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Mud not enough to revise the rules

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 11, 2003

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- On the PGA Tour it is common for players to be able to lift, clean and place their ball in the fairway in wet conditions.

At the Masters that notion is rebuffed like Martha Burk.

Despite nearly four inches of rain since Sunday and the postponement of the first round, Masters participants will play the ball down at Augusta National when the tournament begins this morning.

"We believe that's the traditional way to play the game, and that's the way we intend to play the game," said Will Nicholson, chairman of the competition committee for the tournament.

That came as no surprise to the competitors, none of whom seem to be complaining. "They've never done it here," Phil Mickelson said.

"There will be a woman member here before that happens," Chris DiMarco said.

Being able to lift, clean and place the ball is a big advantage. For one, players can give themselves a perfect lie in the fairway. And they also can wipe off mud, which can alter the flight of the ball.

"You can't predict or control the flight of the ball, it won't react the same way," two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer said. "On tour you look at a lot of mud balls. That's why the lift, clean and place rule exists."

LONG DAY: When Arnold Palmer changed his mind and decided to play in the Masters for the 49th consecutive year, he didn't expect this. Not only is the course playing extremely long, he has to play it twice today.

Palmer was questioning why he decided to play again.

"It's that hard," Palmer said. "It is very hard. And it's long. But I'm going to tee it up because I said I would. And you know that's the way I do things. I've made mistakes before."

SERGIO'S SWING: Sergio Garcia missed the cut in three straight tournaments coming into the Masters, and he attributes his poor play to a swing change. Garcia, 23, finished eighth at last year's Masters and was in contention at the U.S. Open. But his best finish this year was a tie for 25th at the season-opening Mercedes Championship.

"It's a big change," said Garcia, who made the move about a month ago to gain consistency. "And it's not easy. I'm getting used to it a little bit, and I just think it's feeling better. We decided it was the right time. I felt like it was getting a little away from me, the other swing. So I just tried to improve it a little bit."

Garcia has altered his backswing, trying to remove the lag that makes his swing unique but also inconsistent.

"Hopefully it will come together and I'll have a good week," he said.

HAPPY RETURN: This is Jay Haas' 20th Masters and probably among the most special, simply because he figured it might not happen. Haas, 49, hasn't played in the tournament since 2000 and wasn't putting himself in great position to qualify.

But with two second-place finishes this year Haas moved into the top 10 on the money list and into the top 50 in the world ranking through the Players Championship, which meant he got a late invitation.

"It's pretty special," he said. "Two, three years ago, it was looking like I'd never make it back."

Haas attributed his resurgence to a change in his putting.

"It got me interested in the game again," he said. "I was getting frustrated out there, trying to grind and grind and grind and not feeling like I was getting anywhere."

After this year Haas will have a decision to make: playing on the 50-and-older Champions Tour, playing the PGA Tour or a combination of both. For now, however, Haas has other things on his mind.

"I'm happy to be here," Haas said. "Now, the goal is to make sure I get to come back."

He can guarantee a return trip by finishing in the top 16 or by being in the top 40 money winners or top 50 in the world at the end of the year.

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