The House Of Payne

By Brian HewittApril 5, 2007, 4:00 pm
The early returns on new Masters chairman Billy Payne were that he would be a little kinder and gentler in dealing with the tournaments prying public that his older predecessor, Hootie Johnson, fended off, not always with uncommon grace.
 
How interesting then that the golf course that the new chairman now presides over turned out to be so difficult on the first day of the 71st Masters?
 
How interesting that Augusta National allowed just two scores'Justin Rose and Brett Wetterichs 3-under 69s - below 70? How interesting that Augusta National on Thursday turned out to be 'A House Of Payne' for the worlds best golfers?
 
Ernie Els needed 78 blows to get around the 7,445 yards that played firm and fast in cool and windy conditions. Defending champion Phil Mickelson needed 76. U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy made a snowman - yes an eight - on the par-5 second, although he rallied for a 75. And Tiger Woods, the worlds No. 1 player, failed to make a birdie until the 13th, bogeyed 17 and 18 and carded 73.
 
Even more interesting is the fact that the pain may increase for everybody. Cooler temperatures yet are forecast and Saturday is promising high winds and a thermometer that wont register higher than 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
 
And isnt it ironic that a player with the surname of Rose is co-leading in a tournament famously and annually revered for the azaleas and dogwoods that seduce the prosaics to wax poetic.
 
Rose has promised greatness, without completely delivering, for almost a decade now. Three years ago he led the Masters after 36 holes before ballooning to a third-round 81. Earlier this year he finished third in the California desert at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic presented by George Lopez.
 
Then at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Rose took down Michael Campbell, Phil Mickelson and Charles Howell before he succumbed to another promising young gun, South Africas Trevor Immelman.
 
Then he hurt his back. There were whispers that Rose was going to need an operation. That didnt happen and now Justin Rose is co-leading the Masters after taking 20 putts in 18 holes. Rose hit only five greens in regulation.
 
I think I learned that one day, two days, is so far away from winning the golf tournament. Rose said of 2004. I really learned that this golf course demands respect.
 
Maybe we should be more surprised about Jeev-Milkha Singh, one of only two others that got his round to 3-under Thursday. The other was Wetterich. Jeev-Milkha fired and fell back and finished with a 72.
 
But his story is an intriguing one. His father, Milkha Singh finished fourth in the 400 meters at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Milkha Singh later became a revered sports minister in India and a critic of his countrys sports programs.
 
When I asked Jeev-Milkha Singh earlier this year if his father had been critical of him taking up golf, Jeev-Milkha told me this: He was all right with it. But he said once I chose golf there would be no going back. In our country cricket is religion.
 
Yet still Jeev-Milkha Singh was his countrys Sportsman of the Year in 2006 and it was the first time a golfer had ever won that award in that country.
 
So now we have Friday upon us. Thursdays at majors are always about taking inventory. Fridays center around talk about the cut and who still has a chance. Saturdays are moving day and reveal to us who will be playing in the final groups on the final day.
 
And Sundays, especially at The Masters, are, well, Sundays at The Masters - among the most special days in all of sport.
 
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