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SPORTS WEEKEND | NOTES

Puga Has Right Spirit to Go With 76

April 06, 2001|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bel-Air Country Club caddie Greg Puga birdied the first hole and was one under through the front nine during the first round of the Masters on Thursday, but he stumbled with a 41 on the back at August National and finished at four-over 76.

That wasn't nearly enough to bother Puga, the Mid-Amateur champion playing in his first Masters.

"Joyful," he said. "This is just so exciting. What can I say?"

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By this time, everybody knows about the dangers of the par-three 12th hole, the centerpiece of Amen Corner. Tom Watson experienced its dark (and wet) side when he made a quadruple-bogey seven on his way to a 78.

Watson's reaction: "Yuck."

Indeed. His eight-iron spun back into the water, then he knocked a sand wedge into the water.

It was a low-water hole in Watson's Masters career. It was the 99th time he had played the hole--but the first time he ever made a seven.

In 28 Masters appearances, including championships in 1977 and 1980, he has had two triple bogeys and three double bogeys.

"I was looking like Weiskopf," Watson.

Tom Weiskopf had a 13 on the 12th hole in 1980.

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Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player were in the same group. The 65-year-old Player produced a surprising round of 73.

"Gary played terrific," said the 61-year-old Nicklaus, who also had a 73. Palmer, 71, shot an 82, a score that beat only Gay Brewer (84) and Billy Casper (87).

*

It was an adventurous back nine for Notah Begay, who had three bogeys, two birdies, four pars and finished at one over. He was more than satisfied because of a disk injury that kept him out from late January until the first week of March.

"I played great," Begay said after his 73. "My back isn't very good. I can't practice. My back gets really weak, I can't keep my posture."

Begay, who won twice in 1999 and twice more in 2000, has missed four cuts in six events this year, including his last time out at the Players Championship.

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Another player with a bad back is Bob May, who tugged and pulled a 71 out of his round that featured four bogeys and five birdies.

"I think I played a pretty solid round, but I wonder about my back, is it going to last?" he said.

This is his first event since he injured his back at the Bob Hope and pulled out after the third round. It's also the first Masters for last year's surprise PGA Championship runner-up, who lost to Tiger Woods in a playoff.

*

The last time a first-round leader went on to win the Masters was in 1984, when Ben Crenshaw shot a 67 and beat Watson by two shots.

It's also the third consecutive year that a player in his first Masters was the opening-round leader. Brandel Chamblee led with a 69 in 1999 (he finished tied for 18th) and Dennis Paulson led in 2000 with a 68 (he finished tied for 14th).

*

Tom Scherrer, playing in his first Masters, shot 71 and was done almost before he knew it.

"It was great," he said. "All my dreams came true. It went by too fast. Before I knew it, I was on 18. The first time around, I was a little wide-eyed."

*

A player without a logo is like the Masters without azaleas, but Chris Perry doesn't have any advertisements on his cap.

"I'm Blank Man," he said.

If he manages to keep putting 68s on the board, as he did in the first round, that could change in a hurry.

"Hopefully, I'll get some TV time and change that. I'm going to have Arnie, Jack and Gary sign [my cap]. I was going to put '4 Rent' on it, but I decided that was too tacky."

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