And this was two hours before the final round began.
It wasn't long before the 189-yard 'Redan' hole turned into the disaster they feared.
Despite moving the hole to the easiest location, the first two players -- J.J. Henry and Kevin Stadler -- took triple bogey when they could not keep their ball on the severely sloped green. The next group didn't fare much better. Cliff Kresge made triple bogey, while Billy Mayfair escaped with a bogey.
'I'm not very happy about this,' said Walter Driver, chairman of the USGA championship committee, standing glum-faced behind the green. 'You've just got to do the best you can to make it as fair as you can.'
The solution was to lightly spray water on the green between groups to try to keep the grass alive. The round was stopped for 10 minutes for the maintenance staff to arrive with their hoses, and they hosed down the green after the next nine groups.
This didn't sit well with the boisterous New York fans, who enjoyed watching the world's best players look foolish.
'Let them play! Let them play!' they chanted when the maintenance staff started spraying the green.
One fan said, 'When the leaders get here, you're going to have to mow.'
Mayfair came up short, then made a sign of the cross before hitting his second. It went by the cup and had no chance, rolling off the green. He chipped up and made a 3-footer for bogey, then waved his putter like a sword at the hole, and saluted the gallery.
Mayfair wound up shooting 89, but was in no mood to blame the USGA -- or the idea that the watering didn't start until after he played No. 7.
'We were so far out over par, so far out of it,' Mayfair said. 'I'd rather they water the greens for the other guys out there who have a chance.'
Watering greens in the middle of competition is not unprecedented.
Six years ago at The Olympic Club, the USGA lightly sprayed the 18th green when the wind and dry conditions -- not to mention a hole location just over a knob -- made it nearly impossible to play.
The image of that second round in 1998 was Payne Stewart tapping a 10-foot putt that curled just below the green, then rolled some 40 feet to the bottom. Stewart was waiting for the ball when it got there.
That was a bad hole location.
This was simply a bad green.
The hole slopes away on the sides, with the most severe undulation toward the left. It is supposed to play into the wind, but the breeze was at the players' back, making it next to impossible.
Problems began in the third round when only one of 66 players managed a birdie. Phil Mickelson had an 8-foot par putt, and was lucky it rolled only 12 feet by instead of going off the green. He made double bogey Saturday.
The gallery must have sensed this would be a horror show. By 8 a.m. Sunday, there already were 54 people in the grandstand behind the green, almost as many as in the bleachers next to the 18th, where a champion would be crowned. And as No. 7 took its toll on one player after another, there was a line that stretched 50 feet to get a seat in the grandstand.
The hole location for the final round was supposed to be seven paces on and seven paces from the right. But with the grass dead, Driver ordered his crew to change it.
'We moved the hole to put it in the most benign position we could find,' he said.
Driver found a small, circular patch -- about the only area where the grass was green -- for the new location.
'We thought a change in hole location was enough,' he said.
The watering helped. The crew went five groups before watering at one point, feeling the green with their hands.
Defending champion Jim Furyk missed well to the left and chipped to 2 feet for par. Joe Ogilvie went into the bunker and blasted out to 3 feet. Both made par, then high-fived each other.
Barry Proctor, who works at Huntingdale Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia, was in charge of watering. He waved the hose like a can of spray paint, and every time he walked onto the green, he was booed.
'I guess it's entertainment for them,' he said. 'I'm just doing my job.'
Robert Allenby, who had a par round of 70, didn't think the watering made much of a difference.
'It was like they didn't turn the hose on,' he said.
Jay Haas, who had a final-round 71, was also sarcastic about the watering.
'I'm not sure the water hit the green,' he said.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.