Augusta National Firm Fast and Scary

By Associated PressApril 4, 2005, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Jesper Parnevik used to think practice rounds at Augusta National were a waste of time. Putts seemed to crawl along the greens for three days until the Masters began on Thursday, then suddenly they raced across at warp speed.
Monday at the Masters felt like tournament time.
``You were hitting putts up to the hole, and they were coming back to you,'' Parnevik said. ``I've never seen greens this fast this early in the week.''
Maybe he should compare notes with Nick O'Hern.
The left-handed Aussie is making his Masters debut, so he arrived over the weekend for a crash course on Augusta National. He decided to walk the course only with his putter to get a feel for the place, and decided to rap a few putts on the par-3 12th in dry, blustery conditions Saturday afternoon.
``I putted to the back left pin and the ball went off the green and into the water,'' O'Hern said. ``And there's not much slope on that green.''
In a wet start to the golf season, this might be one time players are begging for rain.
``Very firm. Very fast. Very difficult,'' Shigeki Maruyama said.
Preparations for the first major championship of the year began in earnest Monday on an Augusta National course where the azaleas and dogwoods were starting to bloom and nerves already were a little frayed.
Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els played their first practice rounds, while two other members of the Big Five -- Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen -- were finishing off the rain-delayed, 54-hole BellSouth Classic in Atlanta.
It sure felt like a tournament, with some 40,000 fans swarming the grounds on a warm, sunny day. Even during a round in which shots didn't count, there were pockets of roars for players who tried to skip the ball across the pond on the par-3 16th, and a huge cheer when John Daly made a hole-in-one on his third tee shot at No. 16.
But it wasn't always easy keeping the ball on the green.
Jerry Kelly hit his tee shot on the par-3 fourth onto the back of the green, then saw it roll over the back. He hit another one, higher this time, and it came up short into the bunker. His third try also reached the green, bounced hard and disappeared over the back.
In the three years since Augusta National was revamped to add some 300 yards, the course has never played fast and firm. There has always been at least one day or one round of heavy rain that softened the green.
Rain was in the forecast for Thursday, although it was not a certainty. And that left several players wondering just what was in store for them.
Adam Scott played the front nine and let out a huge sigh when he finished.
``The greens are pretty fast for a Monday,'' he said. ``I hope they put a little water on them. They've been like this earlier in the week, but we've been saved by the rain. We haven't seen the firm, fiery greens. There's almost a spot on every green where you can't get a chip to stay on the green.''
Augusta National has long been considered a course for big hitters, particularly with the par 5s. But that is one of many myths about the Masters, because its roll call of champions is loaded with guys who can barely hit it out of their shadows -- Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ben Crenshaw, Nick Faldo.
And even after it was super-sized, Mike Weir won in 2003 after a playoff against Len Mattiace.
``There are lot of guys who don't bomb it who did well,'' Scott said. ``Either way, it's just the guys who putt the best who do well around here.''
Still, the dynamics of this major could change significantly with the forecast.
Soggy conditions soften the greens, but they tend to favor long hitters who can carry the ball farther. Fairways where the ball seems to roll forever could bring several of the medium-hitters into the fray.
``I can't have the rain,'' Fred Funk said, a short hitter who thrived at The Players Championship because Sawgrass is more about position that power. ``The first two years after the big changes here, it was really, really wet and the course played too long for me.
``If it stays like this, you'll see the top 20 or 25 scores mixed with long hitters, short hitters, all kinds of games,'' he said. ``I think that's an indication of a good setup.''
He has found himself hitting as much as a 3-wood into the par-4 18th, a green better suited for a mid-iron. And while these guys are good enough to hit greens with any club, position on the putting surface is everything at Augusta.
``If you get on the wrong side of the hole, you're on the defensive the whole time,'' Funk said. ``And if you're on the defensive the whole time, you're not going to be around on the weekend.''
What the Masters has proven over the years, no matter the conditions, is that the winner has to have all facets of his game in working order.
That's one reason this year holds so much anticipation. All the top players seem to be hitting their stride, with seven of the top nine in the world winning at least once this year.
``It seems like the heavyweights show up on Sunday here more than other majors,'' Parnevik said. ``I don't know why that is. Maybe this course tests all the aspects of the game. It would be no surprise to see those guys slug it out.''
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    Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

    New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

    The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

    "Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

    It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

    Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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    Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

    By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

    SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

    Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

    He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

    Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

    The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

    ''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

    Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

    He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

    Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

    ''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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    13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

    Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

    “An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

    Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

    Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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    McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

    It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

    Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

    Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    “I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

    Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

    “Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

    This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.