the second round Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, Flesch was headed to the first tee at Augusta to join Jonathan Kaye for a relaxing round with no spectators, no distractions, no worries.
 
Nothing captured the spirit of the afternoon quite like Faldo, a three-time Masters champion who was fidgeting with a camera on the putting green as he waited for the 10th tee to clear so he could play with his son, 16-year-old Matthew. It was the lad's first time playing Augusta National.
 
'He was born three weeks before I won my first Masters,' Faldo said, recalling his first green jacket in 1989, when he holed a 25-foot birdie on the second extra hole to beat Scott Hoch.
 
Matthew rapped a few putts, amazed at the speed of the green. Did his dad mention that the greens are probably faster than anything he has seen?
 
'He'll figure it out soon enough,' Faldo said.
 
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was on the grounds, for reasons unclear, although he took time to chat with Jerry Kelly. It was a diverse blend of players - members and their guests, first-timers like Mark Hensby, former champions Gay Brewer, Charles Coody, Fuzzy Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw, and players who simply couldn't wait to get started.
 
For Flesch, sunshine was the biggest treat.
 
Adam Scott turned into a prophet when he said at the Sony Open in Hawaii, the second week of the year, 'For a tour that tries to follow the sun, it seems we play under water a lot of the time.'
 
In consecutive weeks in California, the Nissan Open was cut to 36 holes over five days because of rain, and the Match Play Championship lost one day because the course was under water.
 
Florida was just as bad. The Bay Hill Invitational lost all but three hours of the first day because of rain, and The Players Championship the following week got so much rain the tournament didn't finish until Monday, when the leaders had to play 32 holes.
 
Then came the two-day delay in Atlanta.
 
'It seems like this year has taken forever, but I can't believe we're already at Augusta. Does that make sense?' Flesch said. 'It just doesn't seem like I've played any golf this year.'
 
That should change this week. The forecast is for mostly sunny skies, with a mild chance of showers on Thursday.
 
Augusta National is as green as ever, with azaleas and dogwoods bursting in bloom. With a golf club in hand, there was no better place to be.
 
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