The Long and Short of the 70th Masters

By Associated PressApril 11, 2006, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The wit and wisdom of Bobby Jones went a long way at this Masters. That's the title of a short book published three years ago, a collection of Jones' quotes on his philosophy of golf and on the tournament he created in 1934 at Augusta National Golf Club, the course he helped design.
The course has changed dramatically, but one thing holds true.
'There is something wrong with a golf course which will not yield a score in the 60s to a player who has played well enough to deserve it,' Jones once said. 'We are willing to have low scores made during the tournament, and it is not our intention to rig the golf course so as to make it tricky.'
It should be noted that Phil Mickelson closed with a 69, even with a bogey on the final hole.
Tim Clark had a 69 by holing a bunker shot for birdie on the 18th hole that put him alone in second place. Jose Maria Olazabal shot the best score of the tournament on Sunday, a 66 that included a birdie-birdie-eagle stretch on the back nine, capped off by a 5-wood from 246 yards into 3 feet on the 15th. Tiger Woods would have shot in the 60s if he could have made a putt.
Augusta National was longer than ever, and the months leading to the Masters were filled with gloom and doom.
Fred Couples was a regular guest when the club reopened in October after having six more holes lengthened, and he was mischievous as ever giving a scouting report to his peers during the end-of-the-year Target World Challenge. He told of hitting 3-wood into the first hole, and 5-iron into the seventh green, which is small, elevated and surrounded by bunkers.
When they left the room - eyes bulging, heads shaking - Couples looked over at a reporter, winked and said, 'It's not that bad.'
And it wasn't.
The winning score was 7-under 281, just as it was three years ago when Mike Weir won in a playoff.
'I believe with modern equipment and modern players, we cannot make a good course more difficult or more testing for the expert simply by adding length,' Jones said. 'The only way to stir them up is by the introduction of subtleties around the greens.'
Length helps, no doubt.
Two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, the shortest hitter in this year's tournament, said it was a 'huge, huge, huge advantage to hit it so far' and that length was a 'major, major, major factor.'
All that said three times over, he concluded by saying, 'It's not out of balance, though.'
Weir was among those critical of the changes before the Masters. He left by saying the changes were better than he thought. Stewart Cink didn't like the changes, either.
'But after seeing the course play like it did, especially the first two days when it was fast and dry, I might have been a little premature in my harsh criticism,' Cink said. 'I don't think this place is too hard, it just requires a lot of precision. Short hitters still have a chance, but you have to have the short game.'
No matter the size of the course, Augusta National always has been about the second shot to the greens, and hitting them into the proper quadrants for the best chance at making the putt.
Mickelson was the longest driver in the final round, but what separated him in the final round was his short game. His chip from short of the par-5 eighth green flew all the way to the hole and spun sideways to 2 feet, giving him a birdie and a lead he never relinquished. Then, he made all those putts from 4 to 5 feet for par, the range from which he usually misses during a major.
'There is no possibility of exaggerating the value of being able to hole all the short or missable putts,' Jones said.
In his office at Bay Hill Club last month, Arnold Palmer was asked if Jones would recognize Augusta National with all the changes.
'I wonder if he would approve,' Palmer replied.
There is merit to Palmer's opinion, especially considering what Jones has said about length.
'It was not practical to think of buying more and more expensive ground to keep increasing the length of holes to make them fit for championship play as the ball became more and more powerful, particularly when this increase in power carried no actual advantage to the game in any conceivable form,' Jones said.
The club already has purchased land from neighboring Augusta Country Club for a new tee at No. 13, pushing it back 25 yards so that it now plays 510 yards (Mickelson got home in two on Sunday with a 4-iron). It is buying up land across the street alongside the fifth hole, and there's no telling what the future holds.
Not to trivialize the Masters or any other major, but golf still comes down to putting.
And no matter how much they stretch Augusta National, or how much land the club buys, that's what defines the Masters.
Couples was superb from tee-to-green, but lost the Masters on the greens by missing three birdie putts inside 10 feet, including the infamous three-putt from 4 feet on the 14th.
Woods missed two eagle putts from about 12 feet. He had six three-putts all week. And when he made a 25-foot birdie on the final hole that didn't matter, he was ready to break the putter over his knee.
Before Woods does anything rash, here's one last word from Jones.
'Sometimes when confidence has been shaken, it helps to use a new putter for a round or two until a few putts begin to drop and the player's morale has improved,' Jones said. 'But in the long run, the old horse is best.'
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