Tiger Starts Defense of Masters Title

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Jack Nicklaus sloshed through mud outside the Augusta National clubhouse, seemingly oblivious to the biting breeze, the chilling drizzle, the total lack of anyone else on the putting green.
 
'Ah, what a beautiful day,' he said, pulling out three balls for some last-minute Masters practice.
 
Hardly. Thursday was a day for staying inside after another wave of showers turned golf's hallowed grounds into a muddy mess, forcing the first round to be called off without a shot being struck.
 
They returned Friday morning, Tiger Woods and the rest of the 93-man field, as the 67th Masters finally got under way.
 
Sandy Lyle hit the opening tee shot under gray, damp clouds as the temperature struggled to reach 50 degrees. Fanfare was minimal. Club chairman Hootie Johnson wasn't on the first tee, as the Masters did not have honorary starters for the first time since 1982.
 
Players started on the 1st and 10th tees, with hopes of playing 36 holes to get the first major of the year back on schedule.
 
Nicklaus arrived at the course Thursday morning, only to get word that no golf would be played. He went back home for a while, but couldn't stay away.
 
'I didn't have anything else to do,' the six-time Masters champion said. 'So I figured I would go do some putting and chipping.'
 
He girded himself for the dreary, dank weather by layering a shirt, two sweaters and his rain suit. The folks staying in the nearby cabins had a better idea, judging from the smoke billowing from the fireplaces.
 
'I've never seen anything like this here,' said Ray Floyd, the 1976 Masters champion. 'I know the decision not to play was tough, but what else can you do?'
 
Indeed, while Augusta National has been trying to stave off Martha Burk and her protests against the all-male membership, there was nothing the exclusive club could do about another woman: Mother Nature.
 
For the first time since 1939, the opening round was postponed by rain.
 
'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.'
 
A dome would have come in handy this week. It's been raining since Sunday, knocking out one entire day of practice and cutting short the popular Par 3 Tournament.
 
Even so, some 30,000 fans showed up Thursday, ready to see some golf. They walked gingerly through the brown slop, but their shoes and pants were still splattered with mud. (Certainly, this will be a banner week for Augusta's dry cleaners.)
 
A few dozen fans even made it all the way down to Amen Corner, staking out a space with their folding chairs. No one ever came by.
 
'They're probably desperate to see a shot,' Scott Verplank said.
 
David Ziff traveled 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.
 
'I'm going to walk the course, look around and go back to Atlanta,' said Ziff, holding three bags of Masters merchandise. 'At least I can say I've been here.'
 
Woods, chasing history as he goes after an unprecedented third straight title, didn't even make it to the golf course.
 
'Evidently, they felt it was unplayable,' he said.
 
More showers were expected Friday morning. When they do get around to golf, the soggy turf should play right into the hands of Woods and others who hit the ball far and high on a 7,290-yard course that will seem even longer.
 
Stamina also figures to play a big role. Memo to those who took Arnold Palmer in the office pool: The 73-year-old King isn't likely to make the cut for the first time since 1983.
 
'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.
 
The course was unplayable, even with the club's high-tech, underground drainage system. Some 4 inches of rain have inundated the course; 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 club officials made it clear that the ball is played as it lies at the Masters.
 
'There would be a woman member here before that happens,' Chris DiMarco quipped.
 
And speaking of women, Burk and her National Council of Women's Organizations still plan to protest Saturday - the first day sunshine is in the forecast.
 
In Atlanta, Burk called on Augusta National members to take a stand against Johnson and turn in their green jackets if they don't agree with him on the issue of female members.
 
'The choice,' Burk said, 'is to stand up and support Hootie, or stand down.'
 
Related Links:
  • 2003 Masters Tournament Mini-Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • 2003 Masters Tournament Photo Gallery
  • The Augusta National Membership Debate: A Chronology
     
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