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Volunteer finds relief along 14th

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- When you have devoted as much of your life in recent years to a gut-wrenching story of human anguish as Paul Finn has with the sexual abuse scandal inside the Roman Catholic Church, then you are entitled to whatever source of peace and solitude you can find.

For Finn, that spot is along the 14th fairway at Augusta National Golf Club, a solitary figure amid towering Georgia pines and very much engulfed in the ambiance of the Masters. An avid golfer who plays out of Thorny Lea GC in Brockton, Mass., Finn for the second year is a marshal at the 440-yard hole that often gets overlooked because it is squeezed between the par-5 13th and the par-5 15th, the inward holes that are pillars of Masters folklore.

But the 14th green is arguably the most devilish on the course and is one superb challenge. And it's where you'll find Finn, a Hyde Park native who attended Boston Latin High School and Stonehill College. Finn, a lawyer, has served as a mediator in the series of settlements that have arisen out of the scandals. There were more than 540 cases mediated by Finn in the Boston area and he also has been involved with many in the Springfield Diocese.

All in all, a very taxing and emotional endeavor, so Finn is happy to be volunteering his time in such a peaceful setting as Augusta National.

Having attended the tournament annually beginning with Fred Couples's win in 1992, Finn has enjoyed the environment and he mentioned five years ago that if they ever needed a marshal, he was available. He got the call last year and was assigned the 14th hole. He's there again this year, standing quietly as Gary Player, Colin Montgomerie, and Charles Howell made solo trips through in the quiet of an Augusta morning.

It's a worthwhile endeavor, he said. First, because he loves golf and covets this tournament. Second, because it provides a terrific break from work. And third, well, the round of golf at Augusta National that the volunteer marshals are afforded is a pretty good perk.

Late wake-up call

Tiger Woods drew the second-to-last tee time in tomorrow's opening round -- 1:30 p.m. -- alongside Thomas Bjorn and Casey Wittenberg, the US Amateur runner-up. Defending champ Mike Weir will be in the group immediately in front, paired with Justin Leonard and US Amateur champ Nick Flanagan of Australia . . . Preparing for his 50th consecutive Masters -- and his final one, he said -- Arnold Palmer played a practice round with British Amateur champ Gary Wolstenholme and US Mid-Amateur champ Nathan Smith. Then, Palmer discovered that he was paired in Round 1 with Smith, 25, of Brookville, Pa. In great spirits, Palmer, 74, joked, "I reached all of the fairways and I even made a few pars." But he has long since resigned himself to being a ceremonial figure and he needn't be reminded that he hasn't made the cut since 1983, reasons enough to call a halt to his participation. "It's been 50 great years, [but] I think that's enough. I think that's it." . . . Woods played a practice round with Mark O'Meara, then was joined on the back nine by Jose Maria Olazabal, giving patrons a trio that has six green jackets among them. It reminded Woods of his first round at the Masters in 1995, the reigning US Amateur champ. He shot 72 that day paired with Olazabal, the 1994 Masters champ. "I just busted this driver right over the top of the bunker [at the first hole]. I was just so jacked up. I had to decide between a pitching wedge or sand wedge, figured it was soft, pin was back left." So he hit sand wedge, then got up there and made a bold attempt at birdie. "I missed it just on the topside and it kept rolling and rolling. Actually, the gallery was parting ways." He had putted his ball off the first green of competition. Welcome to Augusta National.

Toms, Toms

Today is a big day for David Toms. Even bigger for his 6-year-old son, Carter Toms. That's because at the par-3 contest that has become an annual highlight, Carter will tote the bag for his dad. "It's a highlight of the week for me," said Toms, here for his seventh straight Masters appearance. "And it really is for him. He loves it. He talks about it all year. We have a caddie suit made for him and we get him one of those moon bags so he can carry my clubs. Last year, it was pouring down rain when he did it. It's a fun time." But once the event begins, Toms gets serious. "It's a tournament I want to win worse than any other tournament," he said. "It tests your mental game as much as any other one." Twice he has finished top 10, including joint-eighth a year ago, and is slowly getting into form after having surgery to repair a wrist injury. He likes the course, but concedes he needs to get on a stretch like the one he had in 1998, "When I birdied seven holes on the back nine" in a final-round 64 that got him into a share of sixth . . . For patrons who like their foursomes with a bit of an edge, there was a classic group late yesterday morning -- John Daly, Fuzzy Zoeller, John Rollins, and Rich Beem. You could just picture them heading straight to a nearby Hooters from the 18th green. After all, Daly had been advertised by the restaurant as being available last night to meet the public.

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