Augusta and the black holes

Andy Farrell's Masters Diary
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The Independent Online
Augusta is a stubborn place. Alone of the major championships the Masters continues to prevent television from showing the first six or seven holes.

The defence of the practice is equally lofty. "It's been studied, and the answer is that we are sticking with what we do," the chairman, Jackson Stevens, sniffed.

The Masters is annually the most watched golf event in America, but the fear is that extending the three hours of coverage on Sunday would lower the ratings. Foreign broadcasters, who want as much air time as possible, have to lump it.

Greg Norman, for one, thinks it is criminal the front nine does not get a wider viewing. "I think the front nine is the tougher to score well on," he said. "The hardest second shot we have is on the fifth, the hardest par three is the fourth, and the hardest nine-iron shot is into the third. We are churning our guts out and people don't get to see it. There is not even a lot of gallery out there on the front nine, either."

Rumours of a dust-up before Thursday's first round between Fred Couples and Ian Woosnam, which had to be broken up by Fuzzy Zoeller, travelled faster than a downhill putt here. Spice was added when the Welshman started his first round with a double-bogey and Couples took 41 shots over the front nine.

Both men were at a loss to know how the rumour started. "I don't know how I could get in a shoving match," Couples said. "Maybe with some spectators but not with Woosie. He's so easy-going and happy-go-lucky. I don't know where it came from."

Woosnam suggested it was a result of a discussion about their bad backs and a mix-up over who was due to play with whom in the par-three contest. "Someone must have heard us saying a few f-words and thought we were shouting at each other."

Couples eventually came up with had an explanation of sorts - highly unlikely though it is - that it stemmed from him shouting at Davis Love's wife Robin as he left the course on Thursday. "It was kind of a joke, but I think a lot of people were shocked," he said. "She wouldn't get out of the way. I said something like: `What's with you, lady?' I don't know if someone was mistaking Woosie for Robin Love."

After bumping a drive down the first fairway on Thursday, the 94-year- old honorary starter Gene Sarazen inquired as to the veracity of Jack Nicklaus's comments on Tiger Woods.

Nicklaus had said the 20-year-old amateur was the most fundamentally sound golfer of any age that he had seen and that Woods should win more than the combined 10 green jackets of Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

Told this was so, Sarazen, who traditionally opens proceedings with Byron Nelson, 84, and Sam Snead, 83, then asked, and was told, Woods' age. "By the time I was 20," came the withering rejoinder. "I had already won the US Open and the US PGA Championship."

Players can go to great lengths to avoid the curse of Wednesday's pre- tournament par-three contest, the winner of which has never won the big one come Sunday.

This year, Ben Crenshaw (right-handed) and Phil Mickelson (the best leftie in the world) decided to play the ninth hole with each other's clubs. Mickelson hit his right-handed shot over the green, but Crenshaw put his left-handed effort on to the back of the playing surface. Then, still left-handed, he saw his 45-ft putt stop on the lip of the hole to a groan from the gallery.

A par gave the defending Masters champion a score of 24, two behind the winner Jay Haas, who beat Larry Mize at the second play-off hole. Haas had one of four holes-in-one in the competition. His came at the second, while Mark Roe and Ian Baker-Finch aced the seventh, and Sandy Lyle took a one at the ninth. The jinx continued as Haas finished well down the field in the tournament proper.

While players are able to purchase tickets for family and friends, and sponsors, and agents, etc, at $100 a time, caddies do not get the same privilege.

The Augusta authorities take a typically unconcerned stance on the issue. "That's tough," Stephens, says. "We all have people for whom we can't get tickets."

One way round the problem is to keep the bagman's, or woman's, job within the family. the American tour player Steve Stricker had his wife Nicole as his caddy, while Mike Gilford did the job for his brother David. Mike explained that he was not helping with the yardages or the lines of the putts, but was merely carrying the bag. "It's not heavy. He's my brother."