AUGUSTA, Ga., April 10 (UPI) -- A waterlogged course and the threat of more rain on the way forced officials Thursday to postpone the opening round of the Masters until Friday.
It was the first time since 1939 that the first round of the tournament had to be pushed back a day.
Masters Competition Committee Chairman Wil Nicholson said an attempt would be made to do something that has never been done in the 67-year history of the event -- play the first two rounds of the tournament in one day.
With forecasts calling for improving weather on Friday and through the weekend, Nicholson said he hoped to be able to complete the Masters on schedule Sunday afternoon. Whatever happens, the tournament will be played to a conclusion.
"We will complete 72 holes. Sometime," he said.
Rain began falling in the area Sunday and periodic showers and thunderstorms have hit the Augusta National Golf Club course ever since. Almost four inches have rain have fallen since the slow-moving system arrived and a downpour swept through Augusta in the early morning hours Thursday.
Nicholson, a member of the Augusta National for 30 years, toured the course at dawn Thursday along with officials from the PGA Tour and the European Tour. They all agreed the course, with some work, could be made playable.
It was decided at that time that the 93-man field would be allowed to start play at 11 a.m. EDT and that both the first and tenth tees would be used. The thousands of spectators who were lined up when the gates opened at 8 a.m. were allowed to enter the grounds and preparations were made to start the first major golf championship of the year.
As the morning progressed, however, more rain began appearing on the radar and it seemed clear that the course was going to take on more water. So about 15 minutes before the first ball was to have been struck, Nicholson made the final decision to postpone the first round.
Just as Nicholson suggested, the rain eventually arrived and fell steadily through the afternoon.
"As wet as the course is, it would not have been fair for the players to be out there when the rain started coming down," he said.
"I've never seen weather like this in a major tournament," said Ernie Els, a four-time winner worldwide this year who will attempt to derail the attempt by Tiger Woods to win his third straight Masters. "They probably made the right decision.
"On the back nine, some of the fairways were under water yesterday. Concentration will be hard tomorrow because the greens are as difficult as they can be."
The tournament's revised schedule calls for the first round to start at 7:30 a.m. EDT Friday with players going off both tees. The second round was tentatively set to begin at 1:30 p.m., again off both tees.
Nicholson said forecasters believed the rain would end by about midnight and that the weather would begin to dramatically improve as Friday wears on.
"We have an outside chance to complete 36 holes tomorrow," Nicholson said. "More probably, we will have three or four groups on each nine and if that is the case, they would complete their second round on Saturday, we would set the pairings and then play the third round."
Playing the opening two rounds of any significant golf tournament in one day is virtually unprecedented.
"I would think it has happened," Nicholson. "But I've been around for 30 years and I don't remember any."
Although there were no large bodies of standing water anywhere on the course when the decision to abandon the first round was made, Nicholson had some specific concerns.
"I was worried about the third fairway," he said. "It was hard to find a place to take relief from casual water and with any more water coming down, there probably would have been no place to take relief."
The greens, however, remained in excellent condition because of a drainage system installed during the past three years. The system actually sucks the water into the ground from the greens, carries it through a system of pipes and expells it onto the ground well away from the putting surfaces.
Nicholson said the continued bad weather came as a huge disappointment to those involved with the tournament because of the condition the course was in last week.
"I arrived here a week ago Tuesday," Nicholson said, "and I had never seen the course in better shape. The fairways were firm and fast and so were the greens. It was absolutely perfect. I thought we had a chance to see the course play the way it was designed to play."
The Augusta National underwent major changes last year with several holes lengthened. But there was no chance last year to truly determine how those changes would affect scoring because the 2002 Masters was also plagued by week-long rains.
Although the course was closed to play Thursday, the spectators were allowed to remain on the grounds and many of them gathered around the practice tee and putting green to watch the players working on their games.
Eventually, however, announcements blared over speakers near the clubhouse that services were about to be shut down and the hearty fans who had remained through the day were asked to leave.
Although the delay was a bother to the players, it was a lot more than that for the many who have traveled long distances to see one of the classic spectacles in the world of sport.
In addition to Thursday's postponement, fans were not even allowed on the course Monday because of the dangerous conditions.
"Monday was tough on them (the spectators) and this is even worse," said two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer. "But we have to go with what we have and, hopefully, we will have a good weekend."
"We've done this many times before," said 49-year-old Jay Haas. "It's our job to deal with it (the delay). Tomorrow will be a long day. You have to be patient.
"You try to get off to a good start and if you play well, you can handle the long day better. I have never seen it like this at the Masters. I have never seen it this wet or playing this long. But it seems like they did the right thing.
"The greens are fine, but the rest of the course is saturated. There is no place for the water to go."
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