Wednesday Notes from Augusta

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- It's a tradition like no other: an aging golfer strikes a shot at the first hole to signal the start of the Masters.
 
Not this year.
 
Sam Snead, who hit the ceremonial tee shot in 2002, died six weeks later at age 89. The club didn't replace 'Slammin' Sam,' marking the first time since 1980 that the tournament will begin without an honorary starter.
 
'He loved this tournament,' Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson said Wednesday on the eve of the opening round. 'He was a great contributor to our heritage. And we will miss him.'
 
Augusta National began having honorary starters in 1963, when Jock Hutchinson and Fred McLeod assumed the role. No one is quite sure why those two were picked.
 
Hutchinson played in the Masters 11 times, but he made the cut only once and never finished higher than 51st. McLeod's best finish in 15 trips to Augusta National was 50th.
 
Hutchinson was an honorary starter until 1973, McLeod lasted three more years. No one held the role from 1977-80, but Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen -- with three victories between them -- took over in '81.
 
Ken Venturi filled in for an ailing Nelson in '83, but Lord Byron returned the following year to find himself in a threesome. Nelson and Sarazen were joined in 1984 by Snead, a three-time winner.
 
That group lasted until 1999, when Sarazen died. Nelson dropped out after 2001 because of advancing years. Snead went solo last year despite failing health, knocking his shot into the gallery and striking a fan in the face.
 
Johnson said the tournament likely will hold off naming another honorary starter until four-time champion Arnold Palmer decides to hang it up.
 
Palmer said the 2002 Masters would be his last, then changed his mind after Johnson reversed the policy regarding past champions. The 73-year-old Palmer would like to play through next year, which would be his 50th Masters.
 
'I have talked with Arnold about being an honorary starter,' Johnson said. 'And he has said that he would be honored to be one at the appropriate time.
 
'He still feels that he's playing enough active golf, tournament golf, that he doesn't want to do that now. But I am hopeful that we will have him some time in the future. And we're going to wait on him.'
 
Related Link: Arnie, Jack Can't Say Goodbye
 
Protest Numbers
Martha Burk may be trying to lower expectations for the turnout at Saturday's protest on the issue of women members at Augusta National.
 
Burk said Wednesday that a conservative group she did not name was offering people $75 to book a seat on a protest bus to Augusta if they would reserve the seat and not show up.
 
'That could affect our numbers,' Burk said.
 
Her group has a permit to protest during Saturday's third round. After a court ruling was not overturned Wednesday, the protest will take place at a 5.1-acre site near the course but not at the front gate as Burk wanted.
 
Burk hoped to have 24 people protesting at the gate and another 200 across the street.
 
Related Links: Last Stop on the Protest Line
 

Rain Disrupts Par-3
Padraig Harrington and David Toms were declared co-winners of the par-3 contest, which barely got going before the rains came.
 
Harrington and Toms each had a score of 6 when storms brought the popular event to an end. Many players didn't even get on the nine-hole, 1,060-yard course.
 
Davis Love III had the only hole-in-one, sinking his tee shot at the 70-yard second hole -- the shortest on the course.
 
No player has ever won the par-3 tournament and gone on to win the Masters in the same year.
 
Happy Haas
What a deal: Jay Haas traded in a weekend in front of the TV for a chance to play at Augusta National.
 
The 49-year-old PGA Tour veteran finished second at The Players Championship two weeks ago to move into the top 10 on the money list and qualify for the Masters.
 
'It's pretty special,' said Haas, making his first appearance here since 2000. 'Two, three years ago, it was looking like I'd never make it back.'
 
But Haas has been on quite a resurgence of late, thanks to a change he made in his putting after working with part-time PGA Tour pro Stan Utley.
 
'It got me interested in the game again,' Haas said. 'I was getting frustrated out there, trying to grind and grind and grind and not feeling like I was getting anywhere.'
 
Less than a year from becoming eligible for the Champions Tour, Haas hardly seems like a guy ready to go play with the seniors. He has two second-place finishes this year, is sixth on the money list and has moved from 125th to 31st in the world rankings.
 
'I'm happy to be here,' Haas said. 'Now, the goal is to make sure I get to come back.'
 
He can guarantee a return trip by finishing in the top 16.
 
Garcia's 'Big' Swing Change
Sergio Garcia is still trying to get used to his new swing.
 
Garcia has altered his back swing, trying to make his follow-through a little longer and get his club aiming at the target.
 
'It's a big change,' the Spaniard said. 'And it's not easy. I'm getting used to it a little bit, and I just think it's feeling better.'
 
Garcia made the change about a month ago after consulting with his father. They hope it will lead to more consistency.
 
'We decided it was the right time,' Garcia said. 'I felt like it was getting a little away from me, the other swing. So I just tried to improve it a little bit.'
 
So far, so bad. Garcia missed the cut at Bay Hill and The Players Championship, which can't help his confidence coming to Augusta.
 
'This is always one of those weeks where you try that bit extra,' Garcia said. 'Hopefully, my swing will come together and we will be able to have a good week.'
 
Related Links:
  • Arnie, Jack Can't Say Goodbye
  • 2003 Masters Tournament Mini-Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • The Augusta National Membership Debate: A Chronology
     
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