Thursday, April 17, 2014
AUGUSTA ≠Ė After Mondayís washout the weather for Tuesdayís practice round was welcomed at Augusta National Golf Club.
With the day being patronís first glance at many of the worldís top golfers, including Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlory, Ricky Fowler and Vijay Singh, among others, there were many groups that drew quite the crowd. With the laid back atmosphere there were many laughs, cheers and jeers to be had. Particularly at hole 16, where the golfers took riskier shots than they would if they were playing for keeps.
The view from 17
The iconic Eisenhower Tree is gone and makes for a much different view at the 17th-hole.
Thereís no doubt that driving will be much easier now. Some golfers have gone on the record as saying the tree had no affect on their approach, which includes Bubba Watson, the 2012 and 2014 Masters winner. Curtis Strange compared it to George Brett at third base, saying it caught more than its fair share of line drives.
Either way, it is noticeable that something is missing. It remains to be seen how the scores will change for the hole.
The Par 3 Contest
Wednesday at the Masters is a day unlike any other. Itís the final day for players to practice on the course before the tournament starts and is the day of the Par 3 Contest.
The Par 3 brings former Masters champions, current players, honorary invitees, family and friends to Augusta National for a semi-formal round that kicks off tournament play.
In this yearís competition, more than 100 golfers Ė including six amateurs Ė took on nine holes at The National. The nine-hole layout includes the northeast corner of the Augusta National grounds. The holes, ranging from 70 to 140 yards, play over DeSoto Springs Pond and Ikeís Pond, according to masters.com.
Highlighting the day was a 3 p.m. tee time for Masters champions Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. The three, with a combined 13 Masters wins, once again took on Augusta National to the delight of the gallery gathered to watch them. Similar to past years, the trio interacted with those watching them play and enjoyed a lighthearted round.
The crowds gathered to see and follow defending champion Adam Scott or Rory McIlroy more than likely missed out on the dayís low round.
Bill Haas carded a 4-under round of 68 for the day, teeing off at 10:08 a.m. with Miguel Angel Jimenez and Matteo Manassero.
Scott only had one blemish for the day, a double bogey on 12, but still finds himself tied for second place. His birdie on the No. 1 set the tone for the day as he fired a beautiful approach shot to the green to set up for an easy birdie putt.
McIlroy, whose following rivaled that of Phil Mickelson or anyone else on the course, got his first birdie on No. 3. He finished 1-under for the day after a bogey on 18.
Cool moment to start the day
Those who braved the early morning traffic and cool temperatures were treated with seeing honorary starters Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. It is the third straight year the trio have been tasked with the ceremonial start.
Each shot went near the center of the green with Nicklausí ball rolling just a bit further than Playerís.
How are The Starís picks?
Mayor Lark Jones went with McIlroy and is currently sitting pretty.
My pick of Jason Day finds himself 3-over thanks to a double-bogey on No. 10, and bogeys on 8, 9 and 11. He book-ended those with birdies on No. 2 and 17, but will need to pick up the pace to have a better chance than his fellow countryman, Scott.
People really love the souvenir cups this year. Granted theyíre always popular, but this year it seems even more so. I wish I could get a green cup without a beer since, well, I canít drink on the job.
Itís always fun to hear some of the visitorís thoughts on food. One woman remarked that she wished the sandwiches didnít have mayonnaise. A kind staffer told her simply, ďMaíam, weíre in Georgia.Ē
This is only my second time at The Masters, but it is the first time I have watched the action with someone. Iíll admit that Iím not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to golf, so itís great to have T.J. along so he can explain things to me.
Also Ė the Arnold Palmer Callaway bags look awesome this year. I doubt the television cameras do justice to how detailed and sharp they are in person.
Bubba Watson hit the course just before 10 a.m. on Friday with the mindset of hitting good shots and putting up low numbers. The Masters champion was able to do just that, posting a 4-under 68 to get to 7-under for the tournament.
ďNo, itís never easy,Ē he said of his work on Friday. ďItís a great test of golf and I just got some good breaks, some good things that went my way. Guessed the wind right on the stretch of holes on the back nine there.Ē
The stretch of holes Watson referred to was a run of five consecutive birdies from holes 12-16 which helped give him sole possession of first place on the 36-hole leaderboard.
ďYeah, that five hole stretch was good,Ē he said. ďItís one of those where youíre not focused on what youíre doing, you donít know that youíre making all these birdies, youíre focused on one shot at a time. At Augusta thatís what you have to do. ... So youíre so focused on what youíre doing and making sure youíre guessing the wind right you donít really think about anything else. Youíre not thinking you just made a birdie or your second birdie or your third birdie, youíre just trying to make the cut somehow.Ē
Although Watson already has a green jacket, he isnít overconfident going into the weekend.
ďWeíre still professional golfers, so weíre still nervous,Ē Watson said. ďIt doesnít matter if you won it 42 times in a row, youíre still nervous about it. Youíre still wanting the best. So for me, yeah, youíre nervous and thatís why Iím keeping my head down, just to stay focused on what Iím doing, not look at leader boards, just play golf. Thatís really what youíre trying to do and what Iím going to try to do the next two days. It might turn out to be horrific, but at least I have that shot at it. The roars are good. But when youíre focused, like I said, if you watch me throughout the last two holes, I keep my head down, just so I donít get energized, just so I donít get pumped up, just to stay focused on what Iím doing and committed to what Iím doing.Ē
The field is trimmed
While Watsonís tremendous round on Friday put him well ahead of any competitor Ė he finished the day with a three-stroke lead Ė it also helped cut a number of top golfers. Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Charles Schwartzel, Zach and Dustin Johnson, and Jason Dufner all missed the cut for the 2014 Masters. Of those golfers, Dufner, Garcia, Mickelson and both Johnsonís were predicted to finish near the top of the leaderboard. Mickelson voiced his displeasure with the media after his round.
ďIt was OK,Ē he said. ďI didnít play great. I didnít play bad. I just had one bad hole there at 12. And I keep making these triples, theyíre tough to overcome. But the golf course is awesome today. I felt there were some birdies out there. The greens were receptive, and the wind is what made it tricky. And I thought it was really a fun challenge. There were some birdie pins out there. If you played well you could make some birdies. Itís right on the bubble. I was looking at the cut line. I donít want to be looking for the leaderboard, but Iím always fighting to make the weekend it seems like.Ē
For Els, the course was difficult, but his own errors made things even more tricky.
ďYeah, itís been tough,Ē Els said. ďJust made some silly errors here and there. Iím actually driving it well, doing a lot of things well, but, yeah, just getting in my own way here and there. I missed some putts, missed some iron shots here and there. But itís not playing that easy today. I think youíre going to see some high scoring. Coming in you got nice flags, so the guys can maybe make some birdies coming in.Ē
How are The Starís picks?
News editor Scott Rodgers put his support behind Jason Day, who sat on the cut line of 4-over. Day will continue to the weekend, but heís got a lot of work to do to catch Watson.
Mayor Lark Jones went with Rory McIlroy and, Iím sure, was sweating it out down the stretch. McIlroy did his best to miss the cut, shooting a 5-over 77 on Friday, but was able to hit the cut line of 4-over to stay in the tournament.
Friday at The Masters was a big day for the golfers, but was also fun for the spectators. It was the final day to see most of the field, including former Augusta State golfer Patrick Reed and amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick. Although most of the big crowds follow the mainstays, like Adam Scott, McIlroy and Watson, who will still be around, not having the full field of golfers was a big change.
Along with the action on the course, the golf shop has been a magnet for those spectators at Augusta National. There have been consistent lines for people looking to get into the shop to purchase Masters hats, shirts and keepsakes. Iíve managed to get something for everyone in my family, with more requests coming in every day.
Heading into the weekend, Iím sure weíll see more of the same in the golf shop and some excellent golf on the course. Perhaps Watson can hold off the field and claim a second green jacket for his collection.
Tie at the top
Jordan Spieth may be in over his head, but he has no idea. The 20-year-old finished his round on Saturday shooting a 2-under 70 to earn a share of the lead going into Sunday. Spieth has a three-round score of 5-under par, which puts him in the final group for Sunday with Bubba Watson, who shot a 2-over 74 to follow up his fantastic round on Friday. Spieth has played a more conservative brand of golf, electing to get on the green instead of going at the pin.
ďYeah, we kind of realized early how difficult this golf course was going to play today,Ē he said. ďYou could tell from No. 1 on. I mean, there are front pins that you really couldnít stay below, so youíre going to be putting downhill, downgrain, and itís almost like youíre putting on rolling gravel. It was almost like it was picking up speed even as it went by the hole. It was crazy, crazy fast out there. Iíve never putted on greens like this before.Ē
Moving into Sunday, where Spieth can win a green jacket in his first trip to The Masters, the Texas native is trying to play the course quickly, without overthinking his game plan.
ďI mean, itís lightning fast on the greens and around the greens, and although itís pure and I think that itís fair, itís extremely difficult,Ē he said. ďSo you have to give respect to it. I mean, this is the first tournament Ė the U.S. Opens of past, still even last year, it was raining and the greens were a little softer. Thatís typically what youíd compare close to par as leading a major, what you compare it to. But this is a little different, because itís still going to get hot and windy and itís going to dry up even more and it will be a course like Iíve never seen before. But youíve just got to understand that par is a really good score hole to hole, and itís almost like you just want to kind of play the holes quickly, just get to the next tee box, play it quickly and when you get your opportunities, take advantage of it. Thatís kind of the way I felt like Iíve been playing, whether itís a lag putt or whether itís a little chip, you get it up there to 3 feet and you just kind of sit back, wait a minute, and then go tap it in and go to the next hole as fast as possible and get through it. You donít want to think too much around this place; trust your instincts. I think the reason that Iíve been able to play well, I guess, better than what people would say first-timers normally do is because maybe itís a different golf course than normal here with how firm it is. Obviously the scores are a little higher than normal, so maybe that plays to my advantage.Ē
Jimťnez goes low
Miguel Ńngel Jimťnez used Saturdayís round to make his move into contention. Jimťnez shot a 6-under 66 to move into a tie for fifth place. The 50-year-old improved his round from Friday to Saturday by 10 strokes, which he credited to playing with more confidence.
ďWell, itís very easy to answer that,Ē he said. ďI think before yesterday, I finished 1 under, maybe 4 under on the first nine holes, and, well, you miss some shots sometimes, not on the right way, and then I finished minus 1. But I played very well, very patient, and feel confident on the golf course. Yesterday, probably is sometimes you feel that good that you want to see the things happen, the birdies coming before you hit the shot, you know, and then when you get a little bit impatient, sometimes it can happen like that. Thatís what happened yesterday. Yesterday I didnít hit it bad, only a couple bad shots on 18 holes. But probably is not in the same mood as I was before yesterday or today. You know, today is very patient, just commit to every hole, shot by shot, and thatís what happened. Thatís the secret to play this golf course, and thatís probably thatís the difference between yesterday and today.Ē
Saturdayís round rivaled some of Jimťnezís better rounds at Augusta.
ďI love the place,Ē he said. ďItís a beautiful place, a beautiful golf course, always manicured and I feel great here. Doesnít matter how you play, you feel good, because everything is prepared for us the way it is. The golf course also is if you donít hit good, you donít want to be there. Doesnít matter how you call it or how you name it. You need to hit good and you need to be patient, and you need to be into your own zone. I like it and thatís my style of game and what I love, what I love to do.Ē
There goes her badge
An unidentified blonde female ran across the 10th green with flip-flops in her hands. She was escorted off the course and questioned by Augusta National security.
Needless to say, even though she caused no real harm, itís highly unlikely that the woman will be getting badges next year or many, many years after.
How are The Starís picks?
News editor Scott Rodgers had quite a thrill on Saturday, with his pick, Jason Day, shooting a 2-under 70 to move into a tie for 18th. Maybe he wonít win a green jacket, but heís showing some fight in the weekend.
Rory McIlroy hasnít shown up in the way many experts, including Mayor Lark Jones, thought he would. After fighting to make the cut on Friday, McIlroy shot a 1-under 71 on Saturday to move into a tie for 24th place. While itís safe to say neither pick will take a green jacket home, at least their guys made it to the weekend.
Scott Rodgers is the news editor at The North Augusta Star and has been with the paper since 2013. Follow him on Twitter @NAStarRodgers.
T.J. Lundeen is a reporter for The North Augusta Star. Follow him on Twitter @lundeentj for more updates.