Press conferences and the overnight storm were the main topic of conversation Tuesday as most of the top players prepare to sit out the Par-3 Contest (reminder, I'll be live blogging the first hour or so, mostly so we can kick around favorites and other longshots).
Gary Van Sickle sets the tone for Tuesday's coverage.
This week, it's all about Tiger and Phil, the same as it's been for the last dozen years. Other champions rise and fall, but Tiger and Phil hold our interest. They endure. They have become as much identified with Augusta National as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer before them. So it came as no surprise that when the British Open champ, Louis Oosthuizen, stopped by the press center Tuesday morning, he was greeted by a media throng of fewer than a dozen. Nothing against him, but the British media had already talked to Lee Westwood and rushed off to write their stories so they could be ready to interview Tiger and Phil a few hours later. Every other interview subject, from Oosthuizen to the legendary Gary Player, was the undercard.
Cameron Morfit talked to Phil's peers and some old geezers about the likely tournament favorite.
"As a competitor I don't buy into that," said Nick Watney, who is coming off a win at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, and who has finished no worse than 13th this season. "There's a lot of golf to be played and anything can happen."
"It's premature to say the tournament is Phil's to lose," Henrik Stenson said. "That's something you say about a guy who has a three-shot lead on Sunday."
Fuzzy Zoeller, the 1979 champion who won't compete this week for the second straight year, put it this way: "Who knows? Sometimes you can play great one week and the next week you can't hit a cow in the ass with a bass fiddle."
Steve Elling explains Phil's latest two-driver concept.
Mickelson is toting the same driver from last week, where he won in Houston thanks to 18 weekend birdies. For you equipment techies, it's a 45-inch model with a low center of gravity and 7.5 degrees of loft. It produces a lower ball flight. That's his stock driver.
The new cannon is an inch longer, has only 5.9 degrees of loft, and features a higher center of gravity to generate a higher ball flight.
We have liftoff.
"They both draw and fade the same," he said. "That's not the purpose of it. I have an inch longer shaft and different loft. It just goes about 15, 20 yards farther."
Due to those overnight storms, temperatures were about 20 degrees cooler than Monday, although expected to return to warmer levels by the start of the tournament on Thursday.
For that reason, Mickelson decided to forego a practice round Tuesday. "I didn't see how playing today was going to benefit me given conditions were supposed to be so drastically different this week," he said.
And Tom Spousta tells us what Phil Mickelson's Seve-tribute-themed dinner menu looked like:
In honor of Ballesteros, the two-time Masters champion, Mickelson dedicated the Champions dinner with a flair worthy of Seve's swashbuckling plays. The menu, printed in Spanish and English, included:
Green Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette
Prime Beef Tenderloin with Manchego Cheese and Smoked Paprika Demi-Glace
Spanish Apple Pie
Lawrence Donegan tells us Tiger's reaction to the non-controversy of the day, Ian Poulter suggesting that Tiger is unlikely to finish in the top five this week. You'd think he suggested that William make Kate sign a prenup!
Woods maintained a diplomatically straight face and carefully sarcastic tone when informed of Poulter's words. "Well, Poulter is always right, isn't he?" he said. "My whole idea is to win the golf tournament. I've prepared with a view to peaking four times a year and that hasn't changed."
James Corrigan gets to the bigger issue here: players just aren't intimidated by Tiger any longer.
The problem is that, like stocks and shares, you can always become worse as well. Woods has been living, seething proof of this. Again he pointed to the swing changes he has made for his wretched run of results and again he claimed the process to be just the same as the previous occasions when he dared to overhaul a major-winning motion. But this time feels different. The onlookers are wondering whether he will ever reach that level. Even his rivals are prepared to raise their doubts.
It's not just the players, Gene Wojciechowski doesn't feel too good about Tiger's chances after Tuesday's press conference.
Woods has no such momentum. He's like a caffeine junkie trying to find an open Starbucks. He has dropped to seventh in the world rankings, trailing Mickelson for the first time in 14 years. And he hasn't won here since 2005.
During his annual State of the Tiger address at Augusta National, Woods was asked some steak-knife-pointed questions about the state of his game. You never would have heard these in the old days -- the old days being 2008, when he won the U.S. Open on one leg.
Question: "Do you feel you're ready to win this week?"
"Have we seen the best of Tiger Woods?"
"Do you still believe you will [break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories]?"
In a very polite way, people were asking Tiger whether he was washed up. He smiled -- sort of -- while answering, but you can believe that he seethed at the suggestion of his vulnerability.
The full Tiger transcript is here.
Lee Westwood is patient and back in love with Augusta National, says Paul Mahoney.
Just a few years ago, Westwood stomped off the course and declared he had fallen out of love with Augusta National. The love returned after last year's performance.
"What they have done to the course in the past two years has vindicated what I said," Westwood said. "One of the great things about the Masters when I was growing up was those back-nine charges and hearing the roars when people made eagles. Like when Jack Nicklaus shot 30 in 1986. I just thought the course was getting so severe that we were losing that."
But how's his wedge game?
Derek Lawrenson has solved one of the mysteries many in the game have long wanted answered in a Daily Mail "Exclusive": why Johnny Miller calls Paul Casey a choker.
When I asked Paul Casey what he thought of Johnny Miller calling him a choker, he smiled and thought back to his world-beating days at college when he was outstripping some of even Tiger Woods' old records.
'Johnny used to watch me all the time in those days because I always seemed to be drawn against his son,' said Casey. 'I usually beat him, too. Do you think that might have anything to do with his comments?'
This was Casey in splendid form on the eve of the major that always seemed best suited to his strengths. Long hitter? Check. High ball flight? Check. Good putter? Check.
Helen Ross on Martin Kaymer, who visited the press center Tuesday and talked about his game.
So Kaymer decided to take a different approach as he prepared for this year’s Masters. He has been off the last two weeks, spending one at home in Scottsdale practicing and the other with his father and brother here in southeast Georgia playing other nearby courses to get comfortable with the conditions.
"That was nice to have some time off and for us, for three of us, it was nice," Kaymer said.
Conventional wisdom has always held that players who can hit a draw prosper at Augusta National. Kaymer admits he got that into his head, and the draw is not the strength of the German’s game. So in a way, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, and only upon deeper consideration did he come up with an alternate theory.
Randall Mell shares this profound chat between Kaymer and Luke Donald about the short game.
“His short game is unbelievable,” Kaymer said.
Kaymer unsuccessfully tried to unearth some short-game secrets from Donald after he got beat by him.
“I said, `How did you become so good in the short game?’” Kaymer said.
“He said, `I don’t know.’”
“I said, `I understand.’”
Phillip Reid on Padraig Harrington who, brace yourselves, sounds happy with his game and is not searching.
As he explained: “I’m very happy with where I am at, where my game is and where I’m going. All that stuff. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to play your best week or anything like that, but I am comfortable with me . . . the signs are good, there’s no doubt about that. We’re focused on a big week, things are in a good place now and going forward . . . I’m not searching for anything at the moment.”
Rex Hoggard posts an item about the mysteries of the 12th hole that's worth filing away if Dustin Johnson is in contention on Sunday, talking to caddy Bobby Brown:
Still, during a practice round this week Brown said Johnson hit a “pure” 8-iron that splashed into the creek. Moments later he hit the same shot long. The lesson? Some things can’t be controlled at Augusta National.
“You just have to commit to the shot,” Brown said.
From David Chung's Masters.com diary Tuesday:
And at No. 12, I had quite an experience. The flag was blowing to the right, but the wind was really helping to the left, so I took a 7-iron and hit a low draw in there, and the wind took it the way back into the Azalea bushes. It went like 15 yards over the green. It was crazy. You hear about it, but you just don't understand it until you hit a shot there. I hit the 7-iron again but with a high soft fade, and it floated to the middle of the green.
Sean Martin files a short Q&A with Peter Uihlein about what he's been up to so far and asks about staying at the club during a tornado watch.
Q. What did you do in the Crow's Nest during last night's storm?
A: David Chung and Jin Jeong were there. Jin went to sleep. Me and David, we watched the basketball game, and then David doesn't remember anything about the storm. I was up all night. But he's a deep sleeper I guess.
Thomas Bonk also talked to Uihlein about the Masters and his goals for the week.
"I think just being here is pretty special," said Uihlein, who spent the night in the Crow's Nest in Augusta National Golf Club's Clubhouse. "Anytime you can go out in the Masters and play as an amateur, it doesn't get any better than that. That pretty much takes the cake."
Uihlein's goal for the week, besides soaking in the atmosphere in his first Masters, is to make the cut.
"Making the cut and being Low Amateur," he said. "But first and foremost, just have some fun."
Flora, Fauna, Jack And Off Course Vendors
Jack held court once again, writes Jim Moriarty.
The topics are rarely confined to Nicklaus himself, though he did acknowledge he's tried dozens of times to duplicate the putt he hit on the 17th green that Sunday but that it has never broken back toward Rae's Creek at the end the way it did that afternoon. His conversation, for that's what it has become, is more skewed to the state of the game than the state of the Golden Bear. When someone asked him if he thought a player older than him (Nicklaus was, of course, 46 when he won his sixth green jacket) could win, Jack deadpanned, "Somebody over 71?"
John Steinbreder at Masters.com also writes about Jack (and there is crystal clear video of the entire presser at the top of the page).
Did you ever have another run like the one you did in 1986?
Jack doesn't commit to an answer at first. You can sense the wheels turning and the memory banks being mined. There were the five birdies he made on the last five holes to win the 1978 Jackie Gleason Inverarry Classic. Or the five successive birdies he made in the middle of his final round at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. But then he considers that he played the last 10 holes of Augusta National on that Sunday in 1986 in 33 strokes. That he birdied hole Nos. 9, 10, 11 and 13, and then went eagle-birdie-birdie on 15 through 17.
"No," Nicklaus finally says.
You can read the entire transcript here.
Gary McCord and Ben Wright were among the mourners attending a special ceremony paying tribute to Frank Chirkinian, reports Justin Williams.
The club recognized him Tuesday, presenting his son, Frank Jr., with a plaque that signified his place among the club's list of distinguished members.
On hand for the ceremony were Jim Nantz, Pat Summerall, Ben Wright and Gary McCord, who worked under Chirkinian's leadership.
Nantz detailed his experience of entering Augusta National Golf Club this week: "I could still see Frank when I walked in the door. Everybody here feels his presence every day they go to work."
Mike Walker reports on a large pine that went down during the afternoon practice round play. Unfortunately, it was not one of Hootie and Fazio's.
Bill Kirby says the Washington Road merchandise scene has been gentrified thanks to the club.
With walls of framed Masters champions, badges and other golf goodies behind them, they say they continue to do well after coming to the tournament for 15 years.
"We know a lot of customers by first name," Gilchrist said.
They credited their good fortune to Augusta National Golf Club's efforts in cleaning up the area along Washington Road.
"We give kudos to the course," Maurer said of the change.
That change is apparent.
With the golf club acquiring properties across Washington Road, tearing down old businesses and replacing them with landscaping, the area once derided by national sportswriters has more of a parklike look this year.
Most pedestrian and vehicle traffic has shifted to Berckmans Road, and many vendors followed their customers to the side streets, making the main highway in front of Magnolia Lane more attractive.
"Washington Road is now a clean, safe place," Maurer said.
Bianca Cain reports the names of the hooligans who were arrested for scalping outside the club gates.
Those guys might want to go to StubHub where, Randall Mell reports, badges range from $859 to $995 for Sunday.
Will Durst writes about the practice round skip shots at 16 and the piece is accompanied by a Jim Huber narrated look at shots and fan reactions.
Sal Johnson crunches the numbers and offers his potential contenders.
And finally, Rod Morri had photographer David Cannon and yours truly on to talk all things Masters.