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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  • Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

    By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

    Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

    With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

    Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

    The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

    Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

    In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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    Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

    By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

    After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

     There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.



    It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

    It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

    “The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

    In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.



    Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

    Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

    “You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

    Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.



    Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

    If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

    For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

    Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.



    Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

    While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

    When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

    Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.



    After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

    The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

    That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

    The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

    While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.



    Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

    Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

    “We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

    The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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    Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

    John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

    That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

    Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

    Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

    By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

    Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.


    Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters


    Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

    World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

    Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.