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First Round Is No Breeze

Golf: Couples (69) is the only player to break 70 on a day when 10 are still on the course as play is suspended because of darkness.

April 10, 1998|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Hello and welcome to the wind tunnel, the breeziest first round of the Masters, where golf balls turned into so many dimpled lighter-than-air missiles launched on misguided adventures into some very bad places.

One of those destinations was the pond at No. 15, which chug-a-lugged so many balls you could almost hear it burping.

That's also where Ignacio Garrido drowned three balls on his way to an 11. Costantino Rocca put three into the drink and finished with a 10, the same as Bill Glasson.

Meanwhile, the leader of the nearly completed first round, Fred Couples, only got his right foot wet. That was when he had to step into Rae's Creek in front of No. 12 after his tee shot cleared the water by six inches and stuck on the bank.

It was a flashback to the last day of the 1992 Masters, which he won, after Couples got another ball to stick on the bank.

"It didn't splash," Couples said. "I knew it wasn't in the trap, so I didn't want to say anything. I was going to say, 'Oh, yeah, it's on the bank again.' "

Couples, who had a three-under-par 69, wound up bogeying the hole, but since the wind was bending flagsticks like willow trees, he wasn't exactly upset the way the day went: "Am I surprised I shot 69? Sure."

Couples leads Paul Stankowski, Jose Maria Olazabal and Scott Hoch by one shot, but the first round still isn't completed.

Play was suspended because of darkness with 10 players still on the course. The first round began an hour and a half late, a delay caused by an overnight thunderstorm that drenched the course.

Tiger Woods, who is one of five players at 71, said the wind was playing tricks on the golf course.

On the 10th fairway, Woods said a pile of leaves blew in every direction.

"All 360 degrees," Woods said. "I said 'Fluff [Cowan, his caddie], which way is the wind blowing?' "

Which way and how bad were fairly common questions on opening day, and the answers were a) who knows? and b) gusts to 35 mph.

Jack Nicklaus said he has seen wind as bad at Augusta National, but never as bad for the first round. There were 10 rounds in the 80s compared to the nine who broke par.

"It was the kind of day when a par on each hole was a great accomplishment," Woods said.

Woods is tied with Fuzzy Zoeller, Colin Montgomerie, Paul Azinger and Phil Blackmar. The first round will resume at 7:30 a.m. here and the second round will begin at 9:30 in threesomes, which probably will include one with Woods and Zoeller as partners.

Chances are they will not discuss dining out.

Couples birdied the first three holes, then spent the rest of the round trying to avoid getting blown out of Georgia. On the 14th green, he watched his ball move a foot because of the wind, and on the 17th green, gusts made the ball wiggle.

He wound up with seven birdies, four bogeys and a huge sigh of relief that the overnight rain had softened the course.

"If it hadn't rained, nobody would have broken par," Couples said.

And many didn't. Some big names failed, including John Daly with a 77, Tom Watson with 78, Craig Stadler with 79, Tom Lehman with 80 and Ben Crenshaw with 83.

Azinger's round was monotonous. He began with a par, birdied No. 2 and then wrote down 16 straight pars.

So what kind of round do you call that?

"An unexciting round," Azinger said.

He was the only player without a bogey. Azinger said if the wind hadn't blown, the greens were soft enough that some really low numbers were possible. Of course, the wind did blow, so you chuck that conjecture right into that pond at No. 15 along with all those golf balls.

Azinger said the wind was the worst when he was putting.

"It will literally blow your putter head," he said. "On a short putt, there's not a lot of grip pressure and when it's gusting that hard, it can move your putter head around the ball."

Daly sadly experienced the result of a wind-blown ball on the green. He had a one-shot penalty at the 17th when he stood over a putt and a gust moved the ball.

"I don't agree with the rule at all," Daly said. "It's a crazy rule in golf, I guess."

Crazy rule, crazy wind, it adds up.

Anyway, Olazabal got a wind break when he holed a sand wedge from 30 feet for birdie. Olazabal figured the wind blew the ball into the hole.

Actually, that wasn't such a bad theory this day. There were many times when the wind worked the other way. The evidence is at the bottom of the pond at No. 15.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

MASTERS: Tournament at a Glance

LEADERS

*--*

Player Score Fred Couples 33-36--69 -3 Paul Stankowski 36-34--70 -2 Jose Maria Olazabal 35-35--70 -2 Scott Hoch 35-35--70 -2 Paul Azinger 35-36--71 -1 Phil Blackmar 36-35--71 -1 Fuzzy Zoeller 34-37--71 -1 Tiger Woods 34-37--71 -1 Colin Montgomerie 36-35--71 -1

*--*

5 tied at 72 (E)

OTHERS

*--*

Player Score a-Matt Kuchar 34-38--72 E Jack Nicklaus 37-36--73 +1 Davis Love III 36-38--74 +2 Justin Leonard 37-37--74 +2 Phil Mickelson 38-36--74 +2 Greg Norman 37-39--76 +4 Tom Watson 40-38--78 +6 Arnold Palmer 41-38--79 +7 Tom Lehman 39-41--80 +8 Ben Crenshaw 39-44--83 +11

*--*

a-Amateur

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