Scores are Higher Test is Tougher

By Associated PressApril 8, 2008, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Augusta National has always been known as the cathedral of golf, but now its for reasons beyond the august atmosphere and beauty so majestic that every hole is named after a flower.
More than anything, it has become as quiet as church.
Someone hit the mute button at the Masters last year when Zach Johnson won at 1-over 289, tying the tournament record for the highest score by a champion. Good thing he overpowered the par 5s, playing them in 11 under, even though he laid up on every one of them.
Maybe its time to get used to it.
For years, we were led to believe that the toughest test in golf took place every June, where players would grind away with pars until the last man standing was crowned U.S. Open champion.
Now, that might not be the case.
Toughest test? Steve Stricker said. Im starting to believe that this is more like a U.S. Open course every year. You saw 1-over par win this tournament last year, and I think thats been my misconception coming in here, because theres always been some decent scores here. Gradually, the course is becoming very difficult.
There used to be clear separation among the four majors.
The U.S. Open has a reputation for shrinking fairways, growing rough and shutting down the irrigation, making the course firm, fast and sometimes out of control. The British Open relies mainly on wind as its best defense and cares more about who wins than what he shot.
The PGA Championship was defined by its lack of definition, although now it has the reputation as being the fairest test. Considering how much players whine these days, fair can be translated to mean easy.
And the Masters?
It used to be known for Jack Nicklaus shooting 30 on the back nine to win at age 46. For Tiger Woods shooting 40 on his first nine and still winning by a record 12 shots. Former U.S. Open champion and CBS analyst Ken Venturi takes credit for coining the phrase, The Masters doesnt start until the back nine on Sunday. And he wasnt talking about closing with pars.
You play the back nine, and it was fun, Venturi said. Those holes with the length now, the Masters is completely different.
Over the last five years, the Masters has the highest average winning score of the majors at 281.2.
Thats still nearly 7 shots under par, but par is relative. The U.S. Open has been turning par 72 into par 70s for a half-century because of its fascination with protecting par, enhancing its image as golfs toughest test. They still award trophies based on the lowest score, not relation to par.
And maybe the U.S. Open still is the toughest test, depending on the definition of tough.
This is the most complete test of golf because it tests all areas of your game, Phil Mickelson said Tuesday. Its important to drive the ball well because if you dont, youre in the trees and you dont have a chance. Its important to be creative and hit shots when youre in the rough. You have to have perfect distance control to get the ball to fly to the right sections of the green. And your short game has to be impeccable because these are the most demanding greens that well ever face.
The U.S. Open is just brutal. Its not as complete a game. It doesnt test all areas of your game. But its a very penalizing test.
Some of the difference is the weather at the Masters.
Woods made seven straight birdies over two days during a rain delay in 2005, when he and Chris DiMarco finished at 276 and Woods beat him with a birdie on the first playoff hole. Woods also won at 276 in 2002 when the Masters was more about muck than Magnolias.
Last year was firm, fast, next to impossible.
I dont want to compare it to a U.S. Open, but it kind of had that feel and that mental (feeling), Johnson said.
This change from dynamic to dull is mainly due to the length'520 more yards compared with 10 years ago when Mark OMeara birdied the last two holes for a one-shot victory.
That also was the year David Toms made six straight birdies and shot 29 on the back.
That will never happen again, Toms said. I hit wedge into 11, wedge into 17. And on Nos. 13 and 15, I hit the green in two. I cant remember the last time I even tried to hit 13 and 15 in two in the same round. The U.S. Open at Oakmont was a lot like here in that once you got on the green, it wasnt over. And here, its always an issue around the green.
Scott Verplank is the only player to make birdie on the par-3 12th all four rounds at the Masters, and thats one of the holes that hasnt changed in more than 40 years.
Its everything else that has become so difficult.
Even par is a pretty good score most times, Verplank said. It used to be even par got you lapped. Guys arent going to shoot 30 on the back nine. You cant reach all the greens in 30. Youd have to chip in four times.
Power still helps at the Masters. That hasnt changed. But when the course gets dry, and the scores go up, the volume goes down.
Geoff Ogilvy is among those who grew up watching the Masters and all its fireworks, especially on the back nine. When he first arrived at Augusta National, it was like he played a different course than the one he saw on television in Australia.
Any regrets?
Ogilvy is a practical thinker. He could only imagine what Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus would have done with todays technology.
It would have been nice to have competed in 1985 with a persimmon wood and a balata ball and see how you go on that golf course, Ogilvy said. But Augusta is Augusta. Its a special place no matter when you play the tournament.
And no matter what the score, the winner still gets a green jacket. That hasnt changed.
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    Watch: Fathauer dunks one off flagstick for eagle

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 17, 2018, 7:45 pm

    The NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest will take place Saturday night in Los Angeles, but Derek Fathauer kicked things off a little early with this eagle in the third round of the Genesis Open.

    Playing his second shot on the par-4 third hole at Riviera Country Club, Fathauer dunked one off the flagstick and into the hole for an eagle-2:

    The shot got the the 32-year-old, in search of his first PGA Tour victory, under par for the round and into the mix early on Moving Day.

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    Luiten in three-way tie at Oman Open

    By Associated PressFebruary 17, 2018, 4:17 pm

    MUSCAT, Oman - Joost Luiten showed a return to form after a mediocre 2017 as he moved into a three-way tie for the lead in the Oman Open on Saturday.

    The Dutchman shot a second straight 6-under 66 - the joint best score of the day - to move to 12-under 204. He was joined at the top by Matthew Southgate (69) and Frenchman Julien Guerrier (66) after the third round at the Greg Norman-designed Al Mouj Golf Club.

    England's Chris Wood (69), another man on the comeback trail, was in fourth place at 11 under, but it could have been a lot better if not for a bogey-bogey finish. Adrian Otaegui (66) was a shot behind Wood while pre-tournament favorite, France's Alexander Levy (67), was at 9 under.

    The 90th-ranked Luiten credited some hot iron play for his success after a cracked driver set him back last year when he had just two top-10 finishes the whole season.

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    ''I cracked my driver in my first tournament of the year in Abu Dhabi and it took me almost six months to get another one that I really liked. Once you are not driving the ball well, it puts pressure on other parts of your game,'' said the 32-year-old Luiten. ''My iron play did not get me into trouble at all today.''

    Southgate was quick off the block with three birdies in his first three holes. But the Englishman then made two bogeys and a double bogey in his next four holes, and a birdie on the ninth saw him make the turn at even-par.

    That forced him to think differently for the back nine and he was rewarded with three birdies.

    ''It was quite funny really,'' Southgate said. ''We birdied the ninth and I walked off and said to my caddie Gary ... 'We've just shot level par, so let's just pretend that we've made nine solid pars and that we haven't holed a putt and haven't made a birdie. Let's just start again on the 10th'.''

    The 32-year-old Guerrier started his round with a monster 48-foot birdie putt and had an eagle, six birdies and two bogeys.

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    J.Y. Ko increases lead; Lydia focuses on positives

    By Associated PressFebruary 17, 2018, 3:33 pm

    ADELAIDE, Australia - Jin Young Ko continued her domination of the Women's Australian Open, shooting a 1-under 71 Saturday to increase her lead to four strokes after three rounds.

    The South Korean, who led after each of the opening two rounds of the LPGA tournament, had a three-round total of 11-under 205 at Kooyonga Golf Club.

    Australian golfer Hannah Green moved into second place after the round of the day, a 66.

    Green, 21, is seeking to become the first Australian to claim her national crown since Karrie Webb won the last of her five titles in 2014. Webb, who is playing a part-time schedule in 2018, missed the cut Friday by one stroke.

    Green birdied her first three holes on Saturday and then added two more on the eighth and ninth. Two more birdies followed on the back nine with her only dropped shot a bogey on the 17th.

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    "I was very pleased with my ball striking," Green said. "I have put myself in contention so I'm very happy with how things are panning out.

    "It was a real shame about Karrie missing the cut, but I know she has got different plans."

    South Korea's Hyejin Choi (70), was tied for third, five strokes behind. Australia's top-ranked golfer Minjee Lee was tied for fifth after a 69, six off the lead.

    Former No. 1 Lydia Ko shot a 71 and was eight strokes behind.

    "It's always nice to be able to start the season on a good note, and I've obviously got tomorrow," Lydia Ko said. "Hopefully, I'll be able to finish off on a high note."

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    Cantlay, McDowell, Saunders share lead at Riviera

    By Doug FergusonFebruary 17, 2018, 3:51 am

    LOS ANGELES - Tiger Woods waited 12 years to get back to Riviera and lasted only two days.

    Woods had three straight bogeys early on the back nine Friday and didn't play well enough to make up for his misses. He had a 5-over 76 and missed the cut in the Genesis Open for the first time in nine appearances as a pro.

    He was at 6-over 148, one shot worse than his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old at Riviera.

    ''I missed every tee shot left and I did not putt well, didn't feel very good on the greens,'' Woods said. ''And consequently, never made a run. I knew I had to make a run on that back nine, and I went the other way.''

    Patrick Cantlay ran off three straight birdies toward the end of his morning round, starting with a tap-in on the par-3 sixth when he missed a hole-in-one by a fraction of an inch, and shot a 69. He was tied with Graeme McDowell (66), the former U.S. Open champion who is trying to work his way back from a two-year slump.

    They were at 7-under 135.

    Sam Saunders also was at 7 under, making back-to-back birdies until it was too dark to continue. He had three holes remaining in his second round. Ryan Moore bogeyed his final hole for a 68 and was one shot behind at 136.

    Rory McIlroy overcame a few short misses on the front nine for a 69 and was at 2-under 140.

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    Cantlay was coming off a three-putt bogey when his tee shot at the par-3 sixth - the hole with a bunker in the middle of the green - landed above the flag and to the right, and then rolled back down the slope just over the right edge of the cup.

    ''I actually missed a little to the right, but it's a bowl back there so as long as you get the number right, it should be pretty close,'' Cantlay said.

    He followed with a short iron into 5 feet for birdie, a 15-foot birdie on the next hole and then a wild drive that led to a bogey on his final hole.

    McDowell has gone 59 starts worldwide since his last victory and has fallen out of the top 200 in the world. He had missed four straight cuts dating to late last year, though he felt he was hitting it well in practice. What helped was seeing some good scores.

    ''All I'm missing is a couple little numbers and a little bit of confidence,'' McDowell said.

    Defending champion Dustin Johnson shot a 69 and gets to stick around for the weekend. He was at 1-over 143. Bubba Watson, who won in 2014 and 2016, has fallen out of the top 200 in the world after a two-year drought. He shot a 70 and was at 4-under 138, and then headed for the NBA All-Star weekend to play in the celebrity game.