Nightmare at the 16th haunts Casper as rain wreaks havoc

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The Independent Online

When a golfer shoots 106, he can usually keep his head down, head for the bar and quickly change the subject whenever that day's round came up. Billy Casper had little chance of doing that yesterday as the 73-year-old quite scandalously stole the headlines at one of sport's most prestigious events.

But it wasn't all dark mutterings as the 1970 champion made a mockery of this supposed professional game with a round that represented the worst in Masters history by a staggering 11 shots. Paul Casey, for one, should have been buying the old so-and-so a drink last night after his quintuple-bogey 10 at the 13th was almost made to look respectable at what befell Casper at the 16th and, indeed, throughout 18 holes of total torture.

Coming to the 170-yard par-three, Casper struck enough of a pathetic figure at eight-over after six holes. Fifteen minutes, five balls, but just one hole later he was 19 over. Unbelievably, Casper had taken a 14. Better repeat that ­ a 14, "one, four". It broke the worst single hole score at The Masters by one ­ the 13s posted by Tom Weiskopf at the 12th in 1978 and by Tommy Nakajima at the 13th in 1980 - and cast him into an immortality that the memory of this three-time major winner does not deserve.

Casper put his tee shot in the water guarding the green on the left, retreated to the dropping zone, put four more in the water, before finding the green and three-putting. It was as simple as that. And it wasn't to end there. He completed his first nine at 21-over, another record, before cruising to 34-over, waving farewell to the 95 posted by Charles Kunkle in 1950.

What Hootie Johnson would have been saying probably does not bear repeating. Three years ago the Augusta chairman sent letters to Casper and a few other past champions telling them it would be better if they didn't compete and advised that from 2004 the competition committee would be enforcing an over-65 rule. However, after a public outcry, and more tellingly a meeting with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, the policy was reversed, allowing Casper and Co to play again.

Not that the Californian had intended to. "I'm not strong enough to play the golf course," he said in 2003. "As long as I'm walking and breathing I'll come to The Masters, because I have friends that I only see once a year." They may well duck for cover after yesterday. Casper had spoken of the urge to appear one last time, "to go out with a bang". What a bang this proved to be.

At least it took the mind off the weather. The predicted morning thunderstorms duly arrived and wrecked the competition committee's best-laid plans. After a five-and-a-half hour delay the 93 players were eventually sent off both the first and the 10th tees as the officials tried desperately to make up the time. They did a good job, too, as although a large percentage of the field will come back this morning to complete their first rounds, the weekend's bright forecast should ensure a Sunday finish. A small mercy on a day otherwise bereft of them.

Just ask Nick Faldo who withdrew after eight holes with a bad back he sustained on the second hole. Just ask Tiger Woods who watched his putt on the 13th disappear over the green and into water. Just ask Casey, whose wet, wet nightmare on the same par-five pulled him back to a thoroughly demeaning eight over after 14 holes. In fact, just ask the majority who laboured over par.

This did not include everyone, of course. Luke Donald was playing like an old hand as he cautiously squelched through the sodden fairways to reach two under par after 12 holes, upsides Retief Goosen, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh. Darren Clarke was up there, too, taming his putter sufficiently enough to creep to one under through the 10th. His playing partner, Woods, was not nearly so controlled at two over, which was, nevertheless, one better than Ernie Els.

Still it could have been worse. They could have been poor old Billy. The champion who just did not know when to say goodbye.