Open Championship at Augusta

By Brian HewittApril 8, 2007, 4:00 pm
The tumult and the shouting have died down finally. We got yet another memorable Masters. And Zach Johnson, yes Zach Johnson, got a Green Jacket.
 
But long before Sundays shootout on the back nine had elevated this tournament to the level of excitement to which it has grown accustomed, I had grown weary of the criticism.
 
Mind you, criticism in and of itself is not objectionable. Its just annoying when the critics are so far off base. Im talking about all the scolds and harpies who insisted all week long that the Masters was playing too much like the U.S. Open.
 
They missed the point badly and they were wrong. If Bobby Jones, the Masters founder, and Alister MacKenzie, the course designer who implemented Jones' bold vision, had been around, they would have corrected the denigrators.
 
Its my contention Jones and MacKenzie gleefully would have told the second-guessers that this 71st Masters played much more like an Open Championship than a U.S. Open.
 
This notion began incubating in my brain early in the week when defending champion Phil Mickelson came off the course and explained the difficulty of the green complexes and their putting surfaces. Its not so much reading the break thats hard, Mickelson said. Its figuring out exactly where the ball is going to stop rolling.
 
This, of course, is exactly what links golf is all about. And the more of this Masters I watched, the more I became transfixed by the troubles the best players in the world were having getting their golf balls to stop where they wanted them to stop on and around the greens.
 
I had also observed, for the first time ever at Augusta National, that major championship nuance I had never seen anywhere but at the British Open: The distinctive puff of dust and dirt shooting up off the turf after a shot struck from the fairway. Augusta National had been allowed to be as bone dry as we may ever see it.
 
Sunday morning I called Bradley Klein and asked him to tell me if my thinking, in this instance, was misguided. Klein is the noted golf course architecture writer for Golfweek Magazine and a former TOUR caddie. He has literally written books on this subject.
 
I have known Klein long enough to know he would debunk my thinking immediately if he thought I was creating a myth.
 
Klein told me that Jones and MacKenzie had strived to build a golf course at Augusta that was strategically flexible. And, he said, MacKenzies charge had been to create linksland characteristics in a parkland setting.
 
Klein also said he had noticed the puffs of dust and clippings on the 18th hole. It never rained a drop all week. And while many of the players pined for an Augusta National with which they were more familiar, visions of Hoylake last summer kept creeping on to my radar.
 
It was tough to see at first. And part of this was because MacKenzie, who also designed masterpieces at Royal Melbourne, Cypress Point and Crystal Downs, was a renowned international expert in the field of camouflage.
 
No, this wasnt your fathers Masters. Or even you grandfathers. But it was one Jones and MacKenzie would have recognized and accepted the same way the R&A accepts, with equanimity, low and high winning scores on their links venues every year. They are not afraid to let conditions dictate the numbers.
 
Klein also reminded me that the green complexes MacKenzie recommended to Jones at Augusta National were taken directly from drawings of the models of the greens at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
 
So when you watched Tiger Woods, who has the highest golf IQ of any player on the planet, struggle to adapt on the front nine Sunday, it was because even he was still trying to solve the exact nature of the beast that had been slaying the field all week long.
 
Woods, when he is swinging comfortably, can hit just about any shot he wishes, on command, at any point in any competition. But the comfort zone that comes with having won four previous Masters looked to be working against him at times when the golf course, like a quiet chameleon, changed so subtly from day to day and hole to hole.
 
The final word on all of this came late Sunday from Tom Doak. Doak wrote the definitive biography on MacKenzie and also has made a rather large name for himself in golf course design by creating, among others, the seminal Pacific Dunes in Oregon.
 
'The course was certainly as firm as most (British) Open venues,' Doak informed me. 'Some people think it's impossible to keep it that firm and have it green, too. But it is possible if you have enough money to hand-water the dry spots. And Augusta certainly has the resources to follow through.
 
'It's also possible to bounce the ball into several of the greens at Augusta even though you seldoms see the pros try it. Seventeen was specifically designed as a run-up shot according to MacKenzie and Jones. That's why the left half falls away from the line of play. The second, fifth, eighth and 11th also allow it.'
 
Woods finished tied for second. Johnson, we are told, spent much of his time prior to this Masters trying to bring the trajectory down on his driver ball flight.
 
Did he know something Tiger didnt?
 
Jones and MacKenzie, if they were still around to speak, would have been the ones to ask.
 
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Masters Tournament
  • Getty Images

    Rahm (62) takes early lead at CareerBuilder

    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

    Getty Images

    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.


    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    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."

    Getty Images

    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.

    Getty Images

    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

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    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."