AUGUSTA, Ga. – For the fifth year in a row the Masters was halted by thunderstorms, which moved through the Augusta area in the early afternoon Saturday and temporarily halted play during the third round.
Some players were on the course when the warning siren went off, though the leaders were still about two hours away from teeing off.
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With Chad Campbell leading by three strokes and all the top contenders within five strokes, the Masters was hit by the remnants of a weather system that spawned deadly tornadoes in Tennessee and damaged homes and businesses in suburban Atlanta.
Jim Furyk, playing with a non-competing marker, made it through 12 holes before rain and lightning hit. The water-logged course could change dramatically after playing firm and crusty the first two rounds, hurting short- and medium-ranged hitters such as Campbell and 54-year-old Ben Crenshaw, who was in contention after making the cut here for the first time since 1997.
Rainy weather is nothing new for the Masters:
— In 2005, the start of the first round was delayed nearly 5 1/2 hours, then another line of storms hit on Friday. They didn't sort things out until Sunday morning, when the leaders finished the third round before returning for their final 18 holes.
— In 2004, the first round began with drizzle in the morning, followed by sunshine at midday, then heavy rain in the afternoon. Play was finally suspended with thunderstorms approaching.
— In 2003, Thursday's round was postponed and replaced by 36 holes on Friday, a dusk-to-dawn marathon that was especially tough on the aging former champions who play the tournament. flavor.
— In 2002, the second round was suspended in the afternoon when a deluge swept over the course. A persistent drizzle the following day kept play from resuming until mid-morning. Even then, the pristine course was transformed into a quagmire.
Before the latest round of storms, the Masters was starting to resemble a U.S. Open-style survival contest. Everyone who made the cut on a blustery, brutal Friday was just happy to get to the weekend with a chance.
"I'm in good shape," said Tiger Woods, perfectly content to be five shots off the lead at the halfway point after a 72-71 start. "A good shot can end up in a bad spot and you just have to accept the consequences and move on. It was very difficult."
Except for Campbell, who made the second round look like a regular week on the PGA Tour with a 5-under-par 67. But he was the exception.
For the second day in a row, only three players broke 70. The field's scoring average was a smidgen below 74. Most everyone was gladly settling for par, hanging on, trying to avoid one of those major mistakes that lurked at every hole.
First-round leader Vijay Singh found plenty of trouble on Friday, making not one, not two, but three double bogeys. Still, he was only three shots back in a tie for second after a 74.
Rocco Mediate had the consummate Masters round for the conditions. A couple of bogeys. One birdie. The rest pars. Keep on grinding, take a 73 and be thrilled that you're solidly in contention heading to Saturday.
"I'm exhausted," said Mediate, tied with Singh and Fred Couples. "You never know where the wind is coming from. You think you do, but you don't. I don't know if anybody does. But that's why you're not seeing a lot of low scores. What Chad did today was remarkable."
Not that Campbell is measuring himself for a green jacket. With a 6-under 138, the job is only half done.
"You don't want to get ahead of yourself," Campbell said. "I've got 36 holes left. There is a lot of golf left."
His run of three straight birdies on the back nine was about the only thing resembling a charge that typically defines this major. Just like so many U.S. Opens, the goal was to keep the ball in play off the tee and go from there.
"You play away from flags here like you do at U.S. Opens," said Ernie Els, who has won that tournament twice and has twice been the runner-up in this one since 2000. "The only difference is the rough is not as high. Give that some time."
Campbell is a three-time winner on the PGA Tour who hasn't quite fulfilled his potential in the majors. He missed the cut in his first two Masters, and faded to a tie for 17th last year. He's setting the pace this year, but 15 players — including Woods — were within five strokes of the lead.