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Clarke, Garcia Take Lead at Masters

April 11, 2003

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) _ Tiger Woods’ pursuit of history at Augusta National got off to a very shaky start Friday, when sunshine finally broke through after nearly a week of nastiness at the Masters.

While Woods struggled, Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland and Sergio Garcia of Spain, surged to the front on a soggy course, inundated by 4 inches of rain since Sunday.

Clarke was 6 under with three holes to play in the first round, one stroke ahead of the young Spaniard. Garcia began experimenting with a new swing a few weeks ago and came to Augusta having missed two straight cuts.

Woods, trying to become the first golfer ever to win three straight green jackets, bogeyed four of the first 10 holes and was nowhere to be found on the leaderboard.

The Masters started one day late because rain washed out the first round Thursday.

The club made up for it by scheduling 36 holes, but it seemed likely only a handful of groups would get in both rounds before dark. The rest will have to return Saturday morning to finish the second round.

Woods’ streak of 10 straight sub-par rounds at one of golf’s most hallowed courses was in jeopardy after he bogeyed the first hole on the back nine, leaving him at 4-over par.

His girlfriend, Elin Nordegren, couldn’t bear to watch. She walked away while he was still playing No. 9, squishing through the mud on her way to the clubhouse.

Woods began his day by hitting four ugly shots before chipping in from about 40 feet for a bogey. He also bogeyed Nos. 4 and 5, hardly looking like the guy who dominated Augusta the last two years.

Playing in the next-to-last group off the first tee, Woods began shortly before 10 a.m. EDT. As he waited to hit, the sun finally cut through the clouds. Waiters, busboys and cooks wandered out from the clubhouse to get a look at his first shot.

It wasn’t pretty. Woods appeared to mis-hit his drive, which didn’t even make it to the bunker at the top of the hill. Playing from the edge of the rough, Woods knocked his second shot over the right side of the green.

He was too strong with his next shot, chipping past the flag and watching the ball catch a ridge and slide off the opposite side of the green. He was short with his next chip, the ball rolling back off the green as the gallery groaned and Woods stood with his hands on his hips, a look of disbelief on his face.

He quickly recovered, chipping his fifth shot into the hole for an improbable bogey.

Woods ran into more trouble at the par-3 fourth, where his tee shot went long and he failed to save par. At No. 5, Woods lost another stroke after driving into the 10-foot-deep bunker, which Woods had said he would try to avoid.

Last year, the world’s best player started with a 2-under 70, leaving him three strokes off the lead. He went on to an easy three-stroke victory over Retief Goosen, joining Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo as the only players to win two straight green jackets.

If Woods can win this week, he’ll take home his fourth Masters championship. That would tie him with Arnold Palmer and leave Woods trailing only Nicklaus, who has six.

The course, stretched to 7,290 yards by changes last year, was playing even longer. The fairways were softened by persistent rain, which forced the first round to be called off for the first time in 64 years.

But sunny conditions were expected for the weekend and that was good news for Masters officials, who hoped to squeeze in enough play for the tournament to end on Sunday as usual.

Sandy Lyle hit the opening tee shot. Fanfare was minimal. Club chairman Hootie Johnson wasn’t on the first tee since the Masters did not have honorary starters for the first time since 1982.

Johnson may have other things on his mind.

Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson called on any Augusta National members who oppose the club’s all-male policy to resign.

``If they do not agree with this policy, they must resign their memberships,″ said Burk, who plans to lead protests on Saturday.

Stamina also figured to play a factor on the grueling day, making things especially tough for former champions Palmer and Nicklaus.

The 63-year-old Nicklaus shot 44 on his front nine, putting him on pace for his worst score ever at Augusta.

``Without a doubt, this is the longest I’ve ever seen it play,″ said Charles Coody, 65, who opened with an 11-over 83 and still had 18 holes left. ``I want to keep going. I’m afraid if I sit down, I won’t get up.″

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