Majors are Supposed to be Hard Even the Masters

By Associated PressApril 10, 2007, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods called it the hardest Masters he had ever seen, and the numbers back him up.
 
There were twice as many bogeys as birdies, and that doesn't account for the 230 double bogeys or worse. There were only 34 rounds under par all week. Perhaps the most surreal sight at Augusta National was the large leaderboard behind the 18th hole awash in green numbers, which represent over par.
 
Zach Johnson finished at 289, matching the Masters record for the highest winning score.
 
And we're only getting started.
 
Johnson's score was the highest to win a major since Paul Lawrie shot 290 and won a playoff in the '99 British Open at Carnoustie, long considered the toughest links in the world, known in British tabloids as 'Car-nasty.'
 
That's where these guys are headed this summer.
 
In between is a trip to Oakmont. The last time the U.S. Open went there, Ernie Els shot 74 in a playoff and still won.
 
By the time they get to the PGA Championship, Southern Hills might seem like Indian Wells.
 
Majors are supposed to be hard.
 
And yes, that includes Augusta National.
 
Along with being the highest-scoring Masters in more than 50 years, it also was one of the most quiet Masters in recent memory.
 
The sound at Augusta National is as inherent as the sights. It was muted for much of the week as the world's best players hung on for dear life on a bone-dry course, in swirling wind, in weather more suited for a Green Bay Packers game in late October and on greens so firm it was difficult to get the ball close for birdie, much less par.
 
The degree of difficulty was indicative not only by the scores, but by the starting times Sunday. The last group teed off at 2:15 p.m., 45 minutes earlier than usual because it was taking so long to putt out.
 
Does all this mean the Masters was a disaster?
 
Hardly.
 
Augusta National is known for its explosive nature, particularly on the back nine on Sunday. It was a double eagle by Gene Sarazen on the 15th hole in 1935 that put this tournament on the map. It was a 30 on the back nine by Jack Nicklaus in 1986 that for many remains the most famous Sunday in Masters history. Phil Mickelson won his first Masters with five birdies over the final seven holes.
 
Sometimes, conditions don't allow for such fireworks.
 
That alone doesn't make the Masters any less memorable.
 
An hour before the final round, Jim Nantz and CBS Sports showed a colorized broadcast of the 1960 Masters won by Arnold Palmer. The winning score was 282. Palmer didn't birdie either of the par 5s on the back nine, but rallied to win with a 30-foot birdie on the 17th and a 6-iron to about 6 feet for birdie on the 18th.
 
What makes the Masters so special among the four majors is returning year after year to Augusta National. It might be longer. Sometimes it's sloppy after a week of rain. Sometimes the dogwoods and azaleas blaze a little brighter.
 
It's still the Masters.
 
Golf fans know every hole on the back nine at Augusta National, and since TV coverage was expanded in 2002, they are starting to know every hole on the front. Some years it will be easier to make birdie, some years it will be tough to make par.
 
This was the latter.
 
It would be easy to suggest that Augusta National ruined its major by adding nearly a quarter-mile of length since 2001, but that would be measuring the Masters based only on this year.
 
What happened was a perfect storm -- no measurable rain during the week, or even the weeks before the Masters; gusts up to 25 mph, swirling through the trees, as always; weather so cold on the weekend that the wind chill never got into the 50s on Saturday, and fans were kept outside the gates for an hour Sunday morning until the frost melted.
 
The last time no one broke par at the Masters was in 1966, when Nicklaus, Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer finished at even-par 288. Nicklaus won the next day in an 18-hole playoff, and he wrote about the conditions in his autobiography.
 
He said a cold, dry winter had left the fairways sparse. The club decided not to mow too short, which led to flier lies from the fairway. Compounding the problem was the rock-hard greens, which made it difficult to get any shots anywhere near the hole. And wind gusts were 30 mph.
 
'One thing was certain as we wound up practice,' Nicklaus wrote. 'There would be no record scores this year.'
 
Even with scoring so high, the Masters still had its share of flurries and failures, of eagles and double bogeys.
 
Rory Sabbatini's eagle putt on the eighth hole was from 75 feet, although it probably rolled closer to 100 feet by the time it traveled left onto the fringe, then veered right back to the hole. Woods hit 5-iron to the top shelf on the par-5 13th, then went from screaming, 'God, bite!' to slapping hands with his caddie when it stopped 3 feet from the pin.
 
Luke Donald holed a 30-yard pitch for eagle on the eighth, only to follow with a triple bogey when he chipped three times before keeping his ball on the ninth green. Padraig Harrington found water on the 15th in three of four rounds, and played the par-5 in 5 over for the week.
 
It became cliche during the week to say, 'I went to the Masters and the U.S. Open broke out.'
 
But it wasn't like that.
 
The Masters will return to Augusta National year after year. And there was one other sign that you knew this wasn't a U.S. Open.
 
Tough as it was, no one complained.
 
Related Links:
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    Rahm (62) fires career low round

    By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

    The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

    Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

    What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

    Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

    Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

    Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

    Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

    Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

    Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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    Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

    Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

    "Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

    Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


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    Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

    "That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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    Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

    By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

    There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

    Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

    Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

    Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

    @tommyfleetwood_1

    A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

    The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

    It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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    Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

    Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

    The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

    It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

    "It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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    Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

    Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

    "This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."