Some Masters watchers, accustomed to the status quo, have lamented the absence of the frequent, pine-shuddering roars usually heard from corners of this beautiful golf course on tournament afternoons. For the 2007 Masters, in which balls have bounced, skidded, caromed, careened, lipped and gone loco ' done everything but behave ' the soundtrack has been described as muted.
Gone are the soft conditions that in recent years have made the greens seem incredibly receptive on some days. Gone as well are the sure birdies on shortish par-5s, the spinny wedges that sucked back and danced in golfs greatest garden, the guarantee of soaring second shots into Nos. 13 and 15. And gone are the roars that often accompanied these feats. The uninterrupted supply of pretty shots from the worlds best has simply dried up.
Natures A-Team has combined to bring on the drought. Rain has been sparse in eastern Georgia this spring. The northwest wind picked up Wednesday night, quartering right-to-left along the first fairway and playing mercilessly with the high shots needed for soft green landings all over the course. Scores have told the tale: In Saturday mornings chill (the wind shoved the temperature into the thirties when the first group set out at 10 a.m. EDT), the first four pairs could manage no better than bogey on the first hole. Eight guys, not a par among them.
But still, Im not worried. We will hear roars again, and pretty soon. I hear the Birdie Boosters wailing, But this is no fun! We dont want to embarrass the best players in the world, do we? Well, no. But I do want to challenge them. I want to see the best at this game bring the full measure of their physical and mental powers to the fore, especially at the games greatest championships.
In short, this Masters feels like a major should feel.
Toughness of this sort in a golf challenge is, like so many other things, a matter of degree. Somewhere between the old Bob Hope birdiefests and the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock, where things got so crusty by Sunday that balls could not be glued onto some greens, is the proper balance for a major challenge. Whether nature does it, or man applies his agronomic skill to make it happen, or some combination ensues, conditions like this are good for golf. It is a gift-free environment, every stroke saved a stroke well-earned, every mental disaster averted an athletic success of the highest magnitude. Come prepared, control yourself, or make Friday night plane reservations.
The winner of this Masters will be known as much for his survival skills as for his imagination. But make no mistake, he will be known for both.
And that makes me think a month ahead, to The Players. (The PGA TOUR has renamed the Players Championship to this simpler form.) The TPC Sawgrass has a new foundation, so to speak ' almost a foot of organic material that built up under the turf over a quarter century was removed (the bulldozers fired up right after the 2006 Players), and new, drainage-friendly sand has been put in. Then the turf was replaced. The effect will be a fast-draining course that plays hard and fast ' perhaps not always as firm and speedy as Royal Liverpool did for the 2006 Open Championship, in the middle of western Englands record heat wave ' but plenty of bounds, bounces, roll-outs and touch challenges. For fans of exciting golf, a game which has for centuries been meant to include a healthy dose of randomness, it could be a great week.
Like this one. As a matter of fact, it makes me want to roar. And as players figure out how to work with a hard and fast Augusta National, youll hear more roars here, too.