Soggy Course Limits Tigers Challengers

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Tiger Woods probably didn't need any help to win another green jacket.
 
He got it anyway, courtesy of Mother Nature.
 
The cold rain that pummeled Augusta National, washing out the first round on Thursday, likely also washed out the chances many players had of denying Woods a record third straight win in the Masters.
 
The credentials for winning a green jacket used to be a smooth putter and a deft touch around the greens.
 
Now the price for admittance in the exclusive club of winners is hitting it long and high.
 
A soggy, long course and the promise of a numbing 36-hole marathon Friday leaves the future of this Masters in the hands of a few young, long-hitting players.
 
Woods tops that group, of course, and there are a handful of other players who have the type of game it will take to win.
 
Davis Love III, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson come to mind. Behind them, though, are players who can compete week in and week out on the PGA Tour, but aren't likely to make a charge among the Georgia pines.
 
Fred Funk could compete at the last major, the PGA Championship, but his straight and short game isn't ready for the rigors of a wet Augusta National.
 
'I always look forward to playing the Masters but playing this long a course under these conditions is no fun time,' Funk said.
 
Funk was 163rd on the PGA Tour in driving distance last year, but still managed to contend in the final round of the PGA Championship before finishing fourth.
 
That's not likely on a water-logged Augusta National.
 
'The problem with me is I can't hit it as far,' Funk said. 'I just have to find some part of my game that is working. Hopefully, it will be the chipping and putting.'
 
That's the hope of the 'Boss of the Moss,' too. Loren Roberts finished third three years ago, but that was a different course and very different conditions.
 
'If you're not under 32 and can hit the ball 280, you've got no chance,' said the 47-year-old Roberts, who averaged 254 yards off the tee here two years ago.
 
Roberts finds himself among a group of players who will tee it up Friday knowing they are good enough to be invited to the Masters but also knowing they have almost no chance on a 7,290-yard course that will seem like it's playing 8,000 yards.
 
'There's 10 guys who can win it now, you think?' Roberts said.
 
Maybe not even that.
 
Woods, of course, is the prohibitive favorite to win his third straight green jacket. Look at the other 92 players in the field, though, and most can be quickly eliminated as serious contenders.
 
The fairways will be soft from four days of rain that dumped nearly 4 inches of rain on the course. The rough will be wet and deep because it hasn't been cut since it started raining.
 
The combination will prove lethal to most players. Some seem almost to be dreading the thought of trying to compete on an uneven playing field.
 
In a Wednesday practice round, Scott Hoch hit what he called a 'killer drive' and still needed a 3-wood to reach the par-4 18th hole, which was stretched last year to 465 yards.
 
Weir also hit a 3-wood, to a hole that a few years ago was a driver and wedge for many players.
 
'So if all of a sudden a 460 hole is playing like 510, you're going uphill into the wind on a cold day,' Weir said. 'That's pretty close to 8,000.'
 
David Toms got in two practice rounds and only made one bogey in each. Still, he found himself gazing wistfully at places the tees used to be.
 
'I was hoping there would be some common sense and they would move some of the tees up so we can have a fair tournament, bring some more people into it,' Toms said.
 
Friday promises to be a long, cold, wet day.
 
'We're going to play about 15,000 yards and about 10,000 of it is going to be wet,' Rocco Mediate. 'Fitness is a good thing.'
 
A few players saw the unusual chance to play the first two rounds of a major on the same day as something positive.
 
Start making some birdies, and you never know where momentum might lead you.
 
'If you're stroking the ball well it's a blessing,' Tom Lehman said. 'You get on a roll and you can play half the tournament in one day and put yourself in good position.'
 
Start playing badly, though, and the tournament will be over the same day it began.
 
'That's the other side to it,' Lehman said.
 
Related Links:
  • Augusta, Ga., Weather
  • 2003 Masters Tournament Mini-Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • The Augusta National Membership Debate: A Chronology
     
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