AUGUSTA, Ga., April 9 (UPI) -- Plagued by weather and controversy, the Masters begins Thursday with Tiger Woods going for three in a row.
"Our tournament has been maligned," Masters Chairman Hootie Johnson said on the eve of the first major golf event of 2003. "But I don't think it has been damaged. And I think the Masters will continue to be one of the great sporting events in the world next year, the next year, the next year and for years after that."
A field of 93 of the world's greatest golfers will test the rain-soaked fairways of the Augusta National Golf Club. The course, with its flowering shrubs and trees in full bloom, has taken on four days worth of on-and-off rain.
Heavy showers struck the area again Wednesday and the additional rain forced tournament officials to push the start of the tournament back by 30 minutes. Scotland's Sandy Lyle, the 1988 Masters champion, is scheduled to hit the first shot of the event at 8:40 a.m. EDT.
In addition to the difficult weather conditions, the Masters has been under an assault by Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations.
She has demanded the all-male Augusta National include women in its membership and she plans to stage a protest Saturday during the tournament's third round.
Burk has made Johnson the target of a personal attack during her campaign and Johnson's pre-Masters news conference Wednesday was highly anticipated. He did not disappoint.
"Over the last 10 months, everything that could possibly be said on the subject of the Augusta National and its membership has been said," Johnson told a standing-room-only crowd. "The fact is we are a private club, a group getting together periodically for camaraderie just as thousands of clubs do all across America." While Johnson was clearly in control of his side of the social issue that has marked this year's tournament, he could do nothing about the water that began pouring onto the golf course last Sunday. The course was so drenched Monday that it had to be closed. Spectators were kept off the grounds for the first time in 20 years.
The rain eased enough Wednesday to allow the players a final practice round and they found a layout that was playing even longer than its listed 7,290 yards.
Palmer rues missed Masters chances
AUGUSTA, Ga., April 9 (UPI) -- As Tiger Woods goes for his third straight Masters, Arnold Palmer recalls he once could have done that.
During an eight-year span beginning in 1958, Palmer won four Masters, finished second twice and third once. In his career, he wound up in the top 10 on a dozen occasions. But he could never win two in a row because, he believes, he did not listen to his father.
"It could have been," Palmer said Wednesday on the eve of his 49th Masters appearance. "If I had done what my father taught me, I might have won five times in a row, because I had the opportunity to do that.
"He said, 'be tough, boy. Go out and play and if you listen to anyone, you're not too smart. And play your own game.
"But I made some mistakes. If you make mistakes, you're not going to win three times in a row, or even two times in a row."
Palmer, 73, admitted he is not likely to do well this week because rainy conditions and a lengthened golf course have made the Augusta National course an extremely difficult test..
Kansas athletic director fired
LAWRENCE, Kan., April 9 (UPI) -- Craig Bohl was fired as athletic director at Kansas Wednesday.
According to reports, the move could be an attempt to get basketball coach Roy Williams to stay at the school.
It has been widely rumored that Williams, who has been linked to the coaching vacancy at North Carolina, has been at odds with Bohl and would remain at the school only if Bohl left.
But Kansas chancellor Robert Hemenway said Williams had nothing to do with the firing, although he gave no specific reasons for the dismissal.
Bohl was hired at Kansas two years ago and dismissed Williams' good friend, football coach Terry Allen, during the 2001 season.
Hemenway said that the decision to fire Bohl was made after speaking with members of the athletic department over the past eight weeks and that the firing was planned prior to the NCAA Final Four, where Kansas lost in the title game to Syracuse on Monday night.
Congress looking into ephedra use
WASHINGTON, April 9 (UPI) -- Congress wants to know more about the use of ephedra products by professional atheletes.
Members of the House Energy and Commerce committee said Wednesday they have written the heads of the major U.S. sports leagues, as well as several players' organizations, to request documents relating to the leagues' policies on the use of ephedra products by their participating athletes.
The committee has been investigating the possible dangers of the dietary supplement, which has been promoted as a weight-loss product and as a sports performance-enhancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed requiring a warning label advising users of potential heart problems and the risk of death.
One of the cases cited in the letters was the death of 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, whose reported use of an ephedra-containing supplement was a contributing factor in his death. Such incidents "raise questions about whether federal action should be taken to address safety concerns related to ephedra-containing supplements," the letters said.
The House members called on the professional sports leagues -- including Major League Baseball, the National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing -- to turn over documents on their policies and positions pertaining to the use of ephedra products by athletes participating in their leagues.
Gregory becomes Dayton coach
DAYTON, Ohio, April 9 (UPI) -- It took Dayton just three days to name a replacement for departed basketball coach Oliver Purnell.
Michigan State associate head coach Brian Gregory was named to the position Wednesday, his first job as a head coach. Gregory, 36, had spent the past four seasons at Michigan State under Tom Izzo--including two Final Fours and the 2000 championship campaign--and was reponsible for recruiting Paul Davis, Zach Randolph, Marcus Taylor and Kelvin Torbert.
Purnell, who moved on to Clemson, guided Dayton to a 24-6 record and the Atlantic 10 Conference championship this season. But as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Flyers lost in the first round to Tulsa.
Bears add Dent to staff
CHICAGO, April 9 (UPI) -- Richard Dent, the Chicago Bears' all-time sacks leader, and MVP of Super Bowl XX, is returning as a coach.
Dent has been hired by the team as an assistant defensive line coach. He agreed to a one-year deal at undisclosed terms, and will work with Bears defensive line coach Larry Brooks on formulating the pass rush.
The four-time Pro Bowler spent 12 years with the Bears, and finished his career with 137 1/2 sacks, 124 1/2 of which came with Chicago. He recorded double digits in sacks every year from 1984-88. Dent had 1 1/2 of the Bears' seven sacks in a 46-10 win over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl following the 1985 season.
Packers ink Nwokorie, Ruegamer
GREEN BAY, Wis., April 9 (UPI) -- The Green Bay Packers, looking to fill a need at defensive end, Wednesday signed free agent Chuckie Nwokorie.
Nwokorie, 27, spent his first four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, recording 72 tackles and five sacks in 22 games. Injuries limited him to three games last season.
The undrafted free agent out of Purdue saw his most extensive playing time in 2001, when he registered five sacks while playing all 16 games. The Packers have a major hole to fill at left end after Vonnie Holliday signed a five-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday.
Also signing with the Packers was veteran offensive lineman Grey Ruegamer, a former New England Patriot. He was an unrestricted free agent. The 6-4, 310-pound Ruegamer has played in 33 games over his four-year NFL career, with three starts, and also saw action in all three of New England's playoff games following the 2001 season as the Patriots closed out the year by winning Super Bowl XXXVI.
Elbow surgery for Byrd
ATLANTA, April 9 (UPI) -- Veteran righthander Paul Byrd of Atlanta will have surgery Friday to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow.
The procedure will be performed by Dr. Craig Morgan in Wilmington, Del. He will be out 2-4 months.
In his second stint with the Braves, Byrd was scheduled to start Thursday against Philadelphia, one of his former teams.
In addition to a sore elbow, he suffered a strained groin at the end of spring training, was placed on the disabled list, and has yet to pitch for his new team.
"I'm very disappointed," Byrd said shortly after the announcement was made Wednesday afternoon. "I'm very frustrated, but I just can't throw."
In a rehabilitation start Saturday for Double-A Greenville of the Southern League, Byrd, 32, was roughed up for six runs in 4 1/3 innings.
He had the best year of his career last season, going 17-11 with a 3.90 ERA, seven complete games, and two shutouts for the Kansas City Royals. He was signed to a two-year, $10 million contract as a free agent during the offseason as the Braves retooled their vaunted rotation.
In eight seasons with the New York Mets, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Kansas City, Byrd is 52-46 with a 4.39 ERA. He went 15-11 and made the National League All-Star team with the Phillies in 1999.
Serena breezes despite bad weather
CHARLESTON, S.C., April 9 (UPI) -- Serena Williams kept on winning despite the weather Wednesday.
Rain stopped play at the $1.3 million Family Circle Cup for the third straight day. But, Williams, the top seed and world's No. 1 player, maintained her perfect record in 2003 with a 6-3, 6-0 second-round rout of qualifier Dally Randriantefy of Madagascar.
Second-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne had a much tougher outing in her first career meeting with Slovenia's Tina Pisnik of Slovenia as the Belgian held on for a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win.
In Wednesday's biggest upset, American wild card Ashley Harkleroad eliminated ninth-seeded Elena Bovina of Russia, 6-2, 6-2.
Williams awaits the winner of the rain-delayed encounter between No. 15 Conchita Martinez of Spain and Tathiana Garbin of France.
Eddie Cheever to skip Indy 500
INDIANAPOLIS, April 9 (UPI) -- Eddie Cheever Jr., who won the 1998 Indianapolis 500, has decided not to drive in this year's race.
The decision will enable him to focus on his management of Red Bull Cheever Racing and other business interests. It ends Cheever's streak of 13 straight Indianapolis 500 races.
"I'm calling this a self-imposed sabbatical," he said. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do in the future. All I know right know is that I have too much going on. I haven't been able to spend any time preparing to race at Indy."
Red Bull Racing has entered the No. 52 Chevrolet/Dallara, which will be driven by Buddy Rice. Cheever's No. 51 car also is entered, but Cheever is uncertain who, if any one, will drive the car at Indianapolis.
Devils sign first round pick
RUTHERFORD, N.J., April 9 (UPI) -- The New Jersey Devils have signed defenseman David Hale, their first-round pick in the 2000 draft.
Terms were not disclosed.
Hale, 21, just completed his junior season at North Dakota, where he had two goals, six assists, and 49 penalty minutes in 26 games. In three years for the Fighting Sioux, the 6-2, 210-pound defenseman totaled 10 goals, 16 assists, and 191 penalty minutes in 104 games.
The native of Colorado Springs was the 22nd overall pick in 2000.
Gardner named women's coach at Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark., April 9 (UPI) -- Susie Gardner is the new women's basketball coach at Arkansas.
Gadrdner, 38, guided Austin Peay to three straight Ohio Valley Conference titles and was 27-4 this season. That included a 22-game winning streak.
The Lady Governors made their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance, losing in the first round to North Casrolina 72-70.
In seven years at Austin Peay, Gardner was 112-92.