Long Augusta Long Faces
Early reports indicate that the course is decidedly tougher. What was so great about Augusta, said three-time champion Nick Faldo, is you had to land the ball on the number ' they gave you one yard to work with. Now, if they expect us to do that, we will have to do it three clubs' further back than before. It could get serious.
Vijay Singh thinks it is going to be very difficult. Hes no slouch when it comes to the driver, and he was hitting a mid-iron or a long-iron to an mind-numbing array of holes. He played the course in November after the changes had been made, and it didnt look much like the Augusta he remembered.
Were going to be aiming at some of the toughest greens in the world with longer irons, and that is the biggest difference right there, he said. Youre going in with middle-to-long irons instead of middle-to-short irons. On those greens, its very difficult.
Ernie Els has also played the course with the revised changes. He believes most of the field will still be competitive. Experience still ranks as the most valuable trait one can have, but the course will definitely play longer.
With technology now, most of the guys can hit it a long way, said Els. Its just, are you happy with yourself hitting certain shots into those greens?
So I think a little bit of experience will help around that place ' especially when youre around the greens. I think the field will narrow down a little bit, but not as much as I first thought.
Hootie Johnson, the man charged with running the Masters, rode around the course while Singh was playing. Johnson carefully noted how Singh played the holes, the clubs he hit into the greens and the clubs he hit off Augustas tees. Singh says that Johnson was relieved that the changes made for a golf course that was still playable.
He was a little bit apprehensive about the way its going to turn out, said Singh. But after coming around with me, he was very pleased with the changes.
Eighteen seems to be the one changed the most, now looming 465 yards uphill from 410. It was a big shock to Els, seeing it for the first time.
We used to hit, on a calm day, a wedge or 9-iron in there, he said. That wont happen now. Its a 6-iron, 5-iron, even a 4-iron in there now.
The same goes for No. 1. It was also a wedge on a good day, and now its probably a 5-iron or 6-iron. Those are huge major changes, and to hit those kind of irons into those slopey greens is going to be really difficult.
Singh laughed when he recalled the new No. 18. I hit a driver, 3-iron. So that should tell you, he said. Granted, there was no roll. They had a lot of rain. But if Im hitting 3-iron, I dont know about the rest of the guys.
Youve got to think of all your tee shots more than ever now, said Singh. It used to be just tee it up and hit it as far as you can.
'Now, you put a lot of premium in your tee shots. Youve got to hit the fairways. It favors the guys who are going to putt well, and obviously hit it straight and long.
Which was the reason, he said, that he shot a wedge and a number.
Mark Calcavecchia sees this as a perfect major venue.
You dont want somebody slinging it around there and winning the tournament because he had a good week putting, said Calc. Now, whoever wins the tournament is going to have it all.
Its going to be long, and you know youre just going to have to hit it great and putt great. But thats what you want in your Masters champion.
More Masters News
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.