Length Not the True Key at Augusta

By George WhiteApril 5, 2006, 4:00 pm
The chatter coming from Augusta this week is all about the extra length, this coming from a golf course that was long already. If you cant drive it 315 with consistency, so the chatter goes, you can just forget wearing the green jacket Sunday.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods won the 2005 Masters with a clutch putt on the first playoff hole.
Hmmm well, I dont know about that. Theres no question that length is going to be an advantage. But will it be enough of an advantage that it can overcome a medium length hitter who is a great putter.
 
I remember Tom Kite ' who used to be quite a good Masters player ' telling me that he actually did better on the brutally long courses, even though he himself was a shorter-than-average driver. The reason?
 
On the long courses, EVERYONE has to hit driver, Tom reasoned. And when everyone is hitting driver, the longer players have trouble keeping it the fairway. I know I am going to find the fairway, and therefore my next shot is going to be much easier. And then when we reach the green, Im probably going to have the shorter putt.
 
The times I am really in trouble is when we play a shorter course and the long guys are able to hit fairway woods off the tee and Im still hitting driver.
 
That is doubly true of Augusta in the last few years when the poo-bahs have started growing a little rough. But even before, a wayward driver could be severely punished by hitting it in the thousands of trees which line the fairways. That, friends, is certainly no place you want to be.
 
Tiger Woods, of course, is the glaring exception to this theory. He has length to burn - but remember, he also has an excellent short game as well as being an excellent putter. Phil Mickelson, also long, and Vijay Singh ' ditto ' had excellent putting rounds the years that they won.
 
You can't putt anything but spectacularly here to win, unfortunately, said Colin Montgomerie, who is playing the Masters for the 14th time.
 
We feel the best putter in the world right now is the best player in the world (Woods), and that's why he's got four of these things (Masters trophies) already. To hole out from eight feet on a regular basis here is very, very difficult, very difficult to get the pace and the line exactly right. He seems to do that better than anybody, and so it's not just the hitting of the golf ball. It's get the thing in from eight feet that counts.
 
Look at the shorter hitters that have won in recent years ' Mike Weir, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mark OMeara, Nick Faldo (three times), Bernhard Langer, Ben Crenshaw. Last year Chris DiMarco came within one putt of winning, one chip which lipped out instead of sinking. All had excellent putting weeks.
 
One reason why long hitters dont have a particular advantage here is that this is a second-shot course, perhaps the most penal second-shot course in the world. Thats the shot that matters, not necessarily the drive.
 
You don't fire at pins here, said DiMarco. You fire at spots on the greens. Everything funnels. If you hit it in the right spot on the green, the undulations in the green will take you to the hole. And that's what I mean by not going at pins.
 
So you've got to be content with maybe a 30-footer right of the hole that day, no matter what your score; and that's the hardest thing to do. If you're 2- or 3-over and not playing well, you feel like you have to get something going. That's when you're in trouble on this golf course - when you try to overpower it or try to be too aggressive here, try to make birdies. Trying to make birdies here is not a good thing. You just let birdies happen.
 
Mister Length himself, Woods, is acutely aware of the importance in holing out. A relentless putter, he does that with the best in the game. Around here, its critical that you rarely miss on anything less than 10 feet. The person who does that, Tiger says, will be the eventual champion.

You have to putt, he says simply.
 
Not only that, you're going to have to make those big, important, par putts. Because now with the added length and as fast as this golf course is starting to get, you're going to have some putts or some chips that are going to run out and you're going to have those 8- , 9-, 10-footers in there for par. And you've got to make those putts.
 
That, in essence, is where the tournament will eventually be won or lost. You can drive it 350 yards time and time again. Unfortunately, a 3-foot putt in this game counts the exact same as that 350-yard wallop. That, said DiMarco, is always the key at this place.
 
Until you get on these greens and you put a flagstick in your hand and you have to putt a putt on these greens - that's what keeps everybody in this tournament, bottom line, he said.
 
The year Tiger won by 12, he didn't have a 3-putt the whole week. That's why he won the tournament. It wasn't because of how great he hit it. He did not have a 3-putt. He made every putt from eight feet and in and that's why he won the tournament.
 
Putting is still the key here. If you can hit your driver in play, it's all the components. But putting is the key still.
 
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