A Master bows out

Saturday, April 10, 2004

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The King said goodbye. The Masters is now in the hands of a kid.

Arnold Palmer walked up the 18th fairway one last time Friday to an ovation longer and louder than any other in his 50 years at Augusta National, unable to hold back tears as he reflected on a career built on Sunday charges, green jackets and an army of fans.

"It's not fun sometimes to know it's over," Palmer said.

For 23-year-old Justin Rose, the fun might just be starting.

Rose, the youngest professional in the field, played a steady hand under an increasing spotlight with a 1-under 71, including a superb bunker shot to save par on the final hole for a two-shot lead.

"Playing under pressure for the right reasons is fun," said Rose, who missed his first 21 cuts after turning pro. "Playing under pressure for the wrong reasons, that's awful. This is much, much better."

On a wild day of charges and collapses, the Englishman rarely got into trouble and finished at 6-under 138 to lead Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain and Alex Cejka of Germany.

Olazabal, a two-time Masters champion, quickly renewed his hopes with an eagle-birdie-birdie stretch on the back nine and a 3-under 69. He and Cejka (70) each bogeyed the 18th hole and were at 140.

Phil Mickelson got into the mix for his first major, getting a huge break on the par-5 13th when his ball stopped short of going into Rae's Creek. He turned a bogey into a birdie and shot 69, three shots out of the lead.

And don't count out Tiger Woods just yet. Instead of throwing his clubs, he threw his fist into the air with a 40-foot birdie putt on the 16th for a 69 that left him six shots behind.

Still, the day belonged to a 74-year-old man who missed a 4-foot putt on the final hole for an 84.

From Jack Nicklaus to Average Joe, everyone came to salute the King.

In one of the more poignant moments, Nicklaus was on the 16th hole when he looked up at Palmer on the sixth tee. The Golden Bear gave him a thumbs-up, and Palmer responded with a bow.

No one cared about Palmer's score, they just wanted to see him play.

The gallery was 10-deep before he even arrived on the 18th tee, and it seemed as though everyone -- players, caddies and dozens of Augusta National members in green jackets -- was there for the end.

"When I look out into the galleries and I see them wishing me good luck, and I think how much I owe them ..." Palmer said, his voice cracking.

He couldn't go on, bowing and wiping tears from his eyes.

"I guess it's more difficult for me because I'm sort of a sentimental slob," he said.

The stage now shifts to a younger generation that reflects the global state of golf.

Three Europeans were at the top of the board. K.J. Choi of South Korea tied a Masters record with a 30 on the front nine, only to follow that with a 40. Still, he was at 3-under 141 with Mickelson.

Charles Howell III, who grew up five minutes from the course, had a second straight 71 and was in a large group at 142 that included Ernie Els (72), Fred Couples (69) and Davis Love III, who charged into contention with a 67, matching Steve Flesch for the best round of the week.

It all starts Saturday with Rose, who lacks major championship experience but certainly not the real-life variety.

Along with missing the cut in his first 21 tournaments as a pro, Rose's father and coach, Ken Rose, died in September 2002 of leukemia just one month after watching his son play his first major in the United States.

"Not to say that leading a major is easy, but I think I am lucky in a lot of ways in terms of, at the age of 23, I feel like I can draw on a couple of things that have happened to me," Rose said.

Rose has felt plenty of pressure before.

He finished fourth at the '98 British Open when he was 17, and he became Britain's rising star when he decided to turn professional a week later. Then, Rose went 21 consecutive tournaments before he finally cashed a check.

"Trying to make my first cut, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself," Rose said. "And when I finally did, it was like winning a tournament. Those sorts of experiences will be what I draw from."

Rose said he never looked at a leaderboard in the second round, relying on the vibes from the gallery to let him know he was the guy everyone was chasing.

He might not have that luxury on the weekend.

"As you get close to the finish line, you know what's up for grabs," Rose said. "And I'm sure it will get tougher."

Only 13 players were under par as Augusta National began to dry out under a steamy sun, and six of those guys have won major championships.

Twenty players were within seven shots of the lead.

"Anyone in the red has a chance on the weekend," said Mark O'Meara, who had a 70 and was in the red at 1-under 141.

His buddy Woods might take exception to that.

Woods dragged himself back into contention with a 69 that left him at even par, only six shots out of the lead and one good round Saturday from being a legitimate threat.

"I'm still here," Woods said, a subtle dig at those who suggested he might not extend his record cut streak to 121. "You have to take baby steps. I got back to even, and that's viable."

The cut was at 4-over 148.

Because anyone within 10 shots of the lead makes the cut, Rose knocked out several players with his par save from the bunker on the final hole.

Among them was Mike Weir. He made three straight bogeys in the morning to finish his rain-delayed first round at 79, the highest ever by a defending champion. The Canadian still had a chance to get to the weekend, but bogeyed the 18th when his approach sailed over the green.

John Daly also bogeyed the last hole to miss the cut by one shot.

Rose knows how they feel, but that now seems so long ago. The kid is after a green jacket this weekend.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: