Long Odds for Short Hitters at Augusta National

By Associated PressApril 4, 2007, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods doesn't own the lowest score on the back nine at Augusta National, nor the most memorable. But that 30 he posted in the first round in 1997 sent him to a record-setting victory at the Masters that ultimately changed many things.
 
Starting with the golf course.
 
'There were two par 5s, and I could handle those,' Woods recalled. 'No. 17 was short at the time. No. 11 was short at the time. No. 14 was short at the time, only a 3-wood and a sand wedge.'
 
Vijay Singh
Vijay Singh, the 2000 Masters champion, is always a factor with his length. (WireImage)
With each hole description, his smile grew wider until he was in full laughter.
 
There is nothing short about Augusta National now except the distance between the practice green and the first tee. The course has been stretched more than a quarter-mile since Woods' first victory, and each change seems to reduce the number of realistic contenders.
 
That explains why Woods and Phil Mickelson have won five of the last six Masters and are the heavy favorites when the 71st edition of this tournament begins Thursday.
 
And maybe that's why some of the shorter hitters wonder if they're only here to smell the flowers.
 
The annual assumption is that only a dozen or guys can think about a green jacket, a familiar list of power players that range from Ernie Els to Vijay Singh, from Henrik Stenson to Geoff Ogilvy.
 
'It angers me a little bit when I hear that,' Fred Funk said Wednesday. 'But it's true. When I come here ... what's the name of that movie, 'One in a Million'? OK, so I have a chance. But a medium to short hitter has to have a ridiculous short game to contend.'
 
Woods and Mickelson probably have never had a conversation in the champions locker room like the one that took place early this week downstairs where the regulars hang out.
 
Paul Goydos hasn't been to the Masters in 11 years, and he was asking Scott Verplank what club he hit into a certain hole. Verplank never gave him a chance to say which hole, probably because it didn't matter.
 
'Wood,' he replied.
 
Verplank qualified for this Masters by finishing among the top 16 a year ago. And he was quick to point out that Tim Clark was the runner-up to Mickelson, and Chris DiMarco gave Woods all he could handle the year before that.
 
'It can be done,' Verplank said. 'But it does put a handful of guys at a much greater advantage, and those guys all hit the ball farther than I do. I was playing a practice round with Davis Love III, and he's launching it 300 yards to the top of the hill on the first hole. I'm just hoping I can see the green.'
 
Steve Stricker was in weekend contention in 2001, the year Woods won his fourth straight major. That also was the last year before club officials began super-sizing the golf course, and Stricker found himself in foreign territory when he returned for practice rounds this year.
 
'I was taken back -- literally,' he said. 'Where I used to be hitting from in the fairway, well, it wasn't exactly closer.'
 
About the only thing the little guys can hope for is good weather.
 
Rain loomed in the gray skies Wednesday morning, the final day of practice, but the clouds soon scattered and gave way to blue skies and what might be a warm week. That would make the fairways firm and fast (the greens always seem to be that way) and allow these guys a little more distance off the tee, a club or two shorter into the greens.
 
Sure, a 7-iron for Luke Donald might be a wedge for Sergio Garcia, but it beats the difference between a 4-iron and a 7-iron.
 
Jim Furyk remembers when the Masters had a varied collection of winners -- the power of Seve Ballesteros and Fred Couples, but also the control of Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer, and the putting of Ben Crenshaw and Mark O'Meara.
 
'With the addition of all of the length in the past few years, I think it's refocused on power, and probably favors the long hitters a bit more,' Furyk said. 'There's always a chance for a good player that's not long to win a golf tournament. For a guy like me, I'm obviously rooting for firm, fast conditions.'
 
Resignation comes from seeing Woods and Mickelson, imposing off the tee and in their green jackets.
 
Inspiration comes from Mike Weir, who won in 2003 on a fairly brittle course after the first big batch of changes.
 
But there is a noticeable change in the optimism of those not blessed with power, certainly different than their hopes when they go to the U.S. Open, British Open or PGA Championship, depending on the course.
 
'I'm much more optimistic at the other ones,' Jeff Sluman said. 'I'm not waving the white flag or anything, but with all the changes it's very difficult for my type of game.'
 
Not everyone feels that way.
 
Along with adding yardage, Augusta National has tried to restore accuracy by adding trees right of the 11th fairway and between the 15th and 17th fairways, and various hole locations demand the tee shot be placed on the proper side of the fairway. So it's not like someone can stand on the tee box and swing from the heels.
 
'The harder it is, the more guys have a chance,' David Toms said. 'The more the Masters resembles a U.S. Open, the more guys are brought back into the tournament.'
 
The course measured a mere 6,925 yards in 1996, the last time Goydos played. He already found one advantage when he played the new Augusta National -- he didn't have to worry about the bunker on No. 1 because he couldn't reach it.
 
Plus, he figures there is more to golf than power, even at the Masters.
 
'If they decide driving accuracy is the most important part of the game, the money list at the year of the year would have Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els,' Goydos said. 'All they do is play the game that is presented to them. Did anyone watch the British Open last year? How many fairways did Tiger miss? None?
 
'These guys are long,' Goydos said. 'But these guys win because they're champions. They win everywhere.'
 
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    After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

    Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

    Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

    It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard


    On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

    There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

    He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

    His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

    Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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    Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

    By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

    With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

    He picked up one more No. 2, too.

    The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

    In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

    Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

    “It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

    Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

    Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

    He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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    Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

    Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

    Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

    His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

    “I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

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    Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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    Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

    By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

    Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

    Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

    What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

    Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

    Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

    Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

    Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

    Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

    Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry