Augusta, Ga. | What viewers couldn’t see – or smell – on the CBS Masters telecast were the side effects of the heavy rain that softened Augusta National’s pristine fairways and greens.
The rain began Thursday night and let up only for about three hours Friday afternoon before a downpour forced suspension of play at 5 p.m. It was still drizzling when play resumed at 9 a.m. Saturday.
Players complained of “mud balls” and inconsistent greens, but their discomfort was nothing compared with that of tournament spectators. Heavily trafficked areas around the clubhouse, on crosswalks and along the restraining ropes were a malodorous quagmire. Augusta-area dry cleaners probably did a landmark business in cleaning the slacks of patrons who fell in the mud.
If the resulting mess was worse than anyone could remember, the explanation lay in part with renovations and the extensions of some tees, especially around the first tee and ninth and 18th greens, where spectators were forced onto narrower paths over areas that had only recently been rebuilt and re-grassed.
The National’s maintenance crew threw truckloads of sand and pine straw onto slopes and walking paths, including a 20-yard swath on the first and ninth fairway crosswalks. The crew also scattered a granular absorbent that looked suspiciously like cat litter.
Players seeking relief from casual water in fairways took drops as far as 30 yards from where their balls had originally come to rest. The muck proved problematic for those looking for relief after stray shots ended up in spectator areas.
At one point during Round 3, Fred Couples hit onto the ninth green before the group ahead had even reached the putting surface. Steve Lowery was so far right of the green, searching for an area to take relief from the mud, that Couples assumed the hole had cleared.
Some players questioned whether the second round should have begun Friday, or been restarted so soon (9 a.m. Saturday).
At the very least, many argued, the lift, clean and place provision should have been put into effect.
“There is water everywhere,” said Greg Norman, prior to the noon start of the third round. “This a questionable case. It’s really marginal out there.”
Nick Price was more emphatic. “We shouldn’t have played, pure and simple,” Price said after completing a second-round 76 before the suspension.
His protests fell on deaf ears among tournament officials, especially after Vijay Singh posted a second-round 65 – which turned out to be a tournament low – under the same conditions.