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BACK SPASMS FORCE FALDO TO GO HOME

Nick Faldo felt the familiar twinge in his lower back and hoped the pain would subside long enough to finish his round at the Masters.

When he snapped his second shot on the ninth hole, Faldo knew he was done.

"I can't swing," the three-time winner said Thursday after withdrawing midway through the ninth hole. "It's horrible. This is the Masters. I don't think I've walked off in 30 years."

Faldo has been bothered by spasms in his lower back for the last 18 months. He's been working with a physiotherapist to try to strengthen it and was feeling good when he arrived. But even the short shots caused him pain, and he could feel his back spasm after his third shot on the second hole.

Walking up and down Augusta National's rolling hills didn't help.

"These uphill lies, the downhill lies, it's brutal," he said. "It just kept tightening up and tightening up. I could hardly hit it up No. 7."

After that second shot on 9, Faldo gave up. He was at 4 over through eight holes.

"If you can't get through it," he said, "how are you going to play?"

That he had to quit in the middle of the round was frustrating enough. That it happened at the Masters made it that much worse. He won in 1989, 1990 and 1996, one of only three players to win back-to-back titles.

He has missed the cut five of the last eight years but finished tied for 14th as recently as 2002.

"This place, of all places," he said. "So . . . peach cobbler time. That's what you come to Georgia for, isn't it?"

Ryan Palmer, who was near the top of the leader board at 2 under when play was suspended with two holes left, is 47 years younger and no relation to Arnold Palmer.

But some golf fans apparently can't tell the difference.

"I was getting my hair cut at a place in Boston and the stylist asked me if I was that wicked famous one," he recalled. "I had to tell her, 'No, he's a little bit older.' "

And as Ryan pointed out, that Palmer is a lot more accomplished, having won four Masters. "The King," who is 75, played his final round in the tournament last season. Ryan is in the field for the first time.

Martha Burk's not quite finished with Augusta National.

The national women's group headed by Burk sent letters to the Masters' three television sponsors asking for details on their hiring, pay and promotion of women.

Burk wants to make sure IBM, SBC Communications and Exxon Mobil aren't discriminating against female employees.

"All of these corporations have policies against underwriting discrimination, and all are in violation of those policies," Burk said in a statement. "It is incumbent on them to provide data proving that they in fact do not discriminate against women in their workplaces."

Burk has demanded that Augusta National admit women since June 2002, when she sent chairman Hootie Johnson a letter asking him to open the private club's membership "so that this is not an issue" at the Masters.

Johnson refused, saying women would be invited on the club's timetable.

The ashen sky loomed ominously overhead as Billy Casper lumbered slowly up the hill for the final tee shot of a long, long day.

Tilting over carefully, he stuck a tee in the luscious grass and struck the ball straight down the middle of the fairway at Augusta National.

"I always get this thing figured out along around dark," the portly, 73-year-old Casper quipped, managing the slightest of smiles.

Not long after that, it was mercifully over -- the highest-scoring round in Masters history, turned in by a once-great player who just wanted to play 18 more holes at Augusta National.

The numbers on the scorecard added up to a 106. That's right, 106.

Down at the public muni, Casper would've fit right in -- especially when he hit five straight shots in the water at the par-3 16th before finally getting one on the green. He three-putted, of course, and took a 14.

For those who might be unfamiliar with the term, that's known as a undecuple-bogey.

Not that this was a day for worrying about details such as bogeys, double-bogeys and undecuple-bogeys. Casper just wanted to take another stroll through Amen Corner, hear the roar of the crowd and let the memories wash over him.

He was pushed aside three years ago, getting one of those infamous letters from Masters Chairman Hootie Johnson, who asked three aging ex-champions to give up their automatic spots in the field.

Casper took the snub graciously, fully aware that he had not made the cut since 1987 and hadn't been a contender since the 1970s. But a few months ago, he got the urge to play again.

He had fully recovered from hip replacement surgery and wanted his grandchildren to see him play at Augusta. So he sent in his entry form and waited nervously to see what the response would be from tournament officials.

Nothing. Game on.

The 106 won't go in the record books. Casper didn't turn in his scorecard, walking off the course with it in a back pocket.

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