Masters Really Does Begin on the Back Nine

By Associated PressApril 8, 2007, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The faithful came early every day, as they always do, walking quickly with their green folding chairs to stake out the prime spots in Amen Corner. It wasn't always an easy march to make because, for the better part of four days, this Masters was almost as agonizing to watch as it was to play.
Augusta National had morphed into a chamber of horrors, with disaster lurking at every turn. There were whispers the green jackets had gone too far this time, and that the spirit of Bobby Jones had been lost in the never-ending battle to protect the course against modern technology.
Everyone braced for a stumble to the finish. The winner wasn't going to be the best player in the world, merely the only one left standing on the 18th green sometime early Sunday evening.
Then, just when all seemed lost, a real Masters broke out on the back nine.
The familiar roars that had been missing all week echoed once again through the tall pines as an entire leaderboard full of players traded shots through Amen Corner and down the final holes. Eagles and birdies returned to their proper places, and all was right again in the world of golf.
Well, almost. Zach Johnson is your new Masters champion, and, while he seems like a nice enough guy, he's not going to be compared to Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or even Retief Goosen for that matter.
The Masters is supposed to be won by guys who pull out the heavy metal, take dead aim at the pin and pull off shots like the one Woods hit on the 13th hole that curled back within 3 feet of the cup for his only eagle of the week.
Gene Sarazen began that tradition in just the second Masters in 1935, when he spanked a 4-wood 235 yards and watched it bounce into the hole for a double eagle that allowed him to tie Craig Wood and eventually beat him in a playoff.
Johnson wasn't going to win his green jacket with such dramatics. You can't make double eagle laying up, and Johnson did that all week on the par-5s, relying on his wedges and putter to make up the difference against the power hitters who were supposed to be the only ones with a chance to win on a bulked-up Augusta National.
It worked on the 13th hole, when Johnson had just 213 yards to the green and still somehow managed to resist the temptation to go over Rae's Creek with a long iron. This is a player who knows his game, and he wedged it in close for a birdie.
Hardly a 'shot heard 'round the world,' but good enough to take a lead Johnson would never give up.
All around him, though, players were attacking a back nine that played so hard the day before that the entire field barely broke 40. Anyone within 10 shots of the lead seemed suddenly emboldened to shoot at greens and pins that they trembled in fear of the previous three rounds.
Jerry Kelly got things going by hitting a utility club close on the par-5 13th and making an eagle that briefly got him in contention. A few groups later, Padraig Harrington followed a birdie on the par-3 12th with an eagle he could have only imagined a few days earlier.
It helped that the people who run the tight ship at Augusta National ordered enough water to fill the ponds on the 15th hole poured on the greens to soften them up. They also made sure the Sunday pins were in such a spot that balls could funnel to the holes.
The players had been careful all week not to criticize the course, afraid perhaps that their playing privileges might be revoked mid-tournament. But they finally seemed to get the message that this was not the kind of course Jones would have wanted his name attached to.
A back nine that bordered on unplayable the day before was there for the taking. Balls that bounced over greens on Saturday now settled softly next to the hole, and Woods was able to pull off the shot of the day when an iron to the 13th backed up some 40 feet down the hill and finished within kick-in distance.
'They gave us a break, which was nice,' Woods said. 'And gave us a chance to go out there and score.'
Woods didn't take enough advantage of that chance, but the patrons in their folding chairs got the kind of Sunday they're used to, topped off by a near hole-in-one by Justin Rose on No. 16 that made things interesting for a bit just when everyone thought it was over.
The ending was anticlimatic, with Woods never coming close to making birdies on the final two holes to force a tie. Even before Woods hit it into a greenside bunker on the 17th hole, Johnson was kissing his infant son and accepting the congratulations of everyone around him.
It was hardly Mickelson leaping for joy after getting his first major or Woods tearfully winning one for his father.
There might, in fact, never be a quieter or more unassuming winner than the self-described 'normal guy' from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Mr. Excitement, he's not. But at least there was some excitement Sunday on the back nine, where this year the Masters really did begin.
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    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.