AUGUSTA, Ga., April 7 -- Weird stuff was going on all around Augusta National on Thursday in a bizarre opening round of the 69th Masters. The round was first delayed for 5½ hours because of severe thunderstorms, then cut short by darkness with most of the field still flailing away on a brutally difficult course made even more treacherous by strong breezes whooshing through the towering pines.
When the horn mercifully ending play sounded at about 7:30 p.m., who could blame anyone in the mostly frazzled field for heading directly to the clubhouse bar? Still, at the end of the day, at least there was some semblance of normalcy on the very incomplete leader board. Three members of the so-called Big Five -- Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen and defending champion Phil Mickelson -- were within two shots of the partial lead posted by Chris DiMarco, who was 4 under par through the 14 holes he completed.
Tiger Woods looks down into Rae's Creek after running an eagle putt well past the cup, off the green and into the water on the 13th hole -- his fourth of the day.
(Chris O'Meara - Associated Press)
Sixty-eight players from the original field of 93 were not able to finish. They will go back to the course at 9:45 a.m. Friday, and the second round will commence about an hour later. The stroke average for the field was 75.76, almost four shots above par on a course that played considerably longer than its 7,290 listed yards because there was little roll in rain-soaked fairways. The greens, though receptive to most shots, also were putting at typical warp speeds, and pins were tucked in all the devilish places.
DiMarco was the 54-hole leader here last year and played in the final group with Mickelson, wilting on Sunday to finish in a tie for sixth place.
On this day, he pushed ahead on his back nine -- actually the front nine, because players were started on No. 10 because of the delay -- with three straight birdies starting at the first hole, parred two more and will have to play 22 holes Friday. He led the Masters after 18 and 36 holes the first time he played in 2001, and ended in a tie for 10th.
"I've felt comfortable every year I've been here," DiMarco said. "I like the golf course. It sets up good for me. It appeals to my eye. I like the greens. I like the imagination you have to have around the greens.
"That really goes to my game. You're not necessarily putting at the holes out there, you're putting at the spots, and that's how your speed is and you just try to get it over your spot with the right speed. Sometimes they go in."
And sometimes, very strange things can happen.
Tiger Woods, among others, couldn't believe his eyes when his 40-foot putt for eagle at the 515-yard 13th hole broke about 10 feet, missed the hole by inches, then kept picking up speed all the way down to the creek below, leading to a maddening bogey. Then, at the 435-yard No. 1, his 10th hole of the day, a second shot wedge from the fairway landed inches from the cup, only to spin 20 feet sideways into a bunker, leading to another bogey, and a club thrown in anger.
Woods was at 2 over after 12 holes, and when play was called, he was taken by cart to meet with tournament officials about whether he had broken a rule when he tapped in a three-inch putt for par at the 14th hole. Several viewers watching the telecast at home called the tournament office and said they thought Woods might have violated Rule 16-1, Section E that states "the player must not make a stroke on the putting green from a stance astride, or with either foot touching, the line of putt or an extension of that line behind the ball."
Woods and several rules officials went into a television truck and watched a tape for five to seven minutes, according to a Masters spokesman. "We reviewed the tape with Tiger of his second putt at No. 14 and the tape was inconclusive. No penalty will be assessed," competition committee Will Nicholson said in a statement. Woods was not available to comment.
There were other strange occurrences. David Toms, winner of the World Match Play event in February, was preparing to address his putt at the 440-yard 14th when a puff of wind caught his ball and swept it back about 20 yards off the putting surface, leading to a double bogey.
And what about poor Billy Casper, the 73-year-old 1970 champion playing here for the first time since 2001? He hit five balls into the water at the 170-yard 16th on his way to what would have been a tournament-record 14 on the hole and a round of 106, the highest score in tournament history by 11 strokes.
But wait. Casper opted not to sign his scorecard, telling reporters afterward it was still in his pocket and that he planned to frame it and put it on display back home in San Diego. No signed scorecard meant all those blows wouldn't count as official records, and he was disqualified from further competition.
"I just wanted to [play again at The Masters] before I was old," Casper said. At the 16th hole, he said, "I was bound and determined" to hit a shot on the green. He used a 9-wood off the tee for his opening shot, then went to the drop area and used a 7-iron four times, with four more splashes. He finally hit dry land with a 6-iron, then said afterward he only started the round with six balls, so the pressure really was on after five in a row in the pond.
"My kids wanted me to play, just to walk in the fairway and be in the tournament," Casper said, adding that he woke up with a sore back Wednesday and was having trouble swinging. The galleries, he added, "were great. We had a lot of fun out there. They were there all the way around, five grandchildren and five kids."
Mark Hensby, a mostly obscure 33-year-old from Australia, was the actual leader in the clubhouse, finishing his round of 3-under 69 in fading light with birdies at the 17th and 18th holes. His own quirky background, including sleeping in a car for several weeks outside a course in Chicago in the early 1990s, went right along with the wacky nature of the entire day.
Hensby insisted that car business was no big deal except that "there's no comfortable way" to fall asleep. "To me a bigger deal is when you only have $1,000 left in your bank account and you're on the old Nike Tour back in 1997 and you don't have enough money to play if you don't play well. That's a lot harder than sleeping in the car."
Englishman Luke Donald, who birdied three of the first four holes on the front nine, also was at 3 under through 14 holes. Goosen, who played 13 holes, Mickelson (11) and Singh (11) were in a five-way tie for fourth place when play was halted, all at 2 under along with Stuart Appleby (11) and second-year pro Ryan Palmer, playing his first Masters.
Ernie Els, runner-up here last year and the other member of the Big Five along with Woods, was the worst of the lot at 3 over through 11 holes, beginning his day with three bogeys on his first six holes. But, as DiMarco said, "this is just the start of the race. This is a marathon, and we've got a long way to go."