You can have some large spaces between holes, on which you can plant trees. You thus get the feeling of being in wild and open country, instead of in a small back garden, and your fairways need not resemble a number of parallel and rather narrow streets.
What's great about day like Friday at Augusta? It separates the men from the boys.
I'm talking about the writers.
It's fun to see who really appreciates the nuance and quality of golf versus those who seem to merely enjoy watching players struggle.
But before that discussion, let's get the meat and potatoes stuff out of the way.
Scott Michaux talks to Dr. Ed Bailey who has been to every Masters and was on 17 when Gene Sarazen hit the shot heard round the world. He turned to see the reaction of Sarazen over on 15. Of course today, his view would be blocked out by the recently planted pines.
Lawrence Donegan has the best line of the day in his Guardian lede: "As sporting drama goes, this was a bit like Laurence Olivier being acted off the stage by the grave diggers." And:
There is no disguising the fact that radical changes to Augusta in recent times, coupled with the bone hard conditions of this week, have turned Alister Mackenzie's ageless masterpiece into a brute . Some, like Woods, used diplomatic language when asked for their opinions ("It's a totally different course...[with ] about 500 extra yards, a billion trees and rough ")
James Corrigan featured this epic quote from Lee Westwood:
"Do I like this place? Not really, not any more," said the Englishman, who had just been desperately trying to make up for his first-round 79. "It just asks too many questions that there are no answers to. It used to be a shotmaker's course but now I don't think it is. When it was shorter, more of us would have had an answer, but now there are only six or seven people in the field that can win. It's not the type of golf I want to play." play."
Unfortunately that kind of "attitude" sets off some writers, and Golf Digest's Ron Sirak represents the "they all have to play it" set with this head scratcher.
The thing to remember about Augusta National is that they can make this golf course really difficult without tricking it up. First off, it is an architectural masterpiece -- no matter what you think of the renovations over the past five years. The fairways are seductively wide and the greens are misleading large. The fact is there is only about a third of the fairway on each hole you want to use, and only about a quarter of each green. As Nick Faldo said back when he was winning three green jackets, "There is a route around this place. You just have to find it and follow it."
Uhm, but the see that's the problem. That was true back when Faldo was winning those jackets. The routes have since been closed off with trees and rough.
The point is this: No matter what the conditions, quit whining and adapt to them. Everyone is playing the same course. What could be more fair than that?
Well, everyone had to sit through the same Oscar ceremony to find out who won. That didn't make it a good show.
And I know I'm not supposed to pick on my elders, but Furman Bisher files one of those pieces that I'm sad to say reminds you that he never had to play skilled golf in front of millions on a tricked-up course:
These are changing times at Augusta National, beyond the invigorated presence of Billy Payne. The man who sets up the course is straight out of the USGA mold. Fred Ridley, former U.S. amateur champion, former USGA president, is in his first year as chairman of the Competition Committee, previously occupied by Will Nicholson, who retired. This is Ridley’s first show, and maybe it’s a spinoff of the old USGA policy: “Give ‘em hell.”
It’s OK with the rest of us. Not that we like to see grown men suffer, but it does endear these old acres to us to see them sweat and cuss, and come off the course looking as if they have just seen a UFO.
Yeah, real enduring.
I missed Chip Alexander in the News Observer talking to Tom Fazio yesterday:
Golf architect Tom Fazio, who oversaw the redesign of the course, noted there has been no rain this week -- a rarity the past 10 years, when there often have been storms and rain delays. Augusta National, he said, again was the golf test that Masters founder Bobby Jones intended it to be, with a premium on ball placement off the tee, wise club selection and sound course management.
"Everyone certainly was hoping to see it this way," Fazio said. "It's like a new golf course, because of the speed.
"It's a major. It's a major major."
Thanks to reader Graeme for this Robert Lusetich piece in The Australian, which sums up the plight at hand:
For veterans of this rite of the northern spring, yesterday was different because it lacked the echoing roars of the galleries celebrating birdies.
"Strangely quiet," said Howell.
Whether they return will be in the hands of the ultimate authority here, first-year Masters chairman Billy Payne, who has to decide what kind of history he wants to make.
Meanwhile Lorne Rubenstein gets more specific and criticizes the 15th hole's lack of drama.
Much of the confusion is gone because the hole was lengthened last year to 530 yards from 500. Too many players lay up now, which accounts for the much quieter environment among spectators in the area. They, and the golfers, used to hold their collective breath while a ball was in the air. What was its fate? The hole has almost turned into a par-3 because the tee shot and the lay-up have become routine. The third shot matters the most now, not the second.
If only Darwin had covered Augusta, we might have already reveled in the type of poetry only Tim Rosaforte can deliver:
I flew in direct from Palm Beach, arriving in time for breakfast in the Trophy Room. It gave me a chance to look out onto the veranda and watch the patrons take their positions and await the practice rounds. James was my waiter and the bacon as crisp as it was last year.
After round 2:
TOM WATSON: It was all defense today. I let them kick a field goal and let them run all the way back for a touchdown. You have to play defense on this golf course.
I'm not sure about the field goal metaphor, but the defense part makes sense.
Ed Hardin looks at Tom Fazio's changes to Augusta National in light of this year's setup and shares two very revealing quotes.
First, from Ben Crenshaw:
"You feel like the course is going to get you somewhere," the two-time champion said. "It doesn't matter who you are."Translation: way too much chance is involved. The course is playing the players, instead of the players playing the course (with apologies to Walter Hagen).
But this is just sad:
Above it all, standing near the spreading live oak atop the grand course, Tom Fazio had a gleam in his eye.
"This is what we've been looking for," Fazio said.
And there you have precisely why I have no respect for Tom Fazio as an architect. We have a tournament where the focus is on him, the committee, the setup and the changes, not the players and the joy of the patrons.
It's all about him.
And we know the great architects do not want it to be about them. They want it to be about the players and in the case of Augusta, a celebration of the game. That's what Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie were all about. That's why they're still revered, and why Tom Fazio's place in the game will not looked upon kindly.
From golf.com, an image taken after Tiger's miraculous (or maybe not) swing stop on 13 tee.
After the round, he insisted there were no problems even though the rest of mortals would have broken some bone.
Q. What happened with the swing --
TIGER WOODS: Still trying to figure that out. Birds flew right over me, stopped it somehow, I felt like I broke my back, my wrist, my neck, any legs. I don't know how those baseball players do it, that check-swing, I don't know how they do it, but I tried to check it and did somehow, and I felt like the shaft was going to snap because the head passed forward, I was trying to stop it so hard.
Q. Have you ever had that happen before where you've had a bird?
TIGER WOODS: Not on a bird, but I've stopped it like that before, yeah.
Q. How do you feel right now?
TIGER WOODS: I feel great now.
Q. No repercussions?
TIGER WOODS: No. I'm not old yet.
Okay here we go. Only one scoop of protein powder in the smoothie today, so I should manage to stave off a nap. No guarantees though, my Barcalounger is pretty comfortable.
One thing to look out for: first announcer to declare the brilliance behind the lousy changes because so many forgettable short knockers like Tim Clark are in contention.
1:02 - Whoa have we got a great start here! Get Fred Ridley in the press center now. Tiger is shown checking up on 13 tee and we don't need the first base umpire to tell us that, Ladies and Gentleman, was very close to a stroke/whiff. I understand the Rules say the player simply has to hold up before reaching the ball but that one was close. Rules junkies weigh in please. *[A reader reports that if he altered the path of the club to avoid hitting it, not a stroke.]
1:09 - Phil hit a monster lob on 7 from the fringe to avoid the back bunker. That took courage. So did wearing that lime green shirt. He looks like Shrek.
1:17 - Gee, I thought these Phil and Amy Exxon-Mobil ads were going to be a one year deal. You can only tug at my heart strings so much.
1:20 - Five way tie at the top: Clark, Stenson, Wetterich, Johnson and Rose. Couldn't script it any worse than that.
1:22 - We have a possible winner!!! Peter Kostis (who else?) chimed in with the first short hitter reference. "I'm intrigued. With all the talk of the power hitters playing here...we've got Zack Johnson, Tim Clark, Jerry Kelly, Vaughn Taylor, not long hitters, all on the leaderboard." I don't think the CBS execs in New York are too intrigued.
1:28 - Ogilvy makes tap-in (!) for birdie on 9, pulls to within 2 after a 33. His gold shoes look like a pair from Liberace's estate sale.
1:30 - Zack Johnson lays up, birdies 13 to go to -3. You can almost feel the pandemonium if he could hold on to win. Almost.
1:43 - Tim Clark comes up short on his 18th hole approach, and just think it's only taken him 5 hours and 15 minutes to get here.
1:48 - Shrek makes a nice two-putt for par on 9, out in 38 and hovering near the cut line.
1:55 - Vaughn Taylor moves to -2, making him low native. Power lips a chip on 16 that would have made him -3.
2:07 - Newsflash from the city! I think the Butler Cabin fireplace mantle has been scraped clean of some of the build-up that was noted on this blog yesterday. Nice to know someone's reading! Hey, if you want to get rid of the rest of that build up by Sunday, might I suggest you follow this link.
2:12 - Ian Baker Finch calls it The Hogan Bridge. Not Bobby Clampett's tacky Disneyesque "Hogan's Bridge."
2:16 - Gentle Ben bogies the last three but still looks good for the weekend, adding to the list of former champions playing surprisingly well (Lyle, Watson, Zoeller).
2:22 - Shrek's playing pinball wizard left of 11. Hey, but at least they've cleaned up those piles for removal. Now they're just disposing Phil over there. Meanwhile now he wants a ruling. Where's Will Nicholson when you need him. Where's an ice storm when you need it? Oh and if that's not bad enough, the wind is howling at Amen Corner.
2:34 - Shrek salvages bogey on 11 with a stellar up and down from short of the green. Taking him to +7.
2:47 - Oh the ad wizards for IBM have come up with an ad featuring to men lugging a massive portrait of Bobby Jones across the third fairway. So glad the club agreed to that. Classy.
3:02 - Stuart Appleby makes his 7th birdie of the day. Thankfully Peter Oosterhuis was there to announce it. One of the non-players would have inevitably told us that see, birdies are out there.
3:06 - Shrek makes birdie on 13 to go to +6. Watson triples 18 and misses cut. I feel like I'm watching a funeral.
3:14 - David Feherty says Augusta is playing "like Turnberry with trees." Augusta censors research Turnberry to determine if that's a compliment.
3:29 - I'm back, brief nap. Just saw Shrek lay up on 15, even as he's on the cut line and lays up into the second cut. Wow. Nice to see the life totally taken out of 15. All risk no reward. Made birdie though.
3:33 - Mrs. Doubtfire, in a blur of earth tones, goes out with a fitting bogey at the last to miss the weekend by 1.
3:42 - Rose taps in for par on 14 and his trousers are flapping in the wind. Wow it could be a long ugly weekend. Ogilvy has just 94 yards to the hole on 17. 350sih uphill drive.
3:49 - Ogilvy drains birdie on 17 to get to even. Glad that one hit the hole. And by the way, did I mention the wind is blowing? Looks like the SubAir system will be getting the weekend off.
4:04 - Golf Digest's Pete McDaniel has posted the toughest critique yet of the Augusta National regime. I'd say he's the first to declare that we have seen the Hootie changes under firm conditions, and it's not pretty. Of course, some of us didn't need to see it play firm to know it stunk, but good to see such a strong critique from a calm, respected voice.
4:08 - Freddie two putts 18, with 5 finishing pars in that nasty wind, to make the cut at +8 keeping the remarkable 23-year streak going despite having played only 2 PGA Tour rounds this year.
4:19 - Sergio's group finishes in 5:26, but they, thankfully the sun was out. Sporting a multi-colored hat, Sergio would blend in nicely at Hot Dog On-A-Stick.
4:28 - Shrek holes out 5:25 after he started, finishes with an impressive 73 in touch conditions. Hopefully he'll dress better tomorrow.
4:33 - While waiting for Justin Rose to finish, we're seeing Tiger's highlights. Good to see him in position A on 15 fairway to go for the green and he's in the second cut!
4:40 - Jim Nantz reports that 60 players will be making the cut at +8 or better, with Clarke and Wetterich in the final pairing. And it's been since 1990 that the winner did not come out of the final Sunday pairing.
"You don't go to Las Vegas to attend a piano recital, and you don't go to the Masters to see a bunch of pars and bogeys."
Augusta National never was intended to be a thrasher like those other venues. But in trying to preserve the integrity of the course to combat technology, it appears tournament officials might have stripped the personality of the Masters.
You don't go to Las Vegas to attend a piano recital, and you don't go to the Masters to see a bunch of pars and bogeys. You want the glory, and that means eagles and birdies at Augusta.
You want to see Woods attacking the par-5 13th with his second shot instead of hitting a forgettable layup. The eagle potential on 13 and the par-5 15th were one of the highlights on the back nine. Thursday, there were only two eagles on those holes.
This wasn't Shinnecock silly during the final round of the 2004 U.S. Open, when the rock-hard greens had approach shots bouncing like superballs. But the combination of the added length and the firm greens afforded the players few birdie opportunities.
With the current conditions, it is hard to imagine anybody streaking home Sunday with a 30 on the back nine like Jack Nicklaus did in 1986, or with a 31 like Mickelson did winning in 2004.
Instead, it could come down to a matter of which player can avoid making bogeys. That's a U.S. Open.
Does that sound like fun?
Isn't wireless internet grand. You type your story, copy and paste it, file it and boom, you're out of the press center and at the Waffle House by 10. No faxing. No dictating over the phone. Well, on the days the wireless in the Masters media center doesn't crash!
Hey but the golf was really exciting. The Fred Ridley era got off to a rivetting start. A 76.174 scoring average only two eagles to go with 241 bogeys and only 102 birdies. And the scribblers who did get to file were not in much of a mood to celebrate the high numbers.
Lawrence Donegan's Guardian game story:
There is a certain vicarious thrill in seeing pampered players endure hardships at their place of work but attritional golf is the preserve of the US Open. The Masters has captured the imagination through the decades because it has produced thrilling stuff but there was little to stir the imagination on a leaderboard awash with bogeys and double bogeys. Indeed for a five-hour stretch in the morning there were three holes - the 1st, 7th and 9th - which failed to offer up a single birdie. No wonder Howell said after completing his round, on what was a beautiful Georgia day, that the galleries were "strangely quiet".
Traditionally pin positions are easier for the second round, so there should be a few more birdies on offer, but even so the word in the locker room is that level par might do the trick over the 72 holes.
AP's Jim Litke offers some interesting Tiger-warming-up-observations and writes:
If this is the new, improved Augusta National, welcome to a world of few cheers and even fewer birdies. Both will be in precious short supply.
And Vartan Kupelian was particularly cranky about the U.S. Open setup.
Now we know how Augusta National, bigger, longer and stronger, plays when it is fast and firm.
It doesn't play. It becomes work -- difficult, grinding and seldom artistic. The journey around Augusta National becomes maddening, not unlike the traffic outside on Washington Road.
There is a tiny difference: The greens are much faster.
And Washington Road is much nosier. Without many birdies and eagles, the wonderful roars that sent messages from Amen Corner, and every other corner at Augusta National, were muted Thursday, and that's too bad.
The crescendos have been part of the fun here, but we've already established Augusta National played more like the U.S. Open than the Masters -- pars, not birdies and better, were the order of the day, not fun.
Lorne Rubenstein looks at Mike Weir's struggles and has some observations from the course.
Hey but at least Ian Poulter looked more like an Augusta pimp today. Image courtesy of golf.com.
If you like photos, don't miss the Principle's opening day photo caption fun.
Damon Hack's NY Times game story featured this on Justin Rose:
On Friday, Rose is scheduled to tee off at 2:14 p.m.
“I’ll probably watch a little bit of ‘Little Britain’ DVDs, Ali G DVDs, just stuff to occupy your mind, really,” he said. “You have to forget about it, reset the dial, and treat tomorrow as a clean slate.”
Finally, Jeff Haney looks at the creative solutions the oddmakers have come up with to overcome Tiger's status as an overwhelming favorite.
Q. Referring to the change of the course between practice round and the tournament round.
TOM WATSON: It was dramatic and it was wrong. You aren't going to get a lot of rounds in the 60s in this wind. The greens here make this golf course. They dressed it up around the tees. It's a little too fancy. I like having some freedom off the tees.
1:00 - The King stripes it and we're underway. Oh yeah, and nice reminder from Bill Macatee that when Billy Payne asked, Arnold said yes after years of thinking about. Take that Hootie!
1:06 - Phil is approaching 18 from well behind the bunkers. Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo just reviewed the brutal conditions and setup. They sound SO excited! Wow, almost like they're hosting coverage for a funeral. Says a lot though.
1:14 - The Mickelson-Ramsay-Scott pairing is wrapping up on 18. They teed off at 7:56 PST, so nice 5:20 round!
1:15 - Brett Wetterich makes birdie on 13..fifteen minutes into the telecast, we have our first birdie! Singh rolls in another. We're up to two!
1:26 - Tiger's in with a 37 and it only took 2:34!
1:31 - Justin Rose is in at 69, just in time for all of the English writers to have already filed their stories. Apparently he only had 20 putts, hit 5 greens, at least according to the BBC. Of course the USA crew didn't have that.
1:44 - USA stat: No birdies for Woods-Casey-Badds pairing through 10 and Faldo notes, 'it's not looking good through 11 either!"
1:52 - First interview in Butler Cabin, this with Justin Rose. Uh, not to be too picky, but are the fires in the fireplaces getting a little out of had down there? Did Hootie burn all of his papers down there at once in a towering inferno of frustration? The entire top center is blackened! Nice look.
2:00 - Reader David notes that the low former champion at 5 EST? Craig Stadler at -1. Fuzzy Zoeller is even. No, this is not 1987.
2:05 - A birdie for Badds on No. 11! Our third of the telecast...the tepid applause from the crowd is keeping me awake. Barely. Oh, birdie No. 4 from (Not Vijay) Singh on 15. A tap in. Rivetting!
2:28 - Whoa, just nodded off here. I'm back! Tiger 247 yards into 13 and laying up? Maybe I should go back to sleep. Has he ever laid up on 13!?
2:33 - Okay I love Finchy, but Vijay smelling the flowers as he walks back to 13 tee? Who does he think he's talking about, Walter Hagen?
2:37: Oosty notes that 17 used to be 60 yards wide as we see David Howell in the silly grove down the right, which used to be the optimum angle of attack for today's back left hole location. Ah options and width and strategy, so antiquated!
2:42 - Tiger makes his first birdie of the day! Took almost 4 hours.
2:52 - Tiger gives us an idea how soft the fairways are after heaving his club on the 14th hole approach follow through. Stuck it! Meanwhile Stevie looks like he dropped the bag. Clubs are strewn. Rough day for the jovial looper.
2:56 - Uh, scribblers who are on the grounds. Is that a giant oil streak mark on 13 green!? Or just my TV?
3:12 - Tiger is leaning on his bag on 15 waiting...looks like he's having a blast! Can't imagine why he's cranky. Only 4:20 to this point!
3:17 - Tiger has fairway metal in and pulls off a brilliant shot. Makes birdie at 3:22, joins page one of the leaderboard. It's over.
3:46 - Yes, that little has been happening. Tiger drove it perfectly down the right side on 17 for today's back left hole location, just as Jones and MacKenzie intended. Which would explain why he's in the middle of a pine grove!
3:47 - David Toms putting on 15. Grandstand almost empty. The patrons are lining up for dinner at the Olive Garden, hoping to get seated by 10. Oh how jealous the golf writers on deadline must be.
3:52 - Macatee says if form holds, this will be only the fifth round in last forty years to produce an average over 76. Fred Ridley must be proud.
4:04 - USA is staying on until the end of play, serving all of the patrons who have gone home.
4:12 - Tiger bogies 18 after a wicked snap hook recovery from the right trees ends up in the front bunker. He's still going to win.
4:17 - Tiger: "I threw away a good round of golf today." 73 isn't that bad big guy, especially with the names in front of you. And it only took 5:20!
4:39: David Toms holes out on 18 for par and a fine opening 70. Even better, just 5:28 after he started!
4:42 - Mercifully day one is over and Bill Mac just reminded us that the rebroadcast airs at 8 EST...wait, that's just 18 minutes away. So much for the Law and Order that was sandwiched in between the two!
Well I'm on the same computer and same browsers as last year when the Masters.org coverage worked, and I can't get the Amen Corner Live or Masters Extra to work.
An overseas reader is having the same problem, but getting a different error message. And yet another says there is no sound on Masters Extra. And yet another reports nothing for Masters Extra.
Anyone else having trouble?
Now posted at thegolfchannel.com of all places is my Links Magazine feature on how some of today's up-and-coming architects would approach and Augusta National master plan. If you don't subscribe to links, you should, because you missed the gatefold spread showing some of the different architect renderings. There's also a version of the story on the Links site.
Arnold Palmer tees off at 7:40 am EST and you can watch it live on Masters.org, or see it Saturday and Sunday on CBS. Amen Corner live starts at 2 EST and one can only hope we'll get to hear Mike Hulbert and Phil Blackmar again. I'll be praying tonight, actually.
The online bonus hour starts at 3 EST and of course USA comes on at 4 EST. I'll be doing a live blog each day coinciding with USA and CBS coverage, because I know Peter Kostis would want that.
Whoa Nellie, how about that weather forecast? Especially those weekend low temps. Can you say frost delay? Can you say Monday fin...oh I won't go there, sorry. Wonder if those SubAir systems can heat up the greens? Just hook up a replay of The Worst of Bobby Clampett and pipe it into the SubAir. Should do the trick.
Bob Carney reports on the nice ceremony for writers who've seen their share of Masters. I only caught part of it on Masters Live, but Art Spander gave an incredibly nice and succinct speech. Yes, I know, first time ever Art Spander and succinct were ever mentioned in the same sentence! We love ya Art, hope you cover another 40 Masters.
Cameron Morfit lists things to look for and this caught my eye:
Still, despite the dry weather, Augusta National is playing to all of its 7,445 yards.
"There's a lot more grass on the fairways this year, and I think they've been watering them," said Scott Gneiser, who caddies for David Toms. "We hit a drive on 5 right up the gut and splat! We saw water fly up from the tee."
The 2006 U.S. Open champion, Geoff Ogilvy, said: "I think they're watering them because it hasn't rained that much."
Jerry Kelly agreed. "Are they ever," he said. "I'm getting one, two yards of roll on my driver, and it's kind of killing me."
Alas, the greens are not being watered, so short hitters have little or no chance of holding them with long-iron and fairway-wood approach shots.
How did Jerry Kelly qualify?
Anyway, the SI/Golf Mag guys issue their picks.
I finally got around to reading Bill Fields' piece on Ben Hogan's last hurrah in 1967 and it's one you won't want to miss.
Derek Lawrenson talks to Nick Faldo about the differences between stroke and match play and why he likes Henrik Stenson so much. His stroke/match talk:
"I don't think people really understand how different they are," he began. "Match-play is so much easier to cope with mentally. All you have to focus on is the hole you're playing at the time, and complete it in fewer strokes than the man standing opposite you. If it doesn't happen you move on to the next hole, and that's it.
"At the end you've either won your match or lost it and then you wake up the next day and start again.
"Strokeplay is relentless by comparison. Say you're out early on the first day and shoot 66 to lead the Masters. You've now got 24 hours to sleep on that, deal with all the emotion, and then you've got to make sure your heartbeat's right the following afternoon.
"That's just the start. You've got the day after that and then the fun really starts on the final day. Mess up a hole and you watch a dozen guys whizz past you on the leaderboard. Now you've got that error screwing you up as well, threatening to haunt you and lose you the tournament.
"If 18-hole matchplay is a jigsaw puzzle containing 100 pieces, the majors have about 1,000."
Colin Montgomerie picks everyone but himself.
Bruce Selcraig profiles David Feherty.
Finally, Ken Brown looks at Seve, who is teeing it up this week after a long absence in Augusta before hitting the Valiant Competitors Tour.
...Praise the Lord, Len Shapiro reports that Congressional appears to have approved the AT&T National for the next two years. I was worried we wouldn't get to study all of that architectural nuance.
Oh to have a snarky (I know you have it in you Marty!) take on this from Golf Digest's fashion guru...and for those of you keeping track at home, that's Ian Poulter doing his best neo-postmodern Omaha golf pimp. Photo courtesy of golf.com.
Well we'll find out soon enough won't we. But AP's Tim Dahlberg thankfully reminds us that while we can debate the architectural and historic purity of the Augusta National changes, it's hard to make the case that because of the changes, this anything but a 10-15 man race. (Please, no Tim Clark-finished-2nd-last-year-emails.)
And is that really a good thing so few can win? Or is it a compliment to the course that it separates the elite players? Or something somewhere in between the two?
Ah hell, the Masters is starting! The high holy days are here. Who cares, right?
Still, highlights from Dahlberg's commentary:
A tournament that not that long ago could be won by Ben Crenshaw and Mark O'Meara is now limited to a dozen or so players who have the strength to still reach the elongated 15th in two or can hit their drives far enough to have a decent iron over the pond to the 11th green.
The field is small to begin with, but the changes favor so few players that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have now won five of the last six Masters.
But that's not the only problem. The worst thing is that they've taken away a lot of the fun of Sunday afternoon.
The old adage was that the Masters began on the back nine on Sunday, when it was almost always a mad dash to the finish. Birdies, eagles and meltdowns were in abundance, and it was almost a guarantee there would be some grand theater of the green.
As late as three years ago, three players in the top five shot 31 on the back nine Sunday, including a leaping Mickelson. Last year, the leaders struggled to break par on the final nine, and Mickelson won in a yawner.
Before Woods ran away with the Masters a decade ago, the green jackets never used to care much about what score won. Now they're using distance and an unnatural cut of rough to try to guard par like the USGA does at the U.S. Open, even though viewers for the most part couldn't care less if the winner is 8 under or 18 under.
The tees are never going to be moved back up, and that's fine. But eliminating the rough would not only make things more interesting, but draw more players into contention.
The Telegraph's always entertaining Martin Johnson wasn't the only one bored by the media's Tuesday fawning over Tiger the soon-to-be-dad. Don't miss this column. The highlights, for when the link disappears:
Until now, Mrs Tiger has not had much to disturb her in married life, apart perhaps from those infuriating moments when the old man is hogging the bathroom again. "Darling, I know you've got to put your game face on, but do hurry up. I want to do my nails." But all this is about to change.
It comes as no surprise to learn that the Woods' have already declined a request from an American television company to film the birth live. However, given that Tiger himself was almost as much a designer breed as his new pooch - making his first TV appearance on The Bob Hope Show at the age of three - we can hazard a guess at what the viewers might have witnessed had CBS been allowed to break off from their six o'clock news bulletin on the latest events in Iraq to go live to the maternity ward.
Soon after Woods Junior emerges from the womb, the midwives will marvel at how his hands clasp hold of the umbilical cord, using the Vardon grip of course, before taking aim at a ball of cotton wool and propelling it into a wastepaper basket for the youngest ever hole in one.
Woods himself says that he has no idea whether fatherhood will alter his legendary approach to business - he has a focus which makes Nicklaus in his prime look like a man having a carefree Sunday morning biff round the local municipal. Woods has already said, though, that he will not be playing golf when the birth is due, and we could see him at this year's Open at Carnoustie carrying a beeper on his belt. If there is a God, please let it go off on the top of Colin Montgomerie's backswing.
This was a serious lovefest after the Hootie years. Thanks largely to Billy Payne's shrewd handling of course. Novel concept, this honest, straightforward no-nonsense stuff.
Still, it would have been nice if he was grilled a bit on a few topics.
On the reduction of the top 40 PGA Tour money winner qualification to top 30 along with the top 30 at the end of the FedEx Cup playoffs:
We have applied these new 2008 qualifications over the last five years, and I can report that the field size over those years would have been on average one or two players larger.
And because he's smart and wants to make sure we don't think this was a rescinding of a bad Hootie Johnson idea...
Q. Could you talk about what led you to your decision about the qualifications changes and particularly the PGA TOUR winners?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, I cannot take credit for that. That's something my predecessor was thinking about and talking about, encouraged me to take a hard look at. And, you know, he was preaching to the choir.
I can remember innumerable times where winners of tournament events would be more excited to hear that they had automatically qualified for the Masters than to receive the first prize money check. So it was an exciting component of golf that really only the Masters could offer, and we all thought it appropriate that we bring it back.
Funny, Hootie had every chance to reverse it and he didn't. But we admire the humility and the respect for your elders.
As for the golf course:
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: You know, as I reflect back last year when very significant changes were made, and those that preceded it in '98 and 2002, I was very proud of the way that the course was able to identify the best golfer and that linked with not necessarily the only component of one's game that made them competitive. I think last year demonstrated that conclusively. I think the order of finish demonstrated that conclusively. I think that we've got it about right.
So I would not anticipate substantive changes in the near future, but I would have to caveat that by saying that we certainly measure flight and roll distance, and will be always aware of the quality of the challenge that the golf course presents to these great players.
The quality of the challenge. Yes, the second cut and trees do reduce the quality of the challenge, don't they?
Here's a brilliant question from the gallery:
Q. Do you anticipate scoring being somewhere on the level of last year?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, I can't predict what the scoring is going to be, but we're certainly going to set up the golf course to be as good and as fair a test as we can.
Like it's the third quarter report and Payne is the CFO. Sheesh.
The dreaded technology question:
Q. Wonder if you could elaborate a little on your perception of Augusta's role in the battle between technology and maintaining golf courses of this tradition.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Well, of course I can speak only for Augusta, but I certainly can, I believe, articulate, enunciate, emphasize the problem that we think exists that potentially threatens us and other great courses of the world. With the combination of physical conditioning and equipment over the last several years, as you all know better than I do,
Oh I wouldn't be so sure of that...sorry,continues...
some of these great courses have been significantly threatened. We were at a point at one time, as Tiger said the other day, where Augusta National was being played with driver and wedge on all par 4 holes, and that was not the original intention of our founders.
My predecessor and those before him had the courage to do something about it.
Well, courage? More like desire to make sure red numbers weren't splattered all over the board while they were in charge...
It's something that we must be always aware of and never, ever be afraid to do whatever we have to do to protect that which is in our opinion necessary to accomplish to protect this great course. That's what we're going to do.
Q. Has the club ever conducted a study on how long you could make the course if you wanted to stretch it out as far as you can, and if so, what was that number?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: I don't know that number, but I would guarantee you we've studied everything you can study.
Let's hope he's studying how move fairway back to the trees and chop down some pines.