Course Changes Verdict Watch, Vol. 6

Steve Elling in the Orlando Sentinel:
We're not the only ones saying it after seeing it: The final round of the Masters was boring, because there weren't nearly enough red numbers. Responsibility for that widespread characterization falls at the feet of club official Hootie Johnson and the guys who authorized the course changes. In fact, the whole week was rather flat from a fireworks perspective. Of the players who made the cut, a not-so-grand total of 15 broke 70 for the entire week -- and none of them did it twice. Way to go, Hootie.

Course Changes Verdict Watch, Vol. 5

Bob Dicesare in the Buffalo News, writing about the general brilliance of changes at Augusta National:

Someone has to stand up to technology. Someone has to protect the integrity of the course and the tournament.
In other news, Dicesare writes that steroids should be welcomed back into in baseball as long as they raise the fences and grow infield rough to protect the integrity of the game.

 

Toms On Augusta

Thanks to reader Steve and Robert for the heads up on David Toms' Hilton Head gathering with da medja. Lots of interesting stuff here:

Q.   And secondly, if you were to have an audience with Hootie this afternoon and he says that you can change one thing about Augusta National, your answer would be --

DAVID TOMS:   -- so many rules.

Q.   What do you mean by that?

DAVID TOMS:   Well, to me it's still a place where the players walk around on eggshells, and you know, not knowing if they are in the right place; they are worried about their cell phone being on; having to stop by the little place, the hut on the way in, to scan your ticket; to making sure you only have one parking pass and somebody else doesn't get in there; to making sure that the wrong person doesn't get your pass and get thrown in jail and try to sell it to somebody else; to not signing autographs in a certain spots or not asking for an autograph in a certain spot; or sitting down at the table too long.   It's just one thing after another.   It's like, you know, the only place all year where the players don't feel like they are the most important thing there.   That's the way I see it and I don't think that I'm the single opinion on that.   So that would be the only thing.

And this fine follow up...

Q.   You mentioned stopping by the hut to scan the ticket; did you guys have to do that?

DAVID TOMS:   Yeah, when you pull in the parking lot you go by this little hut on the way in to scan your ticket.   I don't even know what it's all about.   It's like CIA stuff, you know what I mean.   I don't know, to me it's just uncalled for.   It's not, you know, you can't have your instructor here, you've got a major championship and you can't have your instructor walk down the fairway with you to prepare for the golf tournament.   You know, it's just one after another.   It's like the book of rules and I just think it's a little over the top, that's all I'll say.

Q.   Do you think Tiger has ever had to stop and get his ticket scanned?

DAVID TOMS:   You know, that's the thing.   That's the thing, if he doesn't, why is he any different than me or the Pub Links Champion?   But, you know, I just feel it's that way.

In a way, it makes it different and it makes it special and it makes it just kind of unique, but then again, it's still a golf tournament in the end.   It's the players that make that tournament.   It's Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods battling down the stretch that headaches that event successful on television around the world.   It's not how green the grass is on No. 1 fairway.   So, you know, we'll see, but I don't see that changing, either.   I don't think I'm going to get my time in front of him until I win the tournament.

Q.   Another Masters question, on the back nine on Sunday, we didn't get that jolt that just makes it feel like The Masters, and I wonder how much of that was the design or just guys not taking advantage of the opportunity, any opinion there?

DAVID TOMS:   It is the design.   You know, it's just different, and I don't think you're going to see that anymore.   You know, you saw it the year that Ernie and Phil were battling down the stretch because you're talking about two of the longest hitters in the game and two of the best players, so they were able to have some dramatics and have the power to do it.

You know, when I'm on 15, I hit a good drive and I still was almost 250 yards out from the middle of the fairway, not only is the chance of eagle not very good, but the chance of birdie is not very good, either.   So it's just the golf course is different nowadays and you're not ever going to see a whole lot of heroics from at least half the field.   You have a handful of players that can create it, but at the same time, it's even more difficult for them.

I don't think you're going to see that a whole lot more, the back nine.   You might see somebody collapse on the back nine because the holes are more difficult but I don't see a big charge.   I don't see myself shooting 29 on the back nine ever again like I did in '98, and I don't see anybody else doing it, either.   So you know, we'll see, and could be wrong, but I don't think so.

Q.   So were guys right in saying it feels more like a U.S. Open, the guys that said that?

DAVID TOMS:   Oh, sure, if you brought in the fairways another five yards on both sides and grew that rough up to where it was four inches, that's exactly what you would have.   You'd have a Masters/Open because the corridors are getting awfully tight with all of the trees they are putting in.   Who knows 20 years from now what it's going to look like with all of the new trees.   And the greens are obviously, they can firm them up because of the sub-air system and they can make it play as difficult as they want.

You're thinking, this guy's on a roll. Maybe his take on this trend in all golf course setup, or what he feels is driving this mentality that the players need to be humiliated?

Q.   Just to change the subject, I'm doing a piece on hole-in-ones, and just kind of asking guys what their first hole in one is and their most memorable hole-in-one.   I'm pretty sure I can guess your most memorable?
Now that is a rally killer!

 

Course Changes Verdict Watch, Vol. 4

Vartan Kupelian reports in the Detroit News:
"The changes are better than I thought," said Mike Weir, the 2003 winner. "I would like to see them shorten the rough just a little more, especially on No. 11. Other than that, the changes are great."

Padraig Harrington, who couldn't escape damaging double bogeys, said the course "played great" and put a premium on execution, the way it should be.

"The difference between a shot coming off and not coming off is a birdie to double bogey," he said.

Davis Love is a golf course architect when he's not playing major championships around the globe or on the PGA Tour.

"I like the changes," he said. "As an architect, I have some suggestions about the trees."

The opening tee shot, Love said, "is perfect, it fits."

Course Changes Verdict Watch, Vol. 3

Bob Spear breaks out the pom-poms for Hootie's home state paper and declares that the changes were a huge success. (I believe Spear also wrote in an earlier piece that "Jones and MacKenzie would now doubt approve" of the changes).

The layout that some of golf's treasured champions claimed had been ruined with its added length joined the winner in sharing the spotlight in the 70th Masters.

After these past four days, the claims from Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer sound absurd.

I'd love to see Spear that say that to their faces. Maybe when they're are wearing their green jackets!

Remember the rhetoric? With the changes, thrilling finishes would be passe, run-away winners would be more likely and only the longest hitters need apply for contention.

Isn't that kind of what happened?

Historians insist the Masters does not begin until the back nine on Sunday, but they're wrong. The tournament "started" long before - thanks to the changes that both challenged the world's best golfers and also yielded to quality play.

I liked it better when it started on the back nine Sunday.

Mark this down: At 4:10 p.m., 17 players stood within three strokes of the lead.

That's not incredible. That's impossible.

Case closed!

Before he did, however, the tournament "got pretty exciting out there," Couples said. "For a player to win on this course now, (every part of his game) has to click."

Intentionally or not, he described what a major championship test should be, and perhaps now more than ever, Augusta National fit the definition.

That's right. All of those jackets won prior to the changes? Tainted! Take 'em back!

Extension Issue

ANGC%204%202536.jpgRemember all of the pre-tournament talk of Augusta National's "rhythm" restoration?

A reader made this observation after attending the Masters this weekend:

I was most disappointed by the change to the fourth. The tee is now so elevated, the hole resembles the sixth which I’m sure was not the MacKenzie /Jones intention. For a duck hook off four’s back tee, the third green is a dangerous place to be; a bit like the 2nd tee/1st green situation at Swinley Forest. A hole location in the rear lobe of the third green didn’t help matters. Players had to wait on #3 to putt out while the group ahead hit their tee shots from the fourth tee.

To see a full size view of the tee (where you can also see a slice of 3 green on the left edge), check out this Golf Digest image.

Course Changes Verdict Watch, Vol. 2

Next to an L.A. Times jump headline saying "Length Wasn't a Factor," was this Ben Crenshaw quote:

"The course gets longer and longer, but I had a great time," he said. "I had a ball."

Crenshaw said the 7,445-yard Augusta National course played even longer because of Saturday's rain.

"It's a huge, huge, huge advantage to hit it so far," he said. "Length is a major, major, major factor."

Early Game Stories and Other Final Day Stuff

masterslogo2.gifDamon Hack files a story and notes column (on Tiger, Crenshaw and Mediate). Doug Ferguson also files notes, looking at Rocco Mediate's back going out and Stewart Cink reconsidering some if his pre-tourament criticismCameron Morfit at Golfonline focuses on Mediate and his pals.

Leonard Shapiro leads with the Sunday morning camera click on 18, and how, thankfully, it did not affect the outcome. Based on the number of top-of-the-backswing shots we've seen there in recent years, it's a bit of a wonder that the shutterbugs are even allowed near the tee. And Frank Hannigan's favorite columnist looks at Phil's learning curve.

Lawrence Donegan's Guardian game story analyzes the European showing while John Huggan writes about Darren Clarke.

Ben Crenshaw had two weekend diary entries at masters.org, here and here.

If it's photos you are after, the Augusta Chronicle has pages and pages of thumbnails.

And Michael Hiestand does his best to channel his infamous predecessor, Rudy Martzke:

It's pointless to quibble about coverage that inevitably will be glowing since, as CBS' Dick Enberg put it Sunday, it's set amid "spectacular and overpowering beauty" in "this glorious arena." The effect was contagious: Mickelson's upbeat TV ads for ExxonMobil during CBS' coverage made you wonder if you shouldn't be a bit more appreciative of the conglomerate.

I knew those ads worked on someone!

Two Can Play That Game

Jim Litke on Mickelson's two-driver approach:

"I needed it to combat the added length at Augusta, but this is probably the only course that I'll do it," Mickelson said afterward. "I don't know where else I'll end up needing to do it."

But Mickelson might want to rethink that, based on what he did at the beefed-up Augusta layout. Mickelson won the long-drive contest, averaging 297.5 yards per drive, nearly four yards farther than his closest pursuer and Sunday playing partner Freddie Couples.

His accuracy wasn't nearly as impressive - he hit 35 of 56 fairways, or 62.5 percent, a number that tied him for 36th. Even so, he launched even wayward drives far enough to take the heat off his approach shots. He tied for fourth in reaching the greens in regulation - Mickelson hit 50 of 72, or 69.4 percent - and tied for 16th in fewest putts needed.
And this from Billy Mayfair:
What all that added up to was another sterling silver trophy and the wide-eyed respect of his peers.

"You can kid about Phil, but he's one of the most intelligent persons I've ever met," said Billy Mayfair, who finished at even-par, seven strokes behind Mickelson's winning 281 total.

In Their Own Words...

Highlights from the Phil Mickelson and Tim Clark media sessions:

Q. Would you now advocate everyone going out and putting two drivers in the bag?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, if they are the proper brand. (Laughter).

Q. And in all seriousness, how much did that actually help you?

PHIL MICKELSON: Oh, it was huge. It was a huge help. Because I worked with the technicians over at Callaway and I've got 20, 25 more yards with this driver that draws. I call it a draw and a fade, but the fact is, the draw is like an additional driver; it makes my normal driver a 3 wood, because it goes so much farther. And I needed it to combat the added length here at Augusta. This is the only course that I can think of that I will probably do it, and I did it last week at BellSouth to get accustomed to it. I don't know where else I'll end up needing to do that, but it was a huge help here, and I started going to that driver exclusively, only on holes that I thought I would play cuts. Like on 14 and 17, I ended up hitting that draw driver because I needed the extra length.

And Clark:

Q. Did you feel like the changes that were made were good throughout the field at all lengths of hitter as long as it's hard and fast?

TIM CLARK: If it's hard and fast, I think the changes are great. I noticed today Tiger hitting a lot of 3 woods. So they have taken driver out of his hand here and there. If it is firm and fast, it's fair for all. If it's wet, then it's going to be tough. 

First TV Review: McCleery

golfobserver copy.jpgPeter McCleery weighs in with another fine (and quick!) review of CBS's effort.
Speaking of light, the delays and slow play in the final group almost put the Masters in a tight spot had there been a need for a playoff, there wasn't much daylight left at nearly 7:30 pm. Eastern time when the Mickelson-Couples pair finished its 4 1/2 hour round (apparently, the lengthened Augusta course takes even longer to play).
I wondered when someone was going to note this. Obviously, something for the tournament committee to study. No joke. (What do you think, another 10 minutes to the round with the walks back to #7, 11 and 15 tees?)
Jim Nantz tweaked the press pundits who had suggested only 10 players would have a chance to win the title on the revamped course. "I wonder if all those experts had Tim Clark in their list of 10?" asked Nantz on Saturday.
I knew I missed something when I fell asleep!

Course Changes Verdict Watch

masterslogo2.gifShould be fun to see how many writers/players declare the course changes:

A) to have been validated by a Phil Mickelson win/Tim Clark 2nd place finish

B) confirmation that only bombers can win

C) that it rained and therefore it was still too wet to judge

D) that the winning score was 7-under-par, therefore it was a success (always such a nuanced take on things!)

The lengthening of the course has been "validated" because Augusta National would have been terribly outdated had they not responded in some way to the recent optimization boom. 

As far as restoring club's that Bobby Jones intended players to hit, there are serious problems with that logic. Not only are lofts different today than when Jones wrote about what players hit into holes, anyone who has read his descriptions knows he was not trying to lay down the law on proper approach clubs. It just wasn't his style.

230136-310793-thumbnail.jpg
(click to enlarge, though I don't know why you would want to)
The narrowness and tree planting designed to force players into less bold tee-shot play (as Hootie Johnson described earlier in the week), has severely impacted that old sense that it was only the players, the design and the Golf Gods dictating the outcome.

Now it feels like a battle between committee and player, with the potential for excitement at the mercy of the committee. That may provide an ego boost for them, but the desire to keep winning scores in check makes it boring for fans.

If they had just added length over the last 8 years but did not add the second cut and trees that eliminate options, would there be any criticism of the changes?

I say no.

Some Quick Final Round Thoughts

masterslogo2.gifWell, I don't know about you, but after those Exxon-Mobil ads, I'm ready to forgive the Valdez, the various shenanigans and the $40 I gave them for 13 gallons of gas this morning.

Any company that loves children that much, must be special.

By the way, if you need to induce a migraine, you can relive those ads here. And if you want to read about some shareholders who filed a resolution accusing the company of discrimination for sponsoring the Masters, you can go here (and even read a quote from the long, lost Martha Burke).

Oh, the golf...

Good thing there was no playoff: Leaders Start Time: 2:52 EST, Finish Time: 7:26, Sunset: 7:55

Angles: Loved the Clampett-Wadkins debate about the talk of angles on No. 11 when Couples and Mickelson had different views of the hole. Imagine if the players could actually pick a side instead of trying to keep it in a 25-yard wide fairway.

"With all due respect, those hugs mean more than the green jacket.": Wow, Phil and Rick Smith are close, but come on Jim Nantz? Oh, you mean the kids...love Lord Fauntleroy suit on Evan. Who's doing his highlights?

Options: Impressed by Peter Kostis's Orwellian take on No. 7, explaining how the new length "gives the players options." A new 12th tee at 275 yards out would install some options there too.

Bored: Did you catch the reclining rules official on No. 13 with his legs stretched out, as if he was sitting on the beach? Classy touch.

Clampett: Minimal nonsense today, only a couple of Hogan's Bridge remarks, and only one head scratcher that came when talking about No. 11: "nobody has figured out a way to make birdie here...except Larry Mize."  Hey, there were 6 birdies just this week! Sorry...

No. 11 Final Tally: Average 4.4745, Rank    1, Eagles 1, Birdies  6, Pars  158, Bogies  86, Doubles  19, Others   4

Driving Distance: The average of all drives recorded was 282.9 yards. The top 5 for those playing all four rounds? Mickelson, Couples , Singh, Pampling, Beem. That didn't stop Kostis from trying to paint Tim Clark as the new poster boy for Hootie Johnson's course changes. Still, Feherty did a much better job Peter and he should win this year's award from the Total Information Awareness Committee.

Your thoughts? 

 

Sherman: Augusta Unveiled

Ed Sherman points out several things you may or may not know about Augusta National Golf Club:
Burning: You would expect that Masters caps would be the best sellers in the merchandise store here. But Masters scented candles? Apparently, they fly off the shelves. Perhaps nothing sets a romantic mood better than an Augusta candle.

The candles supposedly a have floral scent. But if the club really wanted to get authentic, it would devise a candle that smells like a used towel from one of the caddies.

High-ranking assistance: Augusta's membership roll features the high and mighty, and many are put to work during the tournament. Still, it's surprising to see former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia listed on the media committee.

Nunn hasn't been seen in the press room this year, but he did find his way there last year. It would be a sportswriter's dream to say, "Hey, Senator, can you get me the quote sheet from Rory Sabbatini?"

One Thing We Can All Agree On...

...in this debate over what Bobby Jones or Clifford Roberts would think of what's going on at Augusta today?jimenez_miguel_angel.jpg

I think we can safely agree that Cliff would not tolerate Miguel Angel Jimenez's pony tail. He'd re-open the barber shop, or enlist security to drag Miguel into a broom closet so he could chop that mess off.

So, do you think he would let the hair down for the green jacket ceremony?

There's always hope. 

No Homers Here

masterslogo2.gifThe decision to start at 10:40 yesterday earned some tough love from the Jeff Schultz Atlanta Journal Constitution and Scott Michaux in the Augusta Chronicle. 

Schultz writes:

But some of Saturday's scramble and today's cram session easily could have been avoided. Rain had been forecast for days. By the time the second round ended Friday, it was a foregone conclusion that the next 18 holes were going to be wet, with the possibility of scattered thunderstorms all day. (The AJC even put this tidbit in the sports section, and normally spring football takes up the entire news hole.)

But Masters officials didn't adjust. They didn't start the field early. They didn't split the field and start half on the back nine. They looked at the same weather map as everybody else, and did nothing.

And from Michaux:

With just a little bit of foresight and a little common sense, the third round of the Masters would have been nearly completed as scheduled Saturday.

Neither element was executed.

Augusta National clearly can't control the weather, but it can do just about anything else it wants. With the preponderance of evidence suggesting that Saturday would be marred by foul weather, there should have been no reason for Masters officials not to have decided Friday night to tee off earlier and send players off both sides to work in as much golf as possible Saturday.

"They don't mess around and make a lot of bad decisions here," Mediate, who faces 32 holes today, said during the 4-hour, 18-minute rain delay.

They made a bad decision this time, and it was an unforced error despite a wealth of recent experience with poor weather.

There is no other sports property in the world that is less beholden to TV than the Masters. That's why, twice in the past five years, the Masters went off an hour earlier on Sundays because of potential bad weather that never materialized. That is one of the things that distinguishes the Masters from the other majors.

Ratings might matter to the network, but they don't matter to the golf club. If the final round coverage draws a 4.2 or a 14.2 share, CBS still will broadcast next year and the limited advertising still will include the same sponsors at the same rates.

Why, then, couldn't Augusta National have decided to start earlier Saturday and show whatever happened on a mix of tape delay and live coverage? If they had, most of the field would have finished and only a few players would have a few holes left this morning.

That would have leveled the playing field instead of the leaders facing anywhere from 27 to 32 holes today.

Every decision should be made in the best interests of the tournament and not television. We've always thought the Masters was better than that.

Back To The Big Bangers Again?

masterslogo2.gifFrom Mike McAllister's live blog over at SI.com:

Stephen Ames, who finished at 2-under, said Augusta National is playing longer than earlier in the week. "It's exceptionally difficult out there," he said a few minutes ago. "It's back to the bangers again. The game is back into their hands."

And Tim Clark just told Bill Macatee that even with good drives, he's not sure he could have reached 17 or 18 in two.