Taking lunch by a second-story window of the Augusta National clubhouse, Ed Sneed sneaked a peak outdoors about every 13 seconds. Water, water everywhere and not a promise of glorious sunlight. With an exquisite 67 today, he had finished the Masters' second round at nine-under-par. Men would deal with Mephistopheles for less.
If rain kept up, Sneed's work would be for naught, the round canceled and played over another day. In formal surroundings, Sneed told a press conference he didn't care either way. He would just shoot another 67 if this one was washed out. Everyone nodded and said isn't Ed's sense of perspective wonderful.
Here we run the film fast forward to 3:20 p.m. and Ed Sneed is by the lunchroom window. The forgotton sun has defeated a thunderstorm. A feared tornado is stillborn. And an Augusta club official in his green jacket says, "Play will be resumed at 3:45."
And Ed Sneed, Mr. Cool, starts clapping his hands together over his head while shouting, "ALL RIGHT!"
As Terrifying as the weather conditions were for an hour here today, they made little difference in play. If anything, the soaking of the golf course made it more vulnerable to attack. Of the 10 leaders, only Tom Watson lost ground to par after the rainstorm.
"I just couldn't get started," said Watson, the tour's leading money winner with more than $145,000 this year. "My motor stopped." Before AAA could arrive, the Watson jalopy dumped a shot in a lake and knocked a putt entirely off a green as the chauffeur made two bogeys over the last five holes for a 71 that left him four strokes off the lead.
Golfers seek help wherever they can find it. What Jack Nicklaus wanted was a neutron-tornado that would destroy all scores over par but leave him standing. When a tornado warning was announced, Nicklaus was up to his ankles in a sand trap and up to here with himself.
He was two over par for the round after 12 holes.
"I had seen no reason at all why I should make any putt," said Nicklaus in reconstruction of his early miseries today. He three-putted twice and missed a 3 1/2-footer in the first nine holes.
Sneed was having lunch, rooting for the sun, when Nicklaus stepped into a sand trap at the 13th hole, rooting for Noah to make a comeback. Nicklaus trailed Sneed by eight shots at that point.
Given a choice of leaving the course or finishing play on the 13th, Nicklaus chose to finish. From the trap, he blasted to within five feet of the cup and made the birdie putt.
By then, only 24 of the 72 players had finished the round. Everyone headed for the clubhose to wait it out. Touring wit Joe Inman, whose 71 kept him four shots behind the leaders, alluded to Nicklaus' apparent omniscience by saying, "I wonder what decision Nicklaus is going to make? Will he let the sun shine?"
J. C. Snead was in no hurry to get back outdoors.
"I saw a pretty good flash of lightning," said Snead, who shares every wise golfer's belief that it ain't too smart to walk around in lightning with a metal stick in your hands. "And I backed off a four-foot putt. After I made it, I got out of there."
Perhaps in England and Scotland, today's squall would have been classed a minor nuisance. The British Open is played when hail flies sideways. But Americans find it difficult to swin and putt at the same time.
"Jack, from the look on your face when you went back out to play, you didn't seem all that enamored of the idea," a newspaperman said at day's end.
I couldn't have cared less if we went back out or not," Nicklaus said.
On the 14th fairway, walking to his tee shot after play resumed, Nicklaus said to the paying customers behind the gallery ropes, "Can anybody here make it rain harder?"
And he looked up at the clearing sky, pleading.
Arnold Palmer won his first Masters in 1958 after a rainstorm helped create a favorable ruling. His tee shot on the par-3 12th hole buried itself in mud. He argued he was due a free drop, as he in fact was. An official said no. So Palmer played the ball as it was-and played a second ball, dropped. With the second, he made par; with the first a double bogey. A subsequent ruling made the par official and Palmer won by one stroke.
When Nicklaus asked for rain, he was seven strokes behind the leader, Sneed. "Obviously," Nicklaus later confessed, "I would have loved to have the round rained out when I was even par."
Nicklaus birdied two of the five holes he played after the sun came out. He two-putted the par-5 15th and sank a 40-footer at the 16th.
On a dry day, that 40-footer at the last hole would have set the stoutest heart to fluttering. The ball rested at the top of a steep slope that fell to the cup. That green normally is as hard as a 12-handicapper's heart with a $2 Nassau riding on an opponent's 2 1/2-foot putt.
"I could see no reason why I shouldn't make that putt," said Nicklaus, who knew the rain-soaked green would be soft enough to slow down a putt that on a dry day might roll to Pensacola.
With that putt, Nicklaus finished off a 71 that left him only five shots behind-instead of the eight-the leaders, Sneed and Craig Stadler. CAPTION: Picture, Arnold Palmer, playing in his 25th Masters, adjusts umbrella while waiting turn to putt during rain-plagued second round at Augusta. UPI