I guess everything will be all right as long as Arnold Palmer is playing golf. That way, we’ll never get old. It’s always 1964 or so. Things were better.
Perhaps it's a tribute to just how many stars have aligned this week, but after reading Michael Buteau's story on Mid-Am champion Steve Wilson, it's sort of amazing that the Mississippi filling station owner and great quote has been overlooked so far.
At 39, he will be the oldest of the five non-pros competing at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, with Woods and 100 other golfers including Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman.
“I’m not going to look anything like those guys,” said Wilson, co-owner of stations in Gautier, Mississippi, and Theodore, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast. “I’ve got a lot of stuff that I don’t do textbook.”
The professionals will vie for a purse that in 2008 was $7.5 million; this year’s will be disclosed April 12, the match’s last day. While Wilson can’t pocket any money no matter how low he scores, he prepared by playing Augusta 15 times after gaining “honorary member” status with his amateur triumph.
“I’m pretty sure I have worn out my welcome,” the Ocean Springs, Mississippi, resident said.
Much more fun today from the scribblers who unpacked and got to work filing entertaining stories. Before we get to the goods, don't forget to check in tomorrow at 3EST for the Par-3 Contest Live Blog.
Doug Ferguson looks at the dream scenario of a Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson showdown.
They have kept different schedules this week - Mickelson playing early, Woods the late arrival with his most limited practice in his Masters career. They were one group apart Sunday afternoon when both arrived at Augusta and played the front nine.
"Tiger and Phil are out there playing," one of the club members said before adding with a smile, "Not together, obviously."
Golf365 says Tiger turned down Rory McIlroy for a practice round. Or at least, has avoided him in some clever way.
Lawrence Donegan on Tiger: "Certainly the bookies have few doubts, making Woods 12-5 favourite, while the man himself is wearing an air of confidence that is as bulging as his physique."
Steve Elling also looks at Tiger and a Grand Slam quest, and recounts a funny story from Jack Nicklaus about a congratulatory call he made to Tiger after Torrey Pines.
Tiger posted a new website entry and confirms he will be skipping the Par-3 Contest because it takes too bloody long because he plays early and needs to rest up for round 1.
I will likely skip the par-3 Tournament on Wednesday. I played in it about every year until 2005. You play a practice round in the morning, then sit around for your tee time. It just becomes a long day and takes away from your main preparation. I'm sure there will be a day when I come back and play, especially when Sam and Charlie get a little older and can caddie for me.
THE GOLF COURSE
Cam Cole in the Vancouver Sun blisters Hootie Johnson's reign over the course, using words like abomination, crime perpetrated and misguided, featuring a couple of interesting player quotes:
“I’m coming to believe this is more like a U.S. Open course every year,” said Steve Stricker.
“Bland might be too strong a word, but probably it has become a little like that,” 2003 champion Mike Weir, of Bright’s Grove, Ont., said Monday. “I was watching the ’86 Masters (Jack Nicklaus’s sixth win) last night, birdies and eagles flying everywhere, and you know, just the way the course is set up now, mowing patterns and everything, just makes it hard for that to happen.”
Daniel Wexler offers a link to Google Earth's aerial of the course, which is always fun to look at.
PAIRINGS AND AMATEURS
The Golfweek staff breaks down the pairings.
U.S. Am Pub Links winner Jack Newman is doing a diary at GolfDigest.com and talks about why he's going to only stay in the Crow's Nest early in the week.
Drew Kittleson's Masters.com diary is here, with plenty about his round with Phil Mickelson and Phil's invitation to take Drew and dad to the Champions Locker Room for lunch. And you have to love this:
Dinner Tuesday night was back in the clubhouse. I’m going to eat there as much as possible. I mean, I can have dinner with my dad any time, but I can’t always eat at Augusta National.
Easily the best material today comes in the Norman stories. While I haven't gotten to John Garrity's lengthy profile of Norman yet, these are also worth a look.
Leonard Shapiro writes:
when Norman steps on the first tee Thursday, an expected sonic boom roar from hundreds all around when his name is announced surely will summon some special memories, and, he keeps saying, none of the old agony.
"I love the tradition and the heritage at Augusta," Normans said. "I love the way the establishment is up there, their rules and their positions and their implementations.
Larry Dorman in the New York Times:
“I know in the ’80s, they were not coming up to me and saying, ‘Hey, Greg, play well.’ That’s for sure.”
Melanie Hauser on Team Norman clicking on all cylinders.
This potential last moment in Augusta’s setting sun is a family affair. Yes, the focus is on the man who people love here for what hasn’t happened, but he’s made this about Gregory and Chrissie too. They’re a team, going everywhere as a trio, except for a dinner with President George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara. Gregory wasn’t invited.
Here is Norman's interview from Tuesday, with both video and transcript options.
The other interviews, including Ogilvy, Harrington, Ishikawa, Immelman, Lee, Villegas, Woods and Mickelson can be viewed here.
Jim McCabe considers Lee's retro move to hire local caddy Matt Fuzy along with the history of players using club loopers.
Steve Keating profiles Lee, who is proud to be staying the Crow's Nest, "sleeping where Tiger slept."
The Internet Writer Of The Year selects his favorite Masters.
Steve Elling offers his Up and Down thoughts on a bit of everything, including one about the Internet Writer Of The Year
The official site includes Tuesday notes, topped off by this one:
For more than 40 years, two-time Masters Champion Ben Crenshaw has carried the nickname, ‘Gentle Ben,’ thanks to Austin, Texas sportswriter Dick Collins. Tuesday at Augusta National, it was time for Crenshaw to pay him back.
Crenshaw provided Collins, now retired, tickets for the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays practice rounds, giving Collins his first-ever look at Augusta National Golf Club.
“All those years, the newspaper would never send me,” said Collins. “Even when Ben and Tom (Kite) were winning, they didn’t let me go anywhere. Ben provided me tickets this year to see it for the first time. It’s wonderful.”
Peter Bills on Peter Alliss covering the Masters for BBC:
“I never made the cut at Augusta and soon came to the same conclusion as the others, it was too expensive to come over here. It used to take about three days to get here in those days”.
He smiled. “How things have changed, eh; there wouldn't be many modern day players who would turn down an invitation.”
Somehow, it would be hard to imagine a Masters at Augusta National without the avuncular Alliss' dulcet tones, and delightful commentaries. Listening to him again this week will be a major highlight for television viewers around the world.
Mike Vitti's PGA Tour power rankings with one sleeper pick who is getting no ink so far, Nick Watney.
Golfweek offers "sleeper" picks and a really annoying Nike ad, so turn down your volume if you are at the office.
The Sand Trap offers their picks with winning scores.
Jim Huber wonders out loud how the Augusta National grounds crew gets the azaleas to bloom right on time.
Doug Ferguson on the mystique, history and rules surrounding the green jacket.
Immelman was playing in Asia last year when he landed in Japan. He carried the green jacket in a suit bag, but it wasn't long before some golf fans recognized him, and realized what was in the bag. He said they began to cry.
"The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the mystique that goes along, and the history that goes along with Augusta National is just something that not many sports have," he said. "That was a cool feeling, and something nice to be part of."
Asher Wildman takes us on a video tour of the inexpensive and tasty food at Augusta.
And finally, the Augusta Chronicle's extensive photo gallery is great fun.
Supposedly that is is Bubba Watson shaking hands with Tiger Woods. Not a Spackler impersonator. The image was captured by Kendrick Brinson and is posted on the Augusta.com gallery:
I don't know why this strikes me as caption material. Maybe it's that The King's driving looks a wee bit maniacal as he drives former USGA President Buzz Taylor around the course? Or am I over-analyzing? From AP, via Augusta.com's gallery:
Phil Mickelson on the eve of the Masters, now says he thinks the changes to Augusta National have been positive "for the most part."
Q. Are you in the camp that believes that the changes made in the golf course eliminated a Sunday charge or made it more difficult given extreme weather conditions?
PHIL MICKELSON: The weather the last two years has made the golf course play much more difficult than previous years. And it's very hard to mount a charge when it's cold and windy.
But I don't think that was due to the changes in the course. I think it was more due to the conditions that we were facing. Now, though, there are more options in case we get the same kind of weather, but the forecast is to be warm and sunny. In that case, the course will play, I don't want to say short, but it will play much shorter than we saw the last couple of years, and we will see some reasonably low scoring, I believe.
When I played here a couple of weeks ago when it was warm, 75 degrees, I was able to hit the same clubs into the par 4s and par 5s that I did back in the early 90s. So I feel like the changes have been for the most part very positive.
He's made comments contrary to that elsewhere, including in this George Willis piece about bringing back the roars. Maybe he's (understandably) gone into Norman Vincent Peale mode, or maybe that Augusta member sitting next to him can hit a button and have little electrodes zap the interviewee:
"After the changes a few years ago, we don't see the same type of excitement and birdies that we're used to seeing," said Phil Mickelson, who made five birdies on the final seven holes to shoot 31 on the back nine and defeat Ernie Els in 2004.
A few highlights from Tiger's press conference at Augusta today. This sounded like Tod Leonard asking the question, but I'm not sure:
Q. Given the changes to the course, is it not as fun to play the course as it was before to go after birdies and to go after things more? Is it just not the same experience?
TIGER WOODS: Well, it's certainly not the same experience, no. It's funner in a different way. You know, when I first played here, good drives would leave you short irons. Balls, you could hit tee shots that were pretty far off-line, but you did it on purpose. I remember Raymond telling me to hit the ball as far right as you possibly can at 9 so you can fire at the green. Now you have to hug the trees because there's no stand of trees down the right-hand side.
The golf course has changed quite a bit. You know, your strategy has changed. You don't go out there looking to shoot super-low rounds because they are not out there anymore, especially with these conditions that we have the last two years. If it calms down, and I'm sure you can probably shoot one of those good numbers, but there's going to be a different way of doing it.
You know, the golf course is just -- we didn't have rough when I first came here. They used to cut the fairways downgrain, and now they cut it into the grain, and then they went half and half. Inside the doglegs were all downgrain so it forced you to try to hug the corner to get more distance out of it and if you bailed out you would be paying the price of getting the ball to the green. Over the years, the course has changed, but it's just a different score.
This was interesting...
Q. When is the last time you watched the final round of '97, and what were your thoughts going through?
TIGER WOODS: Last time I watched it, I think probably around my birthday this year. I think the GOLF CHANNEL had some kind of birthday week or, I don't know, birthday day, something like that. It was on there. It was kind of funny to obviously watch my swing then versus now.
But the coolest thing in the world is obviously seeing my dad there, which I don't have that anymore. So every time I see that, I get a little weak thinking about that moment, because it was a very important moment in my life to have him there, because obviously everyone knows the story, him having a heart attack the year before and him having the heart surgery and the doctor telling him not to go. But he came and gave me a putting lesson, and I putted well that week.
Q. Is that like a great movie where you stop when you're flipping through?
TIGER WOODS: Sometimes. Sometimes I look back on it thinking, I wish I could swing that hard again. (Laughter).
And this, following up on some questions about his time off.
Q. Did you take stock in your future in golf, and how much time you have left?
TIGER WOODS: No. No, I didn't look at it that way, no. I just looked at the fact that it would have been nice to be able to actually make a swing like those guys were making at the time.
At the time I was on the couch elevated with ice.
And this got the biggest laugh out of Tiger I've ever seen:
Q. This is for Rob. How is it you always seem to draw the interview with Tiger?
ROB JOHNSTON: I cannot comment on Club policy. (Laughter).
Here they are.
Looks like Stewart Cink should have plenty to Twitter about.
If I'm a former winner, once I see curry flavored, I'm heading to the regular menu until the dessert, which sounds good. Scott Michaux reports. No word yet on whether the service will reflect Trevor Immelman's preferred pace of play.
From the News 12 Augusta website: April 07, 2008 Cell Phones, Cameras and Electronic Devices Cell phones, beepers and other electronic devices are strictly prohibited on the grounds at all times. Cameras are strictly prohibited on Tournament days. Violation of these policies will subject the ticket holder to removal from the grounds and the ticket purchaser to the permanent loss of credential(s). Prohibited Items: * Cell Phones
* Bags, Backpacks, Purses, Packages*
* Beepers/Electronic Devices
* Weapons of any kind (regardless of permit)
From the News 12 Augusta website:
April 07, 2008
Cell Phones, Cameras and Electronic Devices
Cell phones, beepers and other electronic devices are strictly prohibited on the grounds at all times. Cameras are strictly prohibited on Tournament days. Violation of these policies will subject the ticket holder to removal from the grounds and the ticket purchaser to the permanent loss of credential(s).
* Cell Phones
I know it's way easy to make a joke about the South or 2nd Amendment rights here, so I'll just say I'm glad they clarified the permit issue.
"Why can't golf's ruling bodies just agree that slow play has got completely out of hand and start penalising the players?"
While everyone is caught up in the lack of excitement brought on by the course changes, Mark Reason reminds us (with ire) of another symptom brought on by Augusta National's new defensive design: slow play. He reminds us that there hasn't been a slow play penalty in a major since the 2004 PGA and wonders why there is so little concern about the leaders taking 5 hours and 10 minutes in last year's final round.
Immelman was and is scandalously slow. Rumour has it that one timing official turned to his colleague and said: "Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped." But we are now 12 months on from Immelman's funeral march and still nothing is done.
To paraphrase Jenkins: nothing that a good ole Monday finish won't fix.
Doug Ferguson files several fun notes, including this one related to Tiger's late practice session.
Bubba Watson was among the first to go off, no doubt looking for Woods to join some elite company. By midmorning, photographers were on the prowl and fans began to murmur, ``Has anyone seen Tiger.''
James Corrigan focuses on the teens and Rory McIlroy in particular, considering his chances at his inaugural Masters.
Larry Dorman analyzes how Padraig Harrington has eluded the spotlight in pursuit of his third straight major.
Mike Aitken talks to Monty about the European players and why Paul Casey has so much potential to win at Augusta, highlighted by his high ball flight.
Jerry Potter files the latest story on the downturn in entertainment spending outside the gates.
The press conferences were dull outside of Gary Player announcing his retirement. Jim McCabe celebrates Player's incredible run. As for the press conference transcripts...
Gary Player is here.
Rory McIlroy is here.
And inexplicably, Anthony Kim was called in to the media center and his chat is here.
Monday saw more piling on when it comes to bashing the course changes. Gosh, I remember the good ole days when writers cared about getting drawn in the Monday lottery.
In this Golfweek Q&A, Paul Goydos doesn't hold back.
What’s one thing you would change about the Masters if you could?
Goydos: I’d bring the fun back in it. The golf course has gotten too long and it’s lost all of it’s fun. I can’t reach any of the par-5s in two, so it’s turned into a battle of attrition. They have to get it back to this battle of wits, but now it’s more like a U.S. Open. Like I said, if you’ve got a two-shot lead going into the back nine and you shoot even par, you’re going to win the tournament. That needs to go away.
Bob Harig (here) and Daniel Wexler (here) both review the many changes and crunch some numbers, while Steve Elling focuses on the peculiarity of any weather hiccup throwing the entire course into chaos, all because they have so few options to move tees.
Immelman points out that he was 11 under after 54 holes, right in line with scoring in previous years, before the weather turned foul in the final round with winds gusting in excess of 30 mph.
"When you're playing a golf course like Augusta National, the beauty of Augusta National, its defense is that you really need to be accurate and you need to really control the distance and the trajectory of your golf ball," Immelman said. "When that's a golf course's defense, then a 30-mile-an-hour wind is thrown into the equation, it becomes extremely difficult for golfers."
That's exactly the point. The course is so punitive that weather wrinkles can make it unendurable. The design limitations make it difficult to counteract Mother Nature and the numbers speak for themselves: Nobody has shot four rounds under par since Woods in 2002. The last real final-round gun battle took place between Els and Phil Mickelson in 2004, a week in which 30 eagles and three aces -- two in successive groups on Sunday -- were recorded.
Seems a distant memory, really.
"What's the problem with 12 under winning the Masters?" Faldo asked. "There really isn't one."
And finally, Golfweek offers a few photos from Monday's practice, minus the copyright free music. It's only Monday though.
The 73-year old is bowing out of the Masters with the most all-time appearances, and he's leaving with some strong material. From Steve Elling's story:
"I'm hitting it so short off the tee, I can hear the ball land," Player cracked.
"I stood on the tee last year when I was waiting to play and there was a bit of a hold up," he said. "I thought, 'Damn it all, most of my friends at 72 are dead and I'm playing at the Masters?' Most guys at my age, 73, have not seen their knees, never mind their private parts, for seven years."
Amazingly, he made the cut 11 years ago at the age of 62.
...a major, major lost ball finder.
Look, I figure it's best to deal with this gut wrenching news now so that you can gather your emotions in time for Thursday...
For the 24th consecutive year Jim Nantz will cover the Masters for CBS (his 22nd year as host). He also handles coverage of the Highlight Shows, originating from Butler Cabin on the grounds of Augusta National. Three-time Masters winner Nick Faldo joins Nantz in the 18th hole tower as lead analyst. Peter Oosterhuis will describe the action at the 17th hole; Verne Lundquist, the 16th hole; David Feherty, the 15th hole and Highlight Shows; Bill Macatee, the 14th hole; Peter Kostis, the 13th hole; and Ian Baker-Finch will tell the story at the 11th and 12th holes. Billy Kratzert and Ian Eagle return along with Matt Gogel to call the live streaming video action for Amen Corner Live and 15 & 16 Live.
Coverage on this site will utilize Cover-It-Live's Live Blogging interactive software of the Par-3 contest coverage Wednesday and the four rounds of tournament play. It looks like they've added some neat features, including Twitter capability that will make it easy to get news updates as we watch, especially now that The Masters is on Twitter.)
So please come back, come often, bring a little attitude and be ready to share your innermost Masters thoughts with the world. (You can also check in via a mobile device.)
I also hope to feature the traditional clippings breakdown of must read items each day, but it depends on how much work and how little golf the on-site scribes decide to enage in Monday-Wednesday. (Now that the economy isn't so hot and Internet operations have been improved, I'm hoping for more early week items to help us make our pool picks get in the mood for Thursday.)
Either way, I can't imagine the Masters' stars aligning any better.
- Nearly every top player is on their game, including Phil Mickelson, whose little hiccup in Houston is rightly brushed off by the SI Golf Group in this week's encyclopedic breakdown of the week's events.
- A couple of old geezers played nicely in Houston and it's easy to imagine a scenario where Greg Norman and Fred Couples contend.
- We get to see Chris Evert in a caddie suit for Wednesday's Par-3. If watching her every move helps cut down on overcoverage of the Romper Room disaster we saw last year, I'm for it.
- Three teenagers are playing impressive golf in their debut events, and Johnny Miller even thinks Danny Lee could win. But Johnny also could probably find grain on Augusta's greens, so...I like Rory McIlroy to be low teenager.
- Padraig Harrington is going for this third straight major and thanks to all of the other great storylines or other factors, we haven't been beaten to death with Paddy Slam talk.
- A positive weather forecast for the tournament days. However, the practice rounds sound cold and windy, which Stewart Cink noted on Twitter will not bode well for the fans hoping to see players: "Very windy weather Mon-Tues means curtailed practice rounds by many players. You can get into bad habits playing in cold wind."
- Golf Channel sounds like they are really stepping up their always-top notch pre and post round coverage, so this year they may actually have more people covering the event on site than in the Orlando studio.
- We get to listen as the CBS and ESPN guys try tell to us that the course design is functioning beautifully, putting them in the same category as the Golf Digest Panel or Rex Hoggard, who confuses rankings with popularity contests. Jim Herre in this week's SI chat says the nets have been reminded not to say anything that might upset Hootie Johnson. Who knew that notorious tough guy who stood down Martha Burke and sidelined those harmless past champions could have his feelings so easily hurt?
As for a table setter, check out Doug Ferguson's breezy report about Sunday activities at ANGC, including which former champ took a cart for his round.
Lawrence Donegan seems pretty confident that Billy Payne and Tom Fazio will restore Augusta National to its former glory, prior to Hootie Johnson and Tom Fazio making a mess of it.
The answer is they were smothered by Johnson's cack-handed alterations. He lengthened the course, he planted trees, he narrowed the fairways, he grew a "second cut" (rough) – in other words he did his best to turn a unique course into just another US Open course. He did not quite succeed but he did turn the Masters tournament into a glorified US Open, which is to say it has become devoid of much of the excitement that made it such a global institution.
The next seven days will be about restoring the excitement, although Johnson's successor, Billy Payne, will never, ever concede this point. Yet it has already begun, with a couple of holes being shortened and some greens being rebuilt. There will be further changes in the years to come – trees will be removed, and the strategic element of the course restored.
Thanks to Taylor for catching this Mike Weir anecdote from a Q&A with Bob Verdi:
And eight years later, you win the Masters.
Crazy. Now, I get to go to the Champions Dinner every year. A highlight. In '04 I was running late. There's only one shower in the Champions Locker Room. I head there in my towel, Arnold and Jack waiting for Tom Watson. I was hosting that year, but I just took my proper place in that line.
Nick Seitz analyzes how they mangled how changes have made the first hole incredibly difficult. He says it now can play as short as 426 and as long as 463. And gets this typically brilliant insight out of Tom Fazio:
"Imagine if No. 2 wasn't an easy par 5!" says architect Tom Fazio, who has been involved in revisions of the course. "But grinding is so typical of that tournament."
Yes, since you got your hands on the place!
Jack Nicklaus pretty much sums up the change in this quote:
"Used to be, with no wind in your face, you could take it over the bunker and play a wedge to the green," says six-time Masters winner Jack Nicklaus. "But once they lengthened the tee, extended the bunker, brought trees in on the left—the face of the hill became an issue, especially with the wind coming into you. You were hitting a 3- or 4-iron when the green wanted a 7 or 8 max."
That's why it's No. 1!
Bradley Klein watched the Nabisco and explains how the bare-bones CBS operation left him wanting more.
Yardages and clubs would help – more of it, anyway. We saw 31 iron shots/full wedge approaches to greens on par-4s and par-5s Sunday. By my count, we got the yardage 18 times and the club only 14 times. Yet when a viewer knows both, it adds to the drama.