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Published: 4/8/2005

Rain is early leader

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Chris DiMarco takes a long look after hitting off the 10th tee during the first round of play of the Masters in Augusta, Ga. Chris DiMarco takes a long look after hitting off the 10th tee during the first round of play of the Masters in Augusta, Ga.
CHRIS O'MEARA / AP Enlarge

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Ten years ago, Mark Hensby's life in pro golf was such a struggle that he spent a few weeks sleeping in his car in the parking lot at Cog Hill Golf Club in Chicago.

Last night, he went to sleep as the leader in the clubhouse at the 69th Masters.

Hensby, whose 3-under-par 69 was easily the best score posted by any of the mere 24 golfers who completed first-round play, trailed Chris DiMarco by one shot. DiMarco was at 4-under after completing 14 holes before play was suspended because of darkness at 7:20 p.m.

Morning thunderstorms dumped more than one inch of rain on Augusta National and delayed the start of play by about 5 1/2 hours until 1:30 p.m. Tournament officials switched gears to a two-tee start in an effort to get as much golf in as possible.

DiMarco got his most meaningful golf in immediately after making the turn. He started on the back nine, then scored three straight birdies beginning at No.‚óŹ1. He rolled in nice, par-saving putts on the next two holes before play was stopped.

DiMarco couldn't have a better hole on which to resume play today. He had a hole-in-one at the par-3 sixth hole last year en route to an opening-round 65. He was the leader after each of the first two rounds.

"I love the golf course," he said. "I love the greens and the imagination you need, putting to spots as opposed to putting to the holes. I've had some good success here. But, hey, I've got only 14 holes in. I have to play 22 tomorrow. There's a long way to go."

Luke Donald, who also caught a hot hand after making the turn to the front nine - he birdied three straight starting at No. 2 - was tied with Hensby at 3-under, but has to complete four holes when first-round action resumes this morning at 9:45.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson, who played 11 holes, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Stuart Appleby, and Ryan Palmer were all on the course at 2-under when play was halted.

Appropriately, considering this is Augusta National, the names Palmer and Nicklaus were together again on the leaderboard during a brief period early in the round.

But it was Ryan, not Arnold. And Nicklaus, the six-time Masters champion, struggled off and on after a heartwarming start - he birdied No. 2 - and was at 4-over after 12 holes.

"The people were wonderful and I enjoyed being out there," said Nicklaus, who recently experienced a tragedy when his 17-month-old grandson drowned. "I don't really enjoy it when I have no chance of being competitive, and believe me, I have no chance of being competitive. One thing's for certain, though. I'll try on every shot."

Nicklaus is playing in his 45th Masters at age 65. Hensby, an Australian who now lives in Arizona, is playing in his first at age 33.

After years of struggling and kicking around on minor league tours, Hensby broke through last year with eight top-10 finishes, including his first PGA Tour win at the John Deere Classic, and ended 15th on the tour's money list with earnings of $2.7 million.

"It all happened so quickly," Hensby said. "Tough times? A lot of people have been through a lot tougher times. I just never gave up on my dream. And my ultimate goal is to win a major, an event like this. You have to have a lot inside, and I think I do.

"It's hard to have expectations on such a demanding golf course against such a quality field. You feel like you're under a microscope on every shot. I was definitely nervous. But once I got going I played well. I'm ecstatic because the rain really made the course play longer. It's not easy to be hitting a lot of 5-irons into these greens."

The Masters may have nothing in common with your everyday PGA event, but to players who sat around all morning doing nothing it must have seemed like just another storm-plagued tour stop.

It marked the fourth consecutive week, dating to the Bay Hill Invitational, that a round was delayed at the start by bad weather. And it was the ninth time in 15 events, to date, on the 2005 PGA Tour schedule that an event has been either delayed or stopped at some point for the same reason.

"We've dealt with so much of it this year, we're almost used to it," Hensby said. "It's getting to be second nature. Still, it's definitely an advantage to have completed the round. I get to sleep in."

And not in his car.

This was the fourth straight year that Masters' play has been suspended, but players avoided a repeat of the 2003 opening round that was completely washed out.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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