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
Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
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
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
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.
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."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
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.
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.