AUGUSTA, Ga., April 8 -- The 69th Masters got stuck in the mud Friday for another mostly dreary day of rain and occasional thunder and lightning hovering over saturated Augusta National Golf Club. They did manage to get the first round completed in the morning, with Chris DiMarco the official 18-hole leader after finishing off a 5-under round of 67, good for a one-shot advantage over Vijay Singh, the world's top-ranked player, and Englishman Luke Donald, playing here for the first time.
But not a single player was able to complete the second round when play, initially suspended at 12:40 p.m., was halted for good at 4 p.m. Radar detected another storm heading toward the golf course.
Chris DiMarco reacts as his putt for birdie stops short. DiMarco played just one hole of the second round after completing his first round in 5 under par.
(Amy Sancetta -- AP)
The entire field will have to resume play at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, when the weather is expected to improve.
When the signal halting play echoed across the course, three men were tied for the lead at 5 under -- DiMarco, Donald and another Englishman, David Howell. Howell played eight holes on his second round and birdied five of them to pull into contention. Donald played two second-round holes, making birdie at the second to get a share of the lead, and DiMarco made par on the first hole before heading for cover.
Most players have become accustomed to this sort of routine on the PGA Tour this season. Weather has forced suspensions of play or the cancellation of rounds at nine of 15 tournaments in 2005. The BellSouth Classic last week in Atlanta was a 54-hole event and didn't end until Monday. The week before, the Players Championship was not completed until Monday afternoon.
"We need to find out where all the drought-stricken countries are, and for $10 million, we'll take a PGA tournament there. That would take care of things," said veteran Nick Price, who said he fell asleep in the locker room during Friday's delay "just like all the other old guys. I've never been involved in this many rain delays."
The best-case scenario Saturday would involve completing the entire third round by sundown. The weekend forecast calls for dry and possibly sunny conditions, according to Will Nicholson, the club's competition committee chairman. "It looked pretty good today, so you can come to your own conclusion," he said, adding that four inches of rain fell here in a five-day span at the end of March, and deluges Thursday and Friday have dumped more water than the course can hold.
Some players wondered why the resumption of the first round was scheduled so late Friday, at 9:45 a.m., when an earlier start might have allowed another two hours of golf. DiMarco said "it's all about TV," implying that the later start would get more high-profile players onto the USA network telecast scheduled from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
But Nicholson said that had nothing to do with the decision. "Our primary consideration today was to have the course as playable as it could be for the players," he said.
In the three-hour morning window when play did go on, DiMarco, who completed 14 holes on Thursday, birdied the first hole he played, the 180-yard No. 6, knocking a 6-iron within an inch of an ace. He finished with three pars to claim the sole 18-hole lead. DiMarco also led the Masters after the first 18 holes in 2001, the first year he played here, and had the 54-hole lead a year ago before fading to a tie for sixth on Sunday.
Singh made morning birdies at the 13th and 14th, two-putting from 50 feet at the 510-yard 13th and hitting a glorious second shot to within three feet at the 440-yard 14th and making the birdie putt. He had another decent birdie chance at the 500-yard 15th, which he reached in two. But he three-putted for par, missing a four-foot effort that never even grazed the cup. He parred in for a round of 68.
Defending Masters champion Phil Mickelson, a three-time winner already this season, was very much in the mix. He birdied the 155-yard 12th hole in the morning with a six-foot putt, then gave a shot back when he missed a five-foot par putt at the 14th hole. He parred in for a round of 2-under 70, good for a tie for seventh place, and never started the second round.
Tiger Woods, who started the day 2 over, finished the first round with a 74, with two birdies and two bogeys on his remaining six holes. One of those bogeys came at the uphill 570-yard No. 8 after Woods pushed his drive into the trees down the right side. He tried a dangerous second shot through the tiniest of openings that only he could possibly have seen. Then he got very lucky when his ball hit another tree and caromed dead left into the fairway. A ricochet right was double- or triple-bogey territory.
From the fairway, his third shot landed on the right fringe, but his chipped fourth shot rolled six feet past the hole and he missed the par putt. Woods made a routine par at the 460-yard No. 9, got one hole in on his second round, a par at No. 1, and found himself seven shots off the lead entering Saturday.
Ernie Els also had more problems and finished with a 75, leaving some heavy lifting if he hopes to make the cut.
Most of all, players all around are simply hoping this spate of bad weather will finally end on the weekend.
"Today, I sat in the back of the locker room and told stories," DiMarco said. "But this is four weeks in a row, so everybody is telling the same stories. They get old after a while."