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Rain, rain, go to Augusta

Tue., April 5, 2005

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Jesper Parnevik used to think practice rounds at Augusta National were a waste of time. Putts seemed to crawl along the greens for three days until the Masters began on Thursday, then suddenly they raced across at warp speed.

Monday at the Masters felt like tournament time.

“You were hitting putts up to the hole, and they were coming back to you,” Parnevik said. “I’ve never seen greens this fast this early in the week.”

Maybe he should compare notes with Nick O’Hern.

The left-handed Aussie is making his Masters debut, so he arrived during the weekend for a crash course on Augusta National. He decided to walk the course only with his putter to get a feel for the place, and decided to rap a few putts on the par-3 12th in dry, blustery conditions Saturday afternoon.

“I putted to the back left pin and the ball went off the green and into the water,” O’Hern said. “And there’s not much slope on that green.”

In a wet start to the golf season, this might be one time players are begging for rain.

“Very firm. Very fast. Very difficult,” Shigeki Maruyama said.

Preparations for the first major championship of the year began in earnest Monday on an Augusta National course where the azaleas and dogwoods were starting to bloom and nerves already were a little frayed.

Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els played their first practice rounds, while two other members of the Big Five – Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen – were finishing off the rain-delayed, 54-hole BellSouth Classic in Atlanta.

It sure felt like a tournament, with 40,000 fans swarming the grounds on a warm, sunny day. Even during a round in which shots didn’t count, there were pockets of roars for players who tried to skip the ball across the pond on the par-3 16th, and a huge cheer when John Daly made a hole-in-one on his third tee shot at No. 16.

In the three years since Augusta National was revamped to add 300 yards, the course has never played fast and firm. There has always been at least one day or one round of heavy rain that softened the green.

Rain was in the forecast for Thursday, although it was not a certainty, something that left several players wondering just what was in store for them.


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