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Arnie’s Army Doesn’t Care If Its Commander Falters

From Wire Reports

For 40 years, Augusta National Golf Club has belonged to Arnold Palmer. And 12 straight missed Masters cuts has done nothing to change that.

“There’s no place I’d rather be,” Palmer said Friday from the shade of a sprawling oak in the Augusta courtyard. “If the Good Lord is willing, I’ll keep coming back.”

After all, this is Arnie’s course, with his loyal army and his four green jackets.

On Tuesday, the club made it official with a plaque at the 16th tee commemorating Palmer’s role in Masters’ history.

And that’s where Palmer stood Friday afternoon, reeling from three straight bogeys but still hoping to give his fans something to cheer about.

Arnie’s Army, lined several deep against the gallery rope, clapped for several seconds as he approached his new tee. Some shouted encouragement, others just yelled his name.

Palmer, 65, raised his hand in salute. After four decades, the motion should be almost automatic. But Palmer never just goes through the motions. He talked to certain soldiers individually, looking them in the eye. Asking them how they were.

On the tee of the 170-yard par 3, he shook his head sideways, remembering a missed 4-foot putt that had cost him bogey at No. 14 and a short approach that had landed in the water and led to another bogey at 15.

Palmer was 10 over par for the tournament and 3-over for the day, but he was still trying. And he was still smiling.

Like he said, there was no place he’d rather be on this glorious April afternoon.

A 6-iron in his hands, he uncoiled his trademark swing, and time stood still.

His low shot hit near the center of the green and began trickling down toward the pin, cut on the left side near a pond.

It stopped 8 feet behind the cup. The Army’s applause was deafening, as if it were Sunday and their commander was in pursuit of a fifth green jacket.

The roar was louder when his gentle putt died softly into the cup. Some fans behind the green were still clapping as he disappeared toward the next tee.

“I was telling my caddy, ‘If we had a plaque on every hole, we might be able to play,”’ joked Palmer, who also birdied the hole Thursday.

Zinger bounces back

After opening with three consecutive bogeys, Paul Azinger came back to post a par 72 Friday that enabled him to make the cut in his first Masters appearance since being diagnosed with lymphoma in December 1993.

Azinger birdied five of the last 11 holes, a stretch in which he also had two bogeys, to post a 36-hole score of 2-under-par 142.

The 1993 PGA champion played in only four events last year after undergoing surgery and radiation treatment.

Baker-Finch follies

After finishing in the top 10 three of the last four years, Australia’s Ian Baker-Finch didn’t make the cut this time. He also left with the memory of a miserable quadruple-bogey 8 on the final hole that included a two-shot penalty for breaking a branch in a tree on a practice swing when his tee shot caught the woods. He finished 81 for 160.

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