Tiger Tries For Third Masters Win

Defending champion Tiger Woods blasts out of the trap on the 2nd hole during first round play of the 2003 Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Friday, April 11, 2003. (AP
Darren Clarke leaned back in a lawn chair, laughing and puffing on a cigar as he waited for the 10th fairway to clear. Tiger Woods was grinding away, trying to overcome his worst start ever in a major championship.

The Masters finally got under way Friday, and except for a long day of work at tough and soggy Augusta National, it was hardly what anyone expected.

Woods, trying to become the first player to win three straight green jackets, went 21 holes before making a birdie and opened with a 76. If that wasn't bad enough, he finished seven strokes behind his amateur partner, Ricky Barnes.

This was supposed to be a day when only the fittest survived, but there was burly Clarke and his steady stream of cigar smoke, ambling the fairways to a 6-under 66 in the toughest first-round for scoring at Augusta in 15 years.

When the second round was finally suspended by darkness, Clarke lost the lead to the hottest Lefty in golf — no, not that one.

Mike Weir of Canada, a two-time winner this year, but rarely a contender in majors, birdied his final two holes and was at 6 under par with six holes to play.

Clarke, with back-to-back bogeys, was at 4 under through 10 holes.

The more famous southpaw — Phil Mickelson — looks like he'll have yet another crack at winning his first major. He opened with a 73, then birdied four of his first five holes and finished his long day at 2-under par with seven holes left.

The only other guy in red numbers was Barnes, the U.S. Amateur champion who got some key advice from Woods — "Just enjoy yourself" — and shot a 69. He was at 1 under and will have eight more holes to play on Saturday.

Woods is trying to make history, but this isn't what he had in mind.

Not only was it his highest first-round score in a major since turning pro, it was his worst start at any PGA Tour-sanctioned event since a 76 in the 1998 Western Open. Even more ominous: No Masters champion has ever started with worse than a 75.

Still, as sunshine finally broke through the clouds in the afternoon, Woods slowly worked himself back into the hunt with three birdies on the back nine. He was 2-over par, sitting on the bench at the par-5 second hole, when the horn sounded to stop play.

"Obviously, I'd like to be a little better than I am, but I'm on the right track," Woods said. "I made some progress. I've still got a chance."

It was shaping up to be a busy Saturday — and not just on the course.

As Woods tries to chip away at the lead, Martha Burk and her National Council of Women's Organizations plan to protest the all-male membership at Augusta National.

She might only have 100 or people, and Burk conceded that her campaign has lost steam over the last few months, especially with the war in Iraq.

"But it doesn't matter if it's on people's radar right this minute or not," she said. "What matters is that, in the long run, sex discrimination becomes a no-no for people who hold power in this country. And Augusta National is emblematic of this group."

The Masters has been best known for Woods the last two years. He has never broken 70 in the first round, but he has never been this slow out of the gates.

Woods was 10 strokes out of the lead after 18 holes, a deficit that no Masters champion has ever made up in the tournament's 66 years.

He might have known what was coming on the first hole. Woods chipped past the hole and over the green, and his par chip climbed up the hill and then rolled back to his feet. His third chip was perfect, falling for an improbable bogey.

"I had so much practice pitching, I figured I'll just pitch in," Woods said.

He had a lot of practice with patience, too.

He dropped to his knees when birdie putts slid by the hole, pulled his cap over his face when par putts did the same and, at times, looked as if he would rather be anywhere but on the course he has dominated the last two years.

"I didn't hit the ball that bad, I just didn't make any putts," Woods said.

He really got exasperated when a good tee shot on No. 10 picked up a clump of mud, a typical occurrence at Augusta National after four days of rain. Woods angrily banged his fists together when he saw the grime, then uttered, "Oh, mud!" when his approach shot squirted off to the right and into a bunker — another bogey.

Woods wasn't alone in his misery.

Fifteen of the 77 players who had played the Masters before walked off with their worst score ever at Augusta, the most noticeable being Nicklaus.

"The course wasn't much of a problem," Nicklaus said. "I was."