Rain Soaks Augusta

Thursday, April 10, 2003
Vartan Kupelian

For the first time in 64 years, the opening round of the Masters Tournament was cancelled Thursday, the result of nearly four inches of rain falling on Augusta National Golf Club over the last five days.

Will Nicholson, chairman of the Competition Committees, said the golf course is unplayable and simply could take no more water.

The golfers were not surprised by the decision.

Jack Nicklaus, six-time winner playing in his 43rd Masters, said, "I don't think I've ever seen the weather here quite this bad for this long."

"This course can't take any more water," said Fuzzy Zoeller, who won the Masters in 1979.

The first round is now scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m. Friday from the first and 10th tees. The second round is tentatively scheduled for a 1:30 p.m. start off two tees.

"We have a pretty good day in front of us (Friday) with some sun coming out in the afternoon," Nicholson said. "I would say if the weather is as good as they say it is, we have an outside chance of completing 36 holes. I think it's more probable that we'll have three or four groups on each side still on the golf course we'll finish them early Saturday, then re-pair and start the third round. Then we'll be back on schedule."

Nicholson said that, if at all possible, the tournament will end Sunday, as scheduled. But he would not limit himself or the tournament to it. The forecast is for improved conditions Saturday and Sunday.

"I learned a long time ago never speculate what may or may not happen in the future," he said. "We will complete 72 holes."

But, despite the soggy conditions, Nicholson reaffirmed that the "lift, clean and place" rule will not be used.

"We believe that's the traditional way to play the game and that's the way we intend to play the game," he said.

The announcement of the cancellation came just before the first groups were scheduled to tee off at 11 a.m. Several players were on the practice range and others were on the putting green.

"I'm sure it's the right thing to do," Scott Hoch said. "I played late Wednesday and couldn't find any dry spots on the fairway."
Hoch said he was fine with a 36-hole day.

"I'd rather do that them play in these conditions," he said. "I putted for 10 minutes and my hands are pretty cold. This is a major championship. It deserves the best conditions."

It's the first cancellation of a round since the 1983 Masters when the postponed of Day 2 play resulted in only the fourth Monday finish in tournament history.

Rocco Mediate expects the course to be ready when the weather finally relents.

"If they can't get it ready here, nobody can get it ready," Mediate said. "They have the team of teams for course preparation. If they can't do it, it's not ready to play."
Nicholson said the safety of the fans was "uppermost in our mind" and that he had consulted with officials of the European and PGA Tours and the United States Golf Association.

"They were all here at my request at first light," the competition chair said. "I helped them at their tournament and they help us. We have developed a great friendship. With their experience, it would be wrong for us not to use it."
Nicholson was on the grounds last week.

"This course was never in better condition," he said. "The fairways were firm, they were fast, the greens were firm, the pace was picking up. It was absolutely perfect. I thought we had an opportunity to play this course the way the course is designed and unfortunately we still have not yet seen that."