AUGUSTA, Ga. — Who knew there were still fax machines in this world of Twitter, Facebook and texting? Luke Donald had a twitchy wait for almost an hour while very powerful adults poured over a smudge on the World No. 1’s scorecard, trying to decipher if a 5 looked like a 3 or the other way around. Had Donald signed for an incorrect score — a birdie 3 at the fifth instead of a bogey 5 after three-putting? Or was it merely a smudge on the chief scorer’s spectacles?
What a farce! In this age of television and those computer things, it is about time professional golfers didn’t have to fail or succeed based on their ability to scribble 18 numbers into 18 boxes on a piece of paper kept in their back pocket. The tournament committee admitted that it was an “administrative error.” Donald had indeed signed correctly for a three-over-par 75 and was now late for dinner. Maybe he phoned ahead to let the restaurant know. Or maybe he sent a fax.
The waiting world received the good news that Donald was innocent of smudging his math assignment not by the tournament committee but by Donald’s wife Diane via the miracle of Twitter. Let’s hope she didn’t tweet from the course. Tweets are not allowed. But twits are clearly in charge of the fax machine. (Kids, ask your grandpa to tell you what they are.)
“Just got off the phone with Luke, NOT disqualified," Diane tweeted. “Thank goodness.”
The fax machine, apparently, will be fixed with a new cartridge in time for next year’s Masters.
It wasn’t the best of ends to a stormy day for Donald. The thunder that was forecast for late Thursday afternoon arrived a lot earlier in Donald’s eyes. As if first-tee nerves weren’t enough to contend with, Donald had to stew gently for six minutes in the humid 80-degree heat before his opening drive was well and truly cooked.
The reason for the delay was Tiger Woods shambling around in the pines in the group ahead of him after duck-hooking his drive a mere 220 yards into the trees. Donald’s big miss went the other way. Fore right! He trudged up the hill to find his ball resting among the pine needles. There were three trees blocking the path to the green and one particularly annoying low-hanging branch. A sideways bunt seemed the only sensible option. But World No. 1s see shots mere mortals can’t even dream about.
Donald stood behind his ball and his eyes scanned an arboreal route that only he could detect with what must be laser vision. He mopped his brow, took a deep breath and whacked his ball through a gap that wasn’t there. But that pesky branch stretched out and just got a finger on Donald’s ball. It took 40 yards off the shot, leaving Donald a knee-knocking pitch and putt to try to save par. He backed off his 12-foot putt to swat away a bug, but he couldn’t swat away a bogey. The putt lipped out. It was a ragged start and it set the tone for a rare struggle for Donald.
The status quo was briefly re-established with a bish and a bash and two putts for birdie at the easy par-5 second. He birdied the par-5 eighth, too, but racked up bogeys on Nos. 5, 6 and 9 to head into Amen Corner after a two-over-par front nine of 38. Bogeys at the 11th and 13th saw him exit Amen Corner in need of a few prayers to be answered at four over par. A solitary birdie on the back nine at the 17th failed to put a smile on his face.
Donald had a stinker. He wasn’t the only one. Whatever the ground staff spread on the walkways to soak up the sodden grass in the aftermath of two days of thunderstorms and torrential rain, it isn’t Chanel. Not even Golf Chanel. It looks heavenly on your TV sets, but it smells like a barnyard.
Donald's bogey on the sixth appeared to sum up his entire round. The valley between the tee and green of the par-3 sixth is a popular picnic spot where patrons in summer dresses and impractical high-heeled shoes slip something stronger into their iced tea to watch the action. And that’s just the men.
Donald’s tee shot was off line as they often were Thursday. His ball landed on the ridge that runs through the green like a spine, and he watched in horror from the top of the hill as his ball backed up and rolled down the slope, coming to rest 55 feet from the hole. Three putts later and Donald could have been forgiven if he had headed off into the picnic area in search of a stiff drink to ease his pain.
He is eight shots adrift of Lee Westwood’s lead. And those are the bare fax.