The Reviews Are In...

masterslogo.gif...and the criticism of Augusta National's setup far exceeds the number of defenders, which in itself is monumental since ust few years ago it was rare for a writer to dare question the direction of the course changes.

For starters, it's clear that all of the bickering I've done with Doug Ferguson over the changes will have to continue, because after hearing for years from our great AP writer that we must reserve judgement until a firm and fast week to evaluate the horrid tree planting, shabby looking rough and lack of tee flexibility, apparently we now need to provide a multi-year window before returning a verdict.

It would be easy to suggest that Augusta National ruined its major by adding nearly a quarter-mile of length since 2001, but that would be measuring the Masters based only on this year.

Ugh. I look forward to our next debate Doug!

Of course, at least there's hope with the always thoughtful and passionate Ferguson, but I'm not so sure about South Florida Chamber of Commerce groupee and Golf Digest scribe Tim Rosaforte, who always gets into trouble when he writes about course setup and architecture matters. His cheerleading sounds especially lame this week in light of the overwhelmingly negative responses elsewhere.

Surprisingly, there wasn't much whining. Some players felt the water should have been turned on earlier, but Ridley and the Competition Committee did eventually turn on the hoses. "Yesterday we saw the weather and relocated some of the pins to make it fairer," said David Graham sitting at lunch. The two-time major winner has served on the Cup and Tee Marking Committee for 17 years and stated the goal was to make it as difficult as possible without crossing the line, "but this week was more difficult than a British Open."

Ah, taking it right up to the line without crossing it.

Sort of like frat brothers hazing those new pledges. As long as no one dies, it's a successful pledge drive! They all had to go through it. It was tough but fair! Oy...

Sunday, it warmed slightly and so did the mood. The big hitters were reaching the par-5s again, the Cup and Tee Marking Committee gave the field more accessible locations and there were birdie and even eagle roars echoing through the pines.

Right. And oddly, both pointed out that no one complained, but I'm afraid they weren't talking to the right folks. 

masters_fields.jpgRemember that declaration of Sunday joviality when reading the next few pieces, starting with Rosaforte's colleague at Golf World, Bill Fields whose excellent online "letter" was excerpted in this week's Golf World.

Interestingly, the magazine picked his criticism of the course changes for publication.

I found myself in almost complete agreement with Tom Watson’s assessment last week: “They had to do what they did with the length of the course because the equipment mandated it,” Watson said. “The drivers and the balls go so much farther, and the kids are stronger. They had to do that. When Tiger hit two sand wedges and two pitching wedges into No. 5, they said that’s enough. They had to do something. And that was right. Add the length, and let these guys play it the way they did before. But they added the trees. They dressed it up a little too fancy. It used to have a simple elegance to it off the tee.”


But following the second round, Crenshaw was asked when the course, usually so alive with cheers during the tournament, had been so quiet.

“Yeah, [the last] four years,” he said, his answer covering the period of the most extensive changes. “A day like today, this course is real difficult. It’s a combination of the length and the width of the fairways. If you’re just a little bit off-line now, you can be behind a tree or a funny spot, in the little bit of rough, then you just can’t play. It’s the nature of the course now, you try not to get hurt.”

While Crenshaw was talking to reporters he was interrupted by Chris DiMarco, who was making his way from the ninth green to the 10th tee. “How is it out there?” DiMarco said.

“Pulling teeth,” Crenshaw said.

Meanwhile SI's Seth Davis also blasted the lack of excitement that seemed to be a direct result of the changes, and not the weather as some have suggested.

In the past, the competition committee has aimed to get the greens here to dry out as the week goes on. On Sunday morning, the greens were wet and receptive even though it didn't rain here on Saturday night. That's what you call a concession, but by then it was too late. Even though Sunday was a relatively wind-free, balmy day, the average score was 74.33, and the lowest score was a 69 (and only three players shot that).

Don't try to blame all this on the wind and the cold. They've been playing this tournament on this course every year since 1934. You think this is the first time they've had a little inclement weather? Johnson's score of one over par was tied for the highest ever by a winner, and it was the highest since 1956. That's not because of the weather. That's the course.

The saddest part of all this is that we had absolutely no excitement on the back nine on Sunday. The only spine-tingling moment was Woods's brilliant approach at 13, which led to an eagle that moved him to within two of the leader. That leader was Johnson, who had just 216 yards to the green on No. 13 but laid up. You have to give the plucky Johnson credit for making a 10-foot putt for birdie, but when you lay up from that close at 13 on Sunday at Augusta, you should be penalized half a stroke. (Johnson also laid up on every other par-5 this week.)

Goosen was still in the hunt when he got to the 13th tee. He hit an iron off the tee. Guess I picked the wrong week to quit drinking coffee.

Gary Player has been one of the biggest advocates of making the course tougher so today's players use the same clubs on their approach shots that they did in Player's prime. Yet even he said this was the toughest layout he had seen at Augusta in 50 years — and that was before the cold weather rolled in.

So no, things weren't any easier early in the week, when the sun was out and the wind was quiet. After shooting an 83 in the first round, Larry Mize said, "I was out there practicing yesterday afternoon and there were no roars out there. No roars at all. I think they need to get the roars back, because that's part of Augusta."

Not anymore, Larry. This is the new Masters. The tournament ends on the front nine on Thursday.

And finally, just to validate the point that fans did not enjoy the antics, check out the blog of user comments on the event. This was my favorite of the many comparisons to U.S. Open golf, from Mike Moyle:

When a course is so tough it exceeds the actual skills of the players involved, then you are not "identifying the best player" as the USGA likes to quip. You are identifying the luckiest player! Its disappointing to see the Masters set up this way.