An almost total absence of humor is the Masters' one obvious weakness. That was remedied today in a burlesque second round that had enough comic relief and bluenose snafus to take care of a decade of Masters.
Normally, the Masters is stateliness and drama, decorous beauty and Southern springtime ambiance. This silly Saturday, it was rain and mud, infernal delays and failing light, sopping ankles and soaked feet, players left on the course in the dark and, finally, word that this 47th Masters wouldn't end till Monday.
What would Bobby Jones say about a bizarre day when Arnold Palmer begged an official to let him finish his round after sunset; when Jack Nicklaus withdrew with back spasms before he hit a shot; when Lee Trevino skipped down the fairway like a little child, splashing water with his club as he went?
In fact, no one knows for certain who leads this befuddling tournament, nor even who has made the cut.
When this day of goofy golf finally ended, the scoreboard said that the top four spots were held by Dr. Gil Morgan at seven under par, Seve Ballesteros at six under, Keith Fergus at five under and Ray Floyd, also at five under par.
That, however, can be debated since Morgan, Ballesteros and Floyd are among six players who were left on the course at nightfall and must return in the morning to finish their rounds; Morgan and Floyd have two holes to play, Ballesteros one.
Because second-round play was not officially completed, Masters officials--read chairman Hord Hardin--had no realistic choice but to cancel plans for a 36-hole finale on Sunday. Now, the third round will be played on Sunday and the final round on Monday. Several days of perfect weather are now predicted.
Behind Morgan, Ballesteros, Floyd and Fergus are a vast collection of realistic challengers. The aptly named Jodie Mudd, who tied for the day's low round (68), and England's Nick Faldo (70), who says he plays in lousy weather back home all the time, are at four-under-par 140.
In at 141 are Tom Watson (71), hot-under-the-collar defending champ Craig Stadler (72) and Fred Couples. Also much in the hunt at three-under are Palmer (one hole to play), Jack Renner (two to play) and euphoric amateur James O. Hallet (one to play).
In all, 25 players are under par and within easy reach of the lead, including Tom Kite (72--142) and Calvin Peete (72--142), who may wonder why his name never appeared on any of the main 10-man leaderboards all day, despite the fact that, for two hours, his position fluctuated from fourth to eighth place.
Some, no doubt, will also wonder how it came to pass that a tiny field of 82 players was unable to complete 18 holes of play on a day when play was only suspended for 35 minutes by one heavy shower. Obviously, there were several hours of daylight to spare.
Unfortunately, Masters officials, in what seemed a reasonable notion at the time, decided not to start play until 11 a.m. today, in order to use the morning to dry the course, and, perhaps, to accommodate television.
That, however, was before steady drizzle slowed play to an agonizing 6 1/2-hour pace. The constant need to stop play to sweep water off the greens in the Amen Corner had players saying their prayers; as many as a dozen players were sometimes waiting on the same tee.
Now the Masters, which loves its huge Sunday afternoon, fourth-round TV ratings, will reach its conclusion on Monday afternoon while millions of golf fans are presumably still caught in commuter traffic.
"We tried, but we didn't make it," said Hardin this evening, knowing that if play had started at, for instance, 10 a.m., they would have "made it."
In almost every way, this has been a snakebitten Masters. First, the flowers never arrived; the legendary seas of firethorn, golden bell, camellia, yellow jasmine, Carolina cherry and magnolia have held themselves in abeyance.
Next, Sam Snead, playing in his final Masters, withdrew after one round. Then, Friday's round was prevented by torrents that turned Rae Creek into a small river and made the Amen Corner look like a flood plain. Now, the hardy fans who turn out here under any conditions have been treated to what Palmer called "the wettest day at the Masters" that he had ever seen.
Those who slogged and sloshed their way through the mud saw a surprisingly high quality of golf. Palmer said that he slipped on almost every shot and Stadler was so disgruntled over the slow pace of play that he slammed clubs into the ground several times. Nevertheless, Morgan, whom one writer called "the optometrist that nobody knows on sight," managed three birdies and a six-foot putt for eagle at the 500-yard 15th hole.
Morgan was hardly the only man capable of a hot streak. Ballesteros ran off three straight birdies at the 13th, 14th and 15, while Japan's Tommy Nakajima, who once had the indignity of taking a 13 at the 13th, had five consecutive birdies (11 through 15) before bogeying the 16th and 18th to finish at 70--142.
Fergus, who said "the whole course was casual water," went eagle-birdie-birdie on the 15th, 16th and 17th, but three-putted the 18th for a 69--139 finish and the role of second-round-leader-in-the-clubhouse.
For romantics, this bleak day did not seriously damage the longshot chances of the amateur Hallet or the sainted Palmer.
"I came here to be respectable, to make the cut," said Hallet, one over for 17 holes. "Being in the hunt is so much better, being in the thick of things."
Palmer, who had four birdies and five bogeys in a gutty round in which he avoided several chances to fold, said, "My confidence wasn't dented at all." In fact, Palmer was encouraged that, with a drastically changed swing that's less than a week old, be could survive a round under such miserable conditions.
When play was suspended at 6:55 p.m., Palmer still wanted to complete his round and even had his tee in the ground at the 18th but officials insisted that he couldn't finish. Afterward, Palmer and Hardin engaged in a bit of badinage about the applicable rules.
"Don't mess with me now, boy," said Hardin to Palmer.
Both laughed, though Hardin seemed testy. For the chairman of the august Masters, it had been a day that could make even an autocrat grouchy.