Augusta knew the answers and passed the test

By Associated PressApril 13, 2009, 4:00 pm
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AUGUSTA, Ga. ' Masters chairman Billy Payne called it an important test for Augusta National to regain its personality as a golf course where its as much fun to listen as it is to watch.
 
One can only suspect now that Payne was bluffing.
 
He knew the answer before Chad Campbell set a Masters record by opening the tournament with five straight birdies, before a record 17 eagles were recorded in the second round, and before a dozen players went to the back nine Sunday thinking they could win.
 
I think we have it about right, Payne said on the eve of the Masters.
 
The score required for the three-man playoff won by Angel Cabrera was 12-under 276. That was the lowest score since 2005, the last year before the final installment of changes (meaning extra length).
 
Not everyone went for the green on the 13th and 15th holes Sunday, but it sure seemed that way. Both holes played to an average of about 4.3, lower than some of the par 4s. But those two holes are what make the back nine special, the chance for someone to make up ground quickly.
 
The volume was cranked up. The pressure was ramped up.
 
Theres roars going up all over the place out there, and thats what its all about, really, Graeme McDowell said after his final round Sunday. Its supposed to be entertaining for the crowds. Thats what these people come to see.
 
Payne needed some help from Mother Nature, but not that much.
 
After three practice rounds of bone-dry conditions, the greens were surprisingly soft and receptive in the first round. Had officials kept them firm, there would not have been a record 19 rounds in the 60s.
 
On the scorecard, Augusta National was 10 yards shorter, with the only official change on the first hole. On the golf course, expanded tee boxes at Nos. 7 and 15, for example, allowed for the tee markers to be moved forward and the holes to be far less frightening.
 
Augusta National is more than a quarter-mile longer than when Tiger Woods won his first Masters, but the length was necessary. It only needed a few years for players to catch up to the changes and overcome their intimidation. It needed a week of good weather, and for a few small adjustments on the tees and greens.
 
That made everything about right.
 
It sounded perfect.
 
Even for those watching from home, it was hard it ignore the cheers. They could be heard from a nearby hole even as the camera was trained on a player standing over a putt.
 
One of the more fascinating scenes happened early in the final round, when Cabrera was playing his pitch to the par-5 second hole. Then came a ground-shaking roar as his ball was in flight. Just 40 yards away is the seventh green, where Phil Mickelson deposited an iron a foot away from the cup for another birdie.
 
It was like that all afternoon.
 
The Augusta Chronicle in Mondays edition devoted a half-page to a sequence of roars, and most of the entries were about five minutes apart. Mickelsons birdie at the seventh. Woods eagle at the eighth. Dustin Johnson making consecutive eagles, only the second player in Masters history to do that. Kenny Perry making his first birdie from 20 feet on No. 12.
 
The last three years, about the only excitement was paying $1.50 for a pimiento cheese sandwich.
 
Numbers alone dont do this Masters justice.
 
The lowest score of the final round was merely a 66 by Masters rookie John Merrick. Cabrera and Perry, the co-leaders after 54 holes, each closed with a 71. Campbell shot a 69 to join them in the playoff.
 
For all their fireworks, Mickelson only shot a 67, Woods a 68.
 
Mickelson might look back one day at this major as one he let slip away, although certainly not as dramatic as his double bogey on the 18th hole at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open. After a record-tying 30 on the front nine, he played back nine in 37 ' a 9-iron into the water on No. 12, and missed putts for eagle at No. 15 and birdie at No. 17, both from about 4 feet, neither even hitting the hole. He finished three behind.
 
The magic of the Masters, however, is not so much about the score as it is the opportunity.
 
Woods also had his chances, twice grazing the cup with eagle putts. Campbell had two good looks at eagle, and he gave himself a good shot at birdie on the 18th hole.
 
Oddly enough, Cabrera was about the only player who didnt give himself great chances. He missed the green to the right at No. 15 and had to scramble for birdie. The key putt might have been his 18-footer for birdie on the par-3 16th after Perry nearly made an ace.
 
Yes, the Masters allows for a charge. But it also requires a steady hand.
 
For those ready to jump on Perry for his bogey-bogey finish to slip into a playoff, remember that the great Tiger Woods did the same thing in 2005 after that famous chip-in on the 16th hole. The difference is that Woods made birdie on the first playoff hole.
 
There is so much to remember about this Masters ' the Woods-Mickelson pairing that no one wanted to see end, Perry going birdie-birdie-bogey-bogey, Cabreras par save from the trees in the playoffs.
 
Augusta National passed this important test with flying colors.
 
There is an Argentine in a green jacket.
 
And there are millions of fans who cant wait for next year.
 

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