Sunday, April 08, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Break out the Day-Glo golf balls, hand-warmers and the winter rules.

Chilly temperatures and a brisk north wind made the Masters feel more like it was transplanted to Augusta, Maine. Spectators bundled up in their winter finest Saturday, and players dug out every last bit of clothing they had stashed in their golf bags. Henrik Stenson even teed off in a stocking cap - at 1 p.m., no less.

And he's Swedish.

"The only other time I remember the weather like this is when I'm here playing for Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Charles Howell III, an Augusta native.

Temperatures at the Masters hovered around 50 degrees. Add wind gusts of up to 25 mph, and it felt like the low- to mid-40s at Augusta National. Sunday morning temperatures were in the mid-40s, and forecasts called for the mid-50s by the afternoon, when the leaders tee off.

Saturday's temperatures were a good 30 degrees below normal, and the cold took its toll on the golf as well as the golfers and the gallery. The field averaged 77.35 strokes, the highest-scoring round since Augusta switched to bent grass greens in 1981, and no one was under par. The leader was Stuart Appleby of Australia at 2 over par, one stroke better than Tiger Woods and Justin Rose of England.

So much for warm Southern hospitality.

"We looked out this morning and thought it was going to be beautiful," said Simon Burgess, an Englishman by way of Portugal who was shivering in shorts and a light sweater. "It's bloody freezing."

The Masters is normally spring break for the golfing set - sun-splashed days that are warm, if not hot; a pleasant breeze that's the perfect complement to a pimento cheese sandwich.

Shirt-sleeves are the uniform for players, with maybe a light sweater vest for those trying to show a bit of style. Spectators wear shorts. The women come in skirts or show off their little sundresses. While the golf is the main attraction, getting an early start on the year's tan doesn't hurt.

Rain can put a damper on things - the third round didn't finish until Sunday morning last year because of thunderstorms - but it's one thing to have muddy shoes, another to not be able to feel your feet.

"This seems like another tournament altogether," said Rich Cheney of Rocky Mount, N.C., who was at his fourth Masters. "Kind of British Open conditions."

Players were layered in sweaters, wind shirts and jackets. There was even a mock turtleneck or two. The wind played havoc with almost every shot and made Augusta's already quick greens even slicker.

"Do I look like I'm out in my shorts and T-shirt?" Englishman Lee Westwood asked. "When I got out of the house this morning, I said to (his agent), 'It's like walking out of the Old Course Hotel at the Dunhill Links.' It was that cold."

At least the players got to move around and keep the blood flowing. For the spectators, the chilly conditions called for more drastic measures.

Mike Misiak had on a T-shirt, turtleneck, sweater and a jacket. He wore black pants - "to soak in the sun" - and tundra-worthy black gloves.

"This, I think, is a beautiful day," Misiak said. "My golfing weather is 40 degrees. I've golfed in snow six inches deep. I don't know what the temperature was, but probably below freezing."

OK, but Misiak is from Tecumseh, Mich. He's a pro at this. Ditto for David Lewis, a high school golf teacher from Buffalo, N.Y., who was at his first Masters.

Lewis had shed his coat by midafternoon, though he did have on a sweater and turtleneck.

"I hang out at football games. I've been watching the Buffalo Bills for years," Lewis said. "I know better than to be cold. I can take stuff off. But if you don't have it, you don't have it."

Which is why so many spectators looked as if they were wearing half the clothes in their closets.

More than a few people had on ear muffs and wool caps. One man had on a long, leather trench coat and a leather hat. A woman already wearing a sweater, heavy jacket, gloves and hat wrapped herself in a wool blanket.

One fan who had staked out a seat along the blustery No. 7 fairway was hunched over, a hood over his head and his windshirt pulled up over that.

"Temperature-wise, it's not too bad," said Cheney, who traded the shorts and golf shirt he normally wears to Augusta for thick corduroys, gloves, a shirt, sweater vest and windbreaker. "But when you throw in the wind, it makes it really tough."

At least the sun was shining. When the wind would die down briefly, it wasn't that bad. Not ideal, but tolerable.

For those who weren't prepared for the elements, though, the entire day was brutal.

Burgess shivered and chattered for 3+ hours as he followed Westwood. As soon as Westwood was done, so was Burgess. He and a buddy headed for a restaurant to get some hot wings and warm up.

"I bought $700 worth of clothes yesterday, and they're all back at the house," Burgess said. "I should have brought it all out."

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