Sunday, March 30, 2003

Arnie joins Nicklaus for Masters encore

Golf notebook: Will be Palmer's 49th straight year

The Associated Press

Arnold Palmer, who bid an emotional farewell last year at the Masters, is returning for an encore.

Palmer, 73, a four-time winner of the green jacket, decided Saturday to play in the Masters for the 49th consecutive year, spokesman Doc Giffin said. That would tie Doug Ford for the most times playing in the tournament.

The decision comes one day after Jack Nicklaus, 63, said he would play in the Masters for the 43rd time. Nicklaus won the Masters a record six times, and this is the 40-year anniversary of his first green jacket.

The appearance by the Masters' two most endearing champions, not to mention Tiger Woods going for a record third consecutive victory, figures to deflect some of the attention away from the controversy over Augusta National's all-male membership.

Palmer and Nicklaus are the only past champions who are members of the club. Neither will comment on the debate.

Palmer joked last year that he didn't want to get a letter, referring to Masters chairman Hootie Johnson sending letters to some of the past champions and asking them not to play.

Johnson established a new policy last year that sets an age limit of 65, provided that a past champion plays at least 10 tournaments the preceding year.

The policy was to go into effect in 2004, but the Augusta Chronicle reported Saturday that it was about to be rescinded.

WETTERICH LEADS: Oak Hills High graduate Brett Wetterich fired an 8-under 64 to take the third-round lead at the Nationwide Tour's Louisiana Open in Broussard. Wetterich, with a 54-hole tournament-record 22-under 194, holds a two-shot advantage over Steve Allan and Ken Duke.

"I am definitely happier today than I was yesterday," said Wetterich, whose last Sunday final grouping came at the PGA Tour's 2002 Honda Classic, where he eventually finished tied for eighth. "Today was more about hitting it in the direction you wanted and not letting the wind throw it around."

Wetterich countered hitting only six of 13 fairways by needing only 24 putts and recorded one of just three bogey-free rounds Saturday. Wetterich finished No. 174 on the 2002 PGA Tour money list and lost his big-tour privileges.

Wetterich will be paired in the final grouping on Sunday with Allan, who managed to get up-and-down for par on the final three holes to stay within shouting distance of the leader.

"It was obviously a lot tougher today, but you knew the scores were going to be higher in this weather," said Allan, who saw his last action in a Sunday final pairing when he won the 2002 Holden Australian Open Championship.

"I haven't played well in six weeks so it is good to be up there with a chance," added Allan.

Mike Grob (67) is five behind Wetterich heading into the final round, while Robin Freeman (68) and second-round leader Wes Short (73) are six back.

The Chitimacha Louisiana Open is the third of 30 events on the 2003 Nationwide Tour and Sunday's winner will take home $85,500.

PRICE NOT RIGHT WITH IT: Nick Price, defending champion of the Colonial, expressed his disdain about Annika Sorenstam's intention to the play in this year's Colonial, which begins May 22.

"It reeks of, how can I say it, trying to find publicity," Price said. "What's she trying to prove? If she plays well, she plays well. What's that going to prove? It's a tournament I'm defending, and I've got to go and answer questions about (her). It's so irritating."

Sorenstam, 32, will become the first women in 58 years to compete in a PGA Tour event.

Sorenstam plans to play in the May 8-11 Nichirei Nichrirei Cup World Ladies Tournament in Tokyo as a tune-up for the Colonial.

R&A WOMEN: A British cabinet minister urged the Royal & Ancient club to make sure there is no gender discrimination at all-male clubs hosting the British Open.

Tessa Jowell, secretary of Culture, Media and Sport, stated in a letter to R&A secretary Peter Dawson that "all events" held in conjunction with the British Open should be "open to both sexes."

Royal St. George's, the site of this year's British Open, and Royal Troon, which will host the 2004 event, have no women members.

Jowell's aides said she was referring to parties, dinners, receptions and other social events held during the tournament.

Jowell said the government is supporting a draft bill which would outlaw sexual discrimination in private clubs with more than 25 members.

"I hope the R&A will set the standard on this issue and conduct the Open in the spirit of this draft legislation," Jowell wrote to Dawson. "I am sure you will agree it is fitting that one of our first and most loved sporting championships should set an example on this important issue."

Jowell's letter comes at a time when the all-male membership of Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, is under scrutiny. Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, plans to protest during the April 10-13 tournament in Augusta, Ga.

The R&A, world governing body for golf outside the United States and Mexico, has no women members. It is a private club of 2,400 based in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Dawson denied gender discrimination exists at the British Open.

"I would like to reassure the minister that the Open championship has never discriminated except on the field of play - we are a men's Open," Dawson said. "And I would reassure everyone else that there is absolutely no gender discrimination at the Open. It's a non-issue."

AUGUSTA POLITICS: If women can't join Augusta National then senators, congressmen, judges and political appointees shouldn't play there, several lawmakers are suggesting.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and John Lewis, D-Ga., are introducing a resolution Monday in the U.S. House calling on top federal employees to stay away from organizations that discriminate on the basis of race or sex.

The measure , which is nonbinding on the employees, is a clear swipe at the golf course that hosts The Masters, the first major on the Professional Golf Association's annual tour of tournaments. Augusta National has been at the center of controversy concerning its rule prohibiting women from joining.

"A club such as Augusta is a place powerful people make relationships with other very powerful people," said Maloney, who has about 10 co-sponsors - all Democrats - joining her in the effort. "It's basically about fairness. By holding the spotlight to Augusta, we're painting a picture openly and boldly of discrimination."

Augusta National Golf Club was founded in 1931. With the sport's popularity growing and The Masters producing lucrative television revenues, critics say it shouldn't be viewed as a private club but a public business, subject to the discrimination laws of any other.

At least two prominent members have resigned their membership in the club because of the controversy. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow is one of the latest. CBS chief executive Thomas H. Wyman quit last year after 25 years as a member.

The club declined to comment on Maloney's resolution.

Meanwhile Friday, a federal judge in Augusta, Ga., scheduled a hearing next week on a lawsuit by Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women's Organizations, challenging the city's law regulating public protests.

Burk sued Augusta for violating her free-speech rights March 12 after Sheriff Ronald Strength denied her permission to place 24 protesters just outside Augusta National's main gate and 200 more across the street. Burk rejected an alternate site picked by the sheriff about a half-mile away.

U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. has scheduled Wednesday morning to hear Burk's request that he temporarily suspend the protest law, allowing her to protest at the gate over the sheriff's objection.

Strength has rejected all requests for public demonstrations near the Augusta National entrance during the Masters, citing safety risks to motorists and pedestrians.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which filed the suit for Burk, says Augusta's protest law gives the sheriff too much discretion to approve, deny or relocate protests.

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