2003: Soggy start offers a frigid, rigid test

Augusta, Ga.

Tiger Woods went 21 holes Friday without making a birdie. That’s all you need to know about how difficult a wet Augusta National played on the first day of the rain-delayed 67th Masters.

“It’s the hardest we’ve ever seen it,” veteran Jeff Sluman said.

Here’s hard: Woods, gunning for an unprecedented third consecutive Masters title, opened with 76, the average score for the first round. There were 14 scores in the 80s and one in the 90s but only three in the 60s in Round 1.

Here’s hard: Six-time champion Jack Nicklaus, 63, shot 85, his highest Masters score by four strokes. World No. 2 Ernie Els opened with 79 despite missing only two fairways. Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco each shot 82.

The scores were high because the soggy ground, pelted by about 4 inches of rain in four days, clearly made Augusta National play longer than it ever has, according to longtime contestants.

“It was so long. Wow,” said three-time Masters winner Gary Player, 67, making his 46th Masters appearance. “It’s the longest I’ve ever seen it since I’ve played here.”

“They’ve got seven or eight par 5s out there,” Fuzzy Zoeller, the 1979 champion, said.

“Every hole was a par 5 for me,” said 73-year-old Arnold Palmer, a four-time winner who next year plans to play in his 50th and final Masters.

Frenchman Thomas Levet was asked what club he hit into the 465-yard 18th hole. “You mean the new par 5?” he asked.

Several players grumbled because the tees weren’t moved up to compensate for the wet conditions. Some estimated that the 7,290-yard course played like 7,600 yards.

“If it was my job, I would’ve moved some tees up,” Larry Mize, the 1987 champion, said after an opening 78.

When play on the long day was halted by darkness at 7:30 p.m., only four players were under par – two-time 2003 winner Mike Weir, 6 under through 30 holes; Darren Clarke, 4 under through 28; world No. 4 Phil Mickelson, 2 under through 29; and amateur Ricky Barnes, 1 under through 28.

“It played extremely long,” said Weir, who hit a 5-wood second shot on the 435-yard first hole.

“I’m happy with 4 under because the golf course is very, very tough,” Clarke said.

All but 18 players were still on the course when play stopped. Perhaps the two biggest surprises of the day came in the same threesome. Barnes, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, shot 69 and beat playing partner Woods by seven strokes in the first round.

Woods, however, rallied a bit in the second round. Teeing off on the back nine, he birdied Nos. 13, 14 and 16 to get to 1 over. When play ended, he was 2 over and eight shots behind Weir.




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