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Storm leaves Masters faithful soaked, waiting
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Wet, tired and muddy, Steve Jennings and Paul Jaycox tromped toward the exit and back to the car.
They drove 14 hours from upstate New York to make it to the Masters by Thursday morning. They saw no golf.
After four days of drenching rain in Augusta, the place the two club pros came to see looked a lot like the place they left.
Up there, they call it Woodstock.
"I'm happy to be here, but it's kind of a bad day for us," Jennings said, after the Masters was called because of rain.
They weren't alone.
With a light, steady rain falling, thousands of patrons waded through Augusta National, the famed golf course-turned-mud bog. They were caked in filth, holding umbrellas, walking through waterlogged grass and trying to salvage something from the first-day washout.
Several went souvenir shopping. One fan said it took him 30 minutes to wind his way through the lines simply to get into the main gift shop near the entrance to the course.
Others stood out in the rain, determined to see golf balls struck, even if it was just for practice. Once the rainout was called, several players spent some time brushing up their games.
Fans queued up four and five deep behind the ropes at the putting green, watching Jay Haas, Gary Player and others monotonously roll balls down the slickened surface.
The scene was the same at the driving range, and at the short-game practice area, where Toshi Izawa flipped ball after ball out of the sand, all of them coming within inches of the hole he was aiming at.
"Wouldn't that be great if he was doing that on the course?" one fan said.
After the first opening-round rainout in 64 years, play is scheduled to begin at 6:30 a.m. today. Masters officials said they hoped to get through 36 holes. With as much as an inch of rain expected Thursday and into Friday morning, though, some players thought they were only dreaming.
"I'm not even going to worry about getting up at 5:30 tomorrow," Chris DiMarco said. "They're just not going to be able to play."
This is the second straight year rain has wreaked havoc with this pristine course, a place so worried about its appearance that it has been known to ice down the azaleas so they'll bloom during Masters week.
When downpours came last year, groundskeepers spread thousands of pounds of pine straw in an attempt to sop up the moisture. But that plan failed when the straw was wetted down by more rain, turning the course into a smelly, muddy mess.
This year, the pine straw is gone. And, of course, the course hasn't been trampled as badly because there has been no action.
"It's a shame, because people come from all over the world to watch this," 1976 champion Raymond Floyd said. "I know the decision not to play was tough, but what else can you do?"
Wendell Pittenger, who owns golf courses in Minnesota, brought his fiancee here for the first time.
"We walked down to Amen Corner, came here to the driving range and now we're leaving," Pittenger said. "Maybe tomorrow."
When they return, they will see a course made vastly more difficult. During practice rounds, some players were already complaining that rain has waterlogged the fairways so badly that the balls weren't rolling. It gives a big advantage to those who can hit the ball high and long.
Also, the Masters insists on not allowing players to lift and clean balls that get muddy in the fairway. It can make for some very interesting shots.
"If it's just a little water and mud, you can work with that," Scott Hoch said. "But if it's big globs, there's really not much you can do but hope."
Being well prepared is key. Mike Weir came to Augusta without appropriate gear for the rain and temperatures in the 50s. He stopped at a local sporting goods store to buy some.
He wasn't the only one in the market for new duds.
"There's a lot of muck and slop out there," said one mud-caked fan, who didn't want to give his name. "Of course, if you say that here, you'll be banned from the course."