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Wanted: One dry week at course

Monday, April 03, 2006
By David Westin
Staff Writer

Masters Tournament players and patrons, take this as a sign: Weather delays are way down this year on the PGA Tour.

If only the Masters can follow that lead after four consecutive weather-delayed tournaments at Augusta National Golf Club.

"The weather does seem to go in cycles, and we have been fortunate," U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman said. "We have had some phenomenal weeks. At (Pebble Beach in February) it was 80 degrees, calm and beautiful, which is unheard for that time of year.

"Hopefully, that cycle will continue. It would be nice to get a week here free of rain and the course could get really firm and fast and see what happens."

At this time in 2005, eight of the 14 tour events had been affected by weather woes. So far this year, only five have.

It's been five years since the Masters went through a week without a weather delay. Since then, "play suspended" and "weather warning" signs have became commonplace on the leaderboards.

In 2005, the start of the first round was delayed until 1:30 p.m., and the tournament never got back on track logistically. Forty-four players had to complete their third round Sunday morning, then turn right back around for the final round.

The long-range weather forecast for this year's tournament rounds, which start Thursday, is favorable.

"I think the tournament deserves it and the National deserves it," said 1998 Masters champion Mark O'Meara. "They work very hard to try to get the golf course in pristine shape. This year, it looks pretty darn nice. If we could just have some good weather, then I think you'll see the true Augusta, where they can firm the course up and speed it up a little bit."

But if the weather turns bad, the newly lengthened course could become a bear, because wet fairways dramatically cut down on the roll of tee shots.

"If we have tough weather conditions, it's going to be a very tough week," Ernie Els said. "It's becoming one of the toughest ... majors now. Where it used to be kind of the most fun of all the majors, it's becoming the hardest one now."

Rocco Mediate was in the field for the last dry Masters in 2001, a year before 285 yards were added.

"It was hard as a rock," Mediate said. "It was a lot shorter, but it was great. I know what they want here, and they're right on it. We need to have some real firm conditions."

Mediate made his comments after a practice round Sunday in the heat at Augusta National.

"If it stays like this the next three or four days, I think they'll have what they want. I know what they want and I hope they get it," he said.

"It would be nice to see this place with some fire in it," Mediate said. "It's been so soaked and wet. I think the course is built for speed. Hopefully, it will be fast and firm and the greens will be bricks."

Dry, fast conditions will "let a few more guys in" the mix in the chase for the green jacket, Mediate said.

A faster course means more roll for everyone, but it might help the moderate-length hitters such as Mediate (who averages 279.7 yards per drive) the most.

"If you have slow conditions, the guys who carry the ball 290 are going to have the advantage because the ball's not going anyway," said Olin Browne, who averages 273.6 yards per drive. "So they're carrying it 290 and they're still hitting mid-irons where I'd be back there hitting long irons or worse.

"I want to see it as firm and fast as possible, because the firmer it is, the farther my ball is going to go down the fairway and that's important to me," Browne said. "If we see cold, wet conditions, I'm in trouble; there's no secret about that."

Adds two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw: "If it's wet and cool, the ball's not going anywhere. It's amazing how much difference that makes."

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, who have 10 Masters titles between them, have been critical of the 155 added yards. They say it limits the number of players who can win to long hitters.

"When two of the greatest players who ever played the game say that, I figure they know what they're talking about," David Toms said.

Toms isn't one of those long hitters (286.7 yards per drive), so his chances to contend improve on a dry, fast track.

"I prefer it to play fast so it will be a little bit shorter," Toms said. "Although the greens will be more difficult as far as receiving a shot."

Crenshaw isn't sure how the field playing a firm and fast course would play out.

"Nobody knows yet; we'll have to try some rounds from these tees," Crenshaw said.

No matter how fast the course is, Crenshaw said, the advantage will still go to those who bomb it off the tee, as long as they hit it straight on the narrowed fairways.

"Length will always have its due," Crenshaw said.

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.

Weather woes

The past four Masters have had weather delays during tournament rounds:

2002: Second-round play Friday was suspended at 5 p.m. The second round restarted at 9 a.m. Saturday; the third round began at 12:30 p.m.

2003: Thursday's first round was rained out and started Friday at 7:30 a.m. The second round began Friday at 2 p.m., and play was suspended by darkness at 7:30. The second round was completed Saturday, as was the third round.

2004: Play in Thursday's first round was suspended at 4:05 p.m., resumed at 6:15 and suspended at 7:45 with 18 players on the course. The first round was completed Friday morning.

2005: The start of Thursday's first round was delayed until 1:30 p.m. and suspended at 7:23. The first round was completed Friday, followed by the start of the second round, which was suspended at 4 p.m. Saturday's third round was suspended at 7:35 p.m. The third round was completed Sunday morning.

Source: Augusta National Golf Club

Days of delays

There have been five weather delays of PGA Tour events in 2006 through 14 events, compared with eight delays at this time in 2005. The 2006 delays:

Bob Hope Classic: 15 minutes frost delays at La Quinta Country Club and PGA West before Saturday's round

FBR Open: First round suspended because of darkness with four players on the course

Nissan Open: First round suspended because of darkness with eight players on the course

WGC-Match Play Championship: 15-minute fog delay before the fourth round

Bellsouth Classic: 45-minute delay for lightning and heavy rain late in the fourth round

Sources: PGA Tour, Associated Press

Forecast

Monday: A chance of showers and possibly a thunderstorm, but mostly pleasant, highs in the lower 80s.

Monday night: Clearing, low around 50.

Tuesday: High pressure moves in. Sunny with a high in the low to mid-70s.

Tuesday night: Lows in the lower 40s.

Wednesday: Highs in the lower 70s.

Wednesday night: Mostly clear with lows in the lower 40s.

Thursday: Highs in the mid-70s.

Thursday night: Lows in the mid-50s.

Saturday: A cold front will probably try to push through. Highs in the upper 70s.

Saturday night: Low in the low to mid-50s.

Source: National Weather Service, West Columbia, S.C.

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