A Spectators Guide to Augusta National

By David Marr IiiApril 11, 2002, 4:00 pm
As frozen ground thaws, golfers around the country anticipate easing a tee into the ground for the first time this year. Like pitchers and catchers reporting to camp, it is a rite of spring. Professional golf has its version of spring training, the west coast and Florida swings. Golf also has its version of opening day, Masters Week.
With all due respect to The President's Cup, The Crosby (I mean AT&T), Doral and The Players Championship, no truly meaningful shots are hit for almost eight months from August until April. In the past, odd numbered years got some important action during Ryder Cup week, but it's still a long wait until the real season starts in Augusta.
When the gates opened at 8 a.m. Monday morning the most respectful, knowledgeable fans in sports were welcomed back to their hallowed site. During the practice rounds, watching golf at Augusta is a random exercise. Players sometimes play nine holes, then have lunch, or pick up other competitors at the turn. Some go back and play the same side again or spend time on the practice green waiting to join a game. The mood is light and loose; some pictures, some jokes, a few autographs.
Thursday through Sunday is a different story. You need a specific plan of attack if you want to catch as much action as possible. Here's the Marr Technique.
Thursday and Friday allow you the chance to see all of the players in the field. On these days I usually watch on different holes than I do on the weekend. The fourth hole is a treacherous par-3. Watch there and you won't feel so badly about your own game. The fifth hole is a longish par-4. Dow Finsterwald is the rules official whose position is to the left of the green. I always stop by and visit with the man who finished third in a playoff to Arnold Palmer and Gary Player in 1962. On the right side of the green, up a short walkway is a hidden area with sizable concession and merchandise stands complete with picnic tables, yet free of the long lines sometimes found at other locations.
On all competitive days try to steer away from Amen corner, it's a very popular place without a great deal of space.

On the weekend you need to be efficient. Playing in twosomes, the golfers are fast, the golf is meaningful and the gallery is heavy. First, make sure you go with your younger brother. He should be at the gate by 8am with two chairs. When the gates open, he should go to the 18th green and put the chairs on the golfer's left in the front third of the green as close to the ropes as possible. Now you have a seat up front for the Sunday pin placement. Masters patrons are so polite they won't take or move your seats even if you don't show up until the last group is on the 72nd green. When your brother gets back to the hotel, make sure he doesn't wake you. There's still three hours until the first group tees off.
When you get to the course go to the trophy room and look at the names on the huge replica of the clubhouse at Augusta. Grab a couple of egg salad sandwiches next door, and then get a pairing sheet before reaching the first hole.
The crowd under the oak tree behind the clubhouse will have thinned from the practice days. It's time for business. The practice areas are usually packed with spectators so head out to my favorite spot. The sixth tee is on a hill where spectators sit. Players actually hit over a hill full of people, though the terrain shields the gallery from view. At this location you can watch players on the 6th green and wait for play to reach the 16th as well.
The 16th is a great par-3 with some difficult pin positions and a ridge that feeds a ball to the back left pin position on Sunday. Go back to the 18th periodically to visit your chair and neighbors. They are polite enough to leave your seat unmolested; you should be polite enough to become part of that section.
Another location where seats are often available is the grandstand at 13. A lot of action happens on the 13th green and you're very close to 14 tee, but you're out in the sun and locked in to your bleacher seat. If you alternate between 6,16, 13 green and your seat at 18 you'll see a great deal of golf, a good portion of the course, and if you're in your seat at the right time, history will be made about 20 yards in front of you.
The pageantry of the event adds to the feeling even if you can't attend. And the possibilities are limitless. The week begins with a limited field that varies in size with the number of past champions and special invitees. This year only 88 players will have the opportunity to win the Grand Slam. By Saturday, that number will have dwindled to about 50 depending on ties at the cut line. By Monday only one man will have a shot at the Slam. One man will carry with the glorious title of 2002 Masters Champion.
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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.