First Masters Question: What To Restore Next?

I watched the Masters in its entirety and honestly can't remember the second cut impacting more than a handful of shots. And most of those were balls near the tree lines in what was more of a transitional cut than an orchestrated layer of rough. That's pretty amazing compared to where the course was a few years ago.
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2010 Masters Sunday Clippings

A magical Saturday at Augusta set the stage for an almost can't miss epic Sunday, and the scribblers are doing their best to keep things in perspective after some breathless early evening tweets (maybe memories of last year finally kicked in).


LEDES

Larry Dorman in the New York Times:

It was a Saturday like few others in the history of the Masters, a tournament that has just about had it all. It was a civilized brawl, a donnybrook with the top players in the game knocking down flagsticks, trading stunning shots, swapping the lead and coming back for more.

Doug Ferguson for AP:

Lee Westwood heard the ground-shaking roars for just about everyone but him on a Saturday that sounded an awful lot like Sunday at the Masters.

Phil Mickelson made consecutive eagles, and came within inches of three in a row. Tiger Woods battled back from a seven-shot deficit with three straight birdies to stay in the game. Fred Couples chipped in for eagle, keeping his hopes alive.

Mark Reason for the Telegraph:

Tiger Woods had a mouthful of swear words during the third round of the Masters, but Lee Westwood kept strictly to the King’s English.

James Corrigan in the Independent:

So much for this golf tournament being simply about Tiger Woods, so much for the comeback of the disgraced No 1 hijacking the first major of the season. Between them, Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson ensured that all the talk in Augusta last night was at last focused on the 74th Masters and not the 14 mistresses.


QUICKIES

Birdies and Bogeys at GolfDigest.com, includes:

BOGEY: Tiger Woods -- The missed putts are one thing, but Woods' profanity-laced outbursts on the sixth and seventh holes -- perfectly audible on TV -- are not exactly positive steps in the whole image rehab process.

An SI/Golf.com mini-Confidential is on Tiger's temper Saturday.

PGATour.com's roundup, via Yahoo.

And Golfweek's Quick 18.

 
ROARS


The roars that most writers were reluctantly saying never went away (with Masters Major Achievement Awards on their minds), why…they're back!

Gary Van Sickle is beside himself.

Take a deep breath. Now exhale. Whew! Has watching a golf tournament ever been so thrilling and so exhausting? Saturday at Augusta National could be summarized in a single word: Wow!
One formality remains before the 74th Masters joins the short list of the greatest, most epic Masters Tournaments in history, a little something called the back nine on Sunday.

Jeff Rude experienced the electric stretch with Hank Haney. Lucky him!

My perspective came while walking in Tiger Woods’ gallery. The first from the direction of the 13th green as Woods was on 11. The sense was Phil Mickelson had eagled 13. He did. Moments later, the scoreboard left of 11 green moved Mickelson from 7 to 9 under. When it did, the crowd went wild, as if they had witnessed the eagle, as if there’s no question which player they want to win.

As Woods walked off the tee at 13, the highest decibels of the week came from the direction of the green on the par-4 14th. At the time, I was visiting with Woods’ coach, Hank Haney.

“Sounds like someone holed out for eagle at 14,” Haney said.

Jim Achenbach at Golfweek.com:

Asked to explain the low scores (Westwood is 12 under for 54 holes, Mickelson 11 under), Lefty talked about receptive greens and warm weather. “With the warm temperatures,” he said, “the ball is just traveling a lot longer distance.”

The Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday, eh?

How about this updated analysis: The Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Saturday.

Or this one: Saturday at the Masters isn’t just Moving Day, it’s Judgment Day. For this year’s Masters competitors, the task was to shoot a low score or perish.

Richard Williams just DQ'd himself from Masters Achievement Award consideration for daring to point out the obvious: the de-Hootification of Augusta is working.

There is another reason why we were able to wake up on Saturday morning to see a leaderboard top-loaded with players of the highest quality and seething with competitiveness. The Augusta National committee has clearly decided, without admitting as much, to roll back some of the changes to the 78-year-old course made during the chairmanship of Hootie Johnson between 1998 and 2006, when fear of a possible Woods hegemony persuaded the committee to lengthen the course from 6,925 yards to 7,445 yards and prompted the planting of extra stands of loblolly pines and dogwoods to reprofile and exaggerate the demands of several holes.

Quietly, some of those modifications are being reversed. In his press conference on Wednesday the current chairman, Billy Payne, won headlines for his remarks about Woods, but he also spoke of changes to two par-five holes in particular: at the 2nd the greenside bunkers have been shrunk and at the 15th a new pin position has been established, with the intention of encouraging the players to go for eagles.

All around the course, however, little changes are being massaged into the contours and angles of some of the best-known holes in the game. So insistent is Augusta National on honouring its cherished past that the legacy of Johnson, now their "chairman emeritus", will never be publicly repudiated. But, as we have seen in the early rounds of this year's tournament, gradually a great course is being restored to its former balance of qualities, and the players are responding with magnificent risk-taking golf.

Take out the silly pines on 11, 15 and 17, and things will be even more dramatic.

Matt Middleton talks to Steve Flesch about a change in the hazard banks that is playing a key role in the tournament.

Flesch, third to last in the field in driving distance during Saturday's third round, noticed something at Augusta National Golf Club's par-5 13th hole that rewards long-hitting players who go for the green in two shots.

"Balls are staying on that hill (in front of the green) all the time now," he said. "I kind of liked it when everything went in the creek."

Players said they have noticed a change in the slopes leading into water hazards, particularly around the 12th, 13th and 15th holes. The grass appears denser, players say, which is preventing balls from running down into the hazard.

LEE

Bob Harig on the 54-hole leader:

But at one point early on the back nine, Westwood had built a 4-shot advantage, then through virtually no fault of his own, saw it turn into a 1-stroke deficit.

"It was probably one of those great days in golf, a major championship," said Westwood, who holds a 54-hole lead in a major for the first time. "I obviously wasn't privy to the things that [everyone else has] been seeing. But you know, I was well aware that somebody was making a charge, and I figured it was Phil.

"That's what major championships are about. They are tough ones to win, because people, great players do great things at major championships."

Bill Elliott on the all-English pairing Saturday:

While Poulter struggled, dropping shots to par but not quite disappearing, Westwood fought like the genuine star he has become in the last couple of years. Others would have buckled under the pressure as huge galleries cheered on Mickelson but the gym-moulded Englishman stayed what he said he would: patient. His reward came on the long 15th. He was irritated when his eagle putt slipped past the hole but smiled and blinked happily when he noticed that his birdie had taken him back up ahead of Mickelson when the Californian sliced his approach to the 17th and took three putts to get down. In the end Westwood's 68 was good enough to give him a one-stroke lead, 18 holes to go.

PHIL

Steve Elling on Phil Mickelson's epic back-nine run Saturday.

There was nothing shy or retiring about the back nine, which sounded a lot like the 30 he shot in the final round in 2004 to win by a stroke to claim the first of his two green jackets. It all began at the famous 13th, when Mickelson cracked a drive into the elbow of the dogleg and cranked a 7-iron from 195 yards to within eight feet and made the eagle putt.

He drilled his drive on the tricky 14th and only had 140 to the flag. Butch Harmon, his longtime swing coach, and little brother Tim Mickelson, 32, were stationed along the ropes when Lefty launched a wedge high into the air. As soon as it landed and began rolling sideways toward the flag, somebody yelled "get in the hole," which is hardly unusual.

"And for once, it did," Harmon said. "That was one of the loudest roars I have heard out here in a long time."

Dave Shedloski for GolfDigest.com:

All golfers, titans and mortals, point towards this week, but Mickelson -- even more than the troubled Woods with his well-publicized personal hang-ups -- has been reserving his focus and energies for this week.

"No question, Phil has had a ton on his plate," said Jim Mackay, Mickelson's longtime caddie and close friend. "But he loves this place. He's got a real game plan here when he comes here. He's got that magic book [yardage book] in his back pocket. He feels like he knows every inch of the place. The question is, could he make it happen?"

Sean Martin on Phil scribbling a little something on the eagle-eagle-birdie ball.

Gene Wojciechowski on what Phil's going through off the course:

"This is the first week they've traveled in 11 months," said Mickelson. "It's really fun having them here. And it takes a lot of the heartache away."

They watch movies together. Mickelson and his daughter Sophia go to an Augusta coffee shop almost every morning and play chess for an hour. Nothing has been normal since the cancer diagnoses in mid-2009, but this helps. A lot.

"I'm sure it's awesome for him to go home at night and see the wife and kids at a tournament," said his longtime caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay.


FREDDIE

Jeff Babineau says Fred Couples still has a shot.

At 50, Couples would be the oldest major winner. He says there are times his balky back makes him feel double that number, but when he’s loose and feeling good, he certainly doesn’t feel 50 as a golfer. He’s won three Champions Tour events this year, still drives it plenty long enough – at 283.6 yards, he’s tied for 14th this week – hits lots of greens (38 of 54) and has plenty of knowledge and experience at Augusta that many younger peers simply don’t possess.

It remains to be seen how much Couples’ sloppy finish on Friday, when he had two late three-putts and finished bogey-bogey-bogey, will hurt him in the long run. Other than that, he’d be right there.

“This is my favorite spot to play,” he said. “I know I can play the course. I can putt the greens. I’m a great lag putter . . . I have one day tomorrow, and we’ll see what happens.

“It would be a miracle, but we’ll see.”

And Sam Weinman featured this quote:

 "I feel a hundred standing here to be honest with you, but I don't feel 50 playing golf," Couples said. "I still drive the ball a long way. You know, I can hit a lot of long irons and play long, hard holes, and that's what you've got to do here. So you know, whatever happens tomorrow, it's not because I'm 50 and tired, it's just because I didn't play well on Sunday at Augusta, but I'm going to give it my best."


TIGER

Tim Dahlberg for AP:

Kultida Woods couldn’t do anything about it, though she offered a running commentary to Nike chairman Phil Knight as they followed her son around the course, and following them was a uniformed deputy sheriff.

After Woods hit his first putt up a big hill and well past the hole on No. 6, she explained to Knight that the putt was just too tough.

“If you do not putt it hard it will come down,” she said. “It’s a hard putt. A hard putt.”

Ron Sirak for GolfDigest.com:

Remarkably Woods, who at one time trailed by seven strokes, was tied for third place with K.J. Choi at 208, a manageable four strokes off the lead. "I was fighting it all day," Woods said. "My warm-up wasn't very good. I was struggling there. I really struggled with the pace of the greens and fighting my swing. It was a tough day. I just wanted to put myself in contention, and I did that. As of right now I'm only four back, so good round tomorrow..."

Woods's voice tailed off as he finished the answer with a shrug and a smile. If Woods were to storm from behind in Sunday's final round it would be the first time he has rallied to win a major championship. All of his 14 major titles have come with Woods either leading or sharing the lead after 54 holes.

Dan Mirocha on Tiger's new attitude.

Tonight, he may need to tack on a few aspirin, too.

For a man who has vowed to alter his ways both on and off the course, Saturday proved that change does not come overnight.

“Did I (curse)?” Woods said when asked if he had regrets about not toning down his outbursts. “If I did, then I’m sorry.

Martin Samuel saw a different Tiger Saturday:

There was a subtle shift in his demeanour, too, suggesting a man here to win his 15th major, not make new friends. Maybe Woods has realised what the more PR fixated in his team will never understand about sport: win and the rest takes care of itself.

Cameron Morfit gives Tiger a big thumb's up on the week.

Still, Woods has done more than just say the right things. He has made eye contact with his fans. He has tipped his cap. He has resisted the odd impulse to tomahawk his club into the turf. And when he blocked his drive on 17 Saturday and the ball headed for the Augusta airport, he laughed.

Deadspin has a roundup of the Tiger ad spoofs.


OTHERS

An AP story on K.J. Choi, lurking dangerously and anonymously even though he's in the second to last group with Tiger for the fourth straight day.

I'm really having a good time this week," said Choi, who shot a 2-under 70 that left him four strokes off Westwood's pace, three behind Mickelson and tied for third with Woods. "I feel good right now, and I'm just going to keep to my routine and just keep on praying. You never know how this tournament is going to finish."

Choi has been paired all three rounds with Woods, and they've matched each other virtually stroke for stroke.

They're both at 8-under 208, so they'll get to play together one more time - in the most important round of all.

"Unbelievable, absolutely fantastic," said Choi, ranked 43rd in the world. "I'm used to him after three rounds, so having the same pairing is fantastic."

Kevin Garside on Ian Poulter's rough day.

By the time Westwood and Poulter turned for home the English challenge had shrunk to one. Poulter was running from snakes and Westwood was doing all he could to resist the remarkable assault of Mickelson. A bogey at the last cooled Mickelson’s heels. A birdie at 15 temporarily reversed the order back in Westwood’s favour.

The pair have the honour of going out last today. Woods is still in play. Turn off the phone, line up the gin and tonics and prepare for the finest night’s television viewing of the year.

Alex Miceli talks to a shaken Ernie Els.

“This place just does it to me,” Els said after a 3-over 75 Saturday. “I prepared and prepared, and I think about it. It’s killing me.”

Gene Frenette on Matteo Manassero's play and turning pro in May.

His family has no reservations about allowing Matteo, who celebrates his 17th birthday next week, to turn pro at the Italian Open in early May.

Manassero still has two more years of high school to complete at home and through online courses -- not an easy juggling act while trying to initiate a career on the European Tour.

"His age is not a problem," said his father, Roberto. "What's important is that he's tranquil. Matteo is not a self-absorbed person. I see with all the attention he's getting at tournaments, he's still the same Matteo."

He became the first amateur since 2005 to make the cut, mostly because of his work on the greens.

Bob Carney's write up of the GWAA dinner has been picked up by a few outlets today because it includes Tom Watson's jabs at the President.

Conservative Tom Watson, who shared the Ben Hogan comeback-from-injury award with Ken Green, began by saying, “I feel like President Obama accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. He actually said, ‘I’m undeserving of this award.’ And I believed him.” (applause). We’ll I am undeserving too compared to what my fellow golfer Ken Green went through.”

Maybe sensing a little backlash (okay, I doubt that), Watson Saturday talked about spotting a bluebird. Dave Kindred writes:

And there was a bluebird. Watson saw it. He didn't play well, a 73, but he was still two under par, 10 shots off the lead, no bad thing for a man 60 years old.

But on a day when the Masters showed us, again, that golf exists outside TigerWorld, Watson said, "It's still always a pleasure to walk around Augusta when the azaleas are popping -- and there was the most beautiful bluebird on 17 that I ever saw." So we now can add a Watson amendment to Walter Hagen's stop-and-smell-the-roses rule: However amazing the day, stop and watch the bluebirds.

I still haven't found any stories confirming Nick Faldo's comment about Watson only using 13 clubs.


FLORA AND FAUNA

Bill Kirby explains that the azaleas have not bloomed yet and why. Something to do with chilling hours and not the Valentine's Day snowstorm.


IMAGES
Golfweek
Augusta Chronicle
GolfDigest.com

And finally, the best of the Ancient Twitterer, fending off complaints of racism over a Y.E. Yang tweet:

"The game needs sweeping change now."

Nice job by Alistair Tait to not get swept up in the excitement of the day to let the ridiculous pace of play go unnoticed. In our live chat the UK readers noted Peter Alliss' complaints about the pace, which ended up at 5 hours and 45 minutes for the Woods-Kuchar-Choi group.

These days the five-hour plus round is the norm. The way it’s going, the six-hour round will soon become commonplace.

Meanwhile the R&A and USGA sit in their ivory towers and do absolutely nothing. Exactly two years ago, at Royal Birkdale, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said there was going to be a meeting during The Players Championship where the subject of slow play would be discussed by governing bodies and professional tours. He promised then that he wouldn’t slow play us on this one. Two years later and we’re still waiting for the powers that be to do something.

(Are you reading this Peter?)

What's interesting about round one was the role of the golf course setup. Clearly Fred Ridley and the committee wanted to get the players around in the face of a bad weather forecast. The easier hole locations and forward tee placements worked in one sense: thirty players finished under par and we saw some of the most exciting golf in years. Yet the pace of play remained awful. And as Tait notes in his piece, there's only one solution: shot clocks and penalty strokes.

2010 Masters Friday Clippings

Too bad the scribblers didn't have much to work with after round one of the 2010 Masters. And as amazing as Tiger's round was, as wild as it is to see 50-year-old Fred Couples atop the leaderboard with a 66, it was 60-year-old Tom Watson's 67 that stole the show. It also let a lot of people file early and have dinner at a reasonable hour. 
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"It's amazing how it -- how my dad can speak to me from different ways, even when he's long gone."**

After his Masters opening round 68, Tiger was asked by Christine Brennan about the new Nike ad featuring his father's voice.

Q. As you know in addition to this being a big day in golf for you, your Nike ad did start airing and there's been a lot of conversation on it; on such a private matter you don't want to speak about, why then would you have an ad come out?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I think it's very apropos. I think that's what my dad would say. It's amazing how it -- how my dad can speak to me from different ways, even when he's long gone. He's still helping me.

I think any son who has lost a father and who meant so much in their life, I think they would understand the spot.

According to this ABC story, it seems the audio from Earl Woods was taken from the Tiger DVD set produced by Disney a few years ago. Turns out Earl was paraphrasing a talk about Tida vs. his style, and the word "Tiger" was edited in.

The documentary then cuts to Earl Woods, then 72 and already showing the ravages of prostate cancer, talking about Kultida "Tida" Woods, his Thailand-born wife and Tiger's mother.

Earl's full quote in the film is: "Authoritarian. Yea, Tida is very authoritative. She is very definitive. 'Yes' and 'No.' I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion. I want to find out what you're thinking was, I want to find out what your feelings are and did you learn anything?"

Earl then adds, "So, we were two different types but we co-existed pretty well."

Gene Wojciechowski had this to say about the ad:

The voiceover of his deceased father asking, "And did you learn anything?"

I can answer that.

No.

If he had, Woods would have never let Nike air the bizarre, self-important, manipulative commercial. Instead, the spot would have died a quick, appropriate death on a creative director's desktop.

Gene Yasuda sheds some light on the ad's creators and the reaction in the ad world.

And the first parodies are in on the ad. Huffington Post puts together a nice gallery of them, though the Jimmy Kimmel edition of the follow up ad featuring Tida wins the prize: