Changes Shorten List of Contenders

By Mercer BaggsApril 3, 2006, 4:00 pm
Even the optimists have reservations. Those who cling to the hope that they can actually win the Masters Tournament have within them the understanding of a Realist.
I wouldnt say that Im not able to win the golf tournament, said Jim Furyk, but its more difficult now than it was 10 years ago.
Ten years ago, Augusta National measured 6,925 yards, just as it did 62 years prior, when the tournament was first played and won by Horton Smith.
Tiger Woods
Many players believe Augusta's latest changes have only made it easier for Tiger Woods to win more green jackets.
Over the years, club officials have made innumerable alterations to the course. But it wasnt until the 1999 competition ' two years after Tiger Woods won with a record 18-under total ' that length was added to the overall count. It was just 60 yards then, as well as a second cut of rough. Three years later it was another 185 yards. The next year, another 20. And now, for this weeks edition, the 70th overall, there is an additional 155 yards, bringing the new total to 7,445.
Since the first Masters in 1934, this golf course has evolved, and that process continues today, said Hootie Johnson, club chairman at Augusta National, in a statement. As in the past, our objective is to maintain the integrity and shot values of the golf course as envisioned by (architects) Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie.
Augusta National, golfs green Mecca, is now golfs Green Monster.
Where it used to be kind of the most fun of all the majors, said Ernie Els, its becoming the hardest now.
If the conditions are firm, said four-time winner and defending champion Tiger Woods, that golf course is probably the most difficult golf course youll ever play.
Distance-wise, six holes have been stretched for this year: the par-4 first (435 to 455); par-3 fourth (205 to 240); par-4 seventh (410 to 450); par-4 11th (490 to 505); par-5 15th (500 to 530); and par-4 17th (425 to 440).
I dont mind them lengthening the golf course, 2003 champion Mike Weir said. But, I dont think they should have rough; I dont think they should have all the (new) tees that theyve put in; I dont think they need all of the trees where they put them.
In addition to the additional distance, some fairways have been narrowed, more pine trees planted, and certain angles of attack completely eliminated.
Most of the premium was on iron shots and short game. I think that has changed, said two-time champion Bernhard Langer. Its still a great tournament, but its a different golf course.
I heard them say that they want it to play like it used to play. I dont know if theyve done that.
Langer believes that the changes are playing right into the hands of the longer hitter. Fellow two-time champion Jose Maria Olazabal thinks the big boppers 'will have the hugest smile from ear to ear. And theyre not alone in their belief. In fact, there are few who would bother to disagree ' even the bombers.
It eliminates a lot of guys, Woods said about the recent changes.
The short-but-straight Fred Funk, the man who survived to win the 2005 Players Championship, harbors no delusion of grandeur for this week.
No, he said flatly when asked if he could win.
There are probably 25 to 30 guys playing long enough to have a chance. Of those 25 to 30 guys, theres probably five or six who have the mental ability to win. And out of those five or six, theres just one whos going to win.
That one, Funk believes, will be Woods.
If they want Tiger to win every year, then they got it with the changes theyve made.
Others arent ready to write themselves off just yet. They are optimist. And realists.
That was the thought when I won in 2003, that only a longer hitter could win, said Weir. But anybody whos playing good, making putts, wedging it well is going to have a shot.
Of course, the longer player will always have an advantage, because theyre going to have shorter clubs in (to the greens).
I wouldnt make the statement that theres only five or six people who can win the tournament, said Furyk. But, absolutely, youve probably eliminated a few people and narrowed the odds on a lot of people.
Arnold Palmer won the Masters four times and felt that he should have won it even more than that. Then again, no one ever gave him much of a chance to ever win one green jacket, not with his low ball flight. But, as Palmer recently said, The desire to win at Augusta was as great as the lack of maybe game to do it. I learned how to win there.
Desire and fight will allow certain players to hang in there for a little while, but Els feels they will be filtered out as the event progresses.
Over four days of competition, its going to narrow the field dramatically, Els said about the course length. You might see more tournaments like we had last year where a couple of guys break away, and its kind of two different tournaments within a tournament kind of thing.
Last year, Woods and Chris DiMarco ended regulation knotted at 12 under, seven shots clear of third place. Sixteen players managed to break par ' and the course was once again playing soft due to rain on Thursday and Friday.
Many believe that if the course plays dry ' which it did in last years practice rounds, but hasnt done during actual competition since the major renovations began taking place four years ago ' that no one will finish in red numbers.
We havent seen the greens hard and fast, said Woods. With or without the rain last year, we were thinking in the practice round that over par is going to win the tournament. If you can keep it around even par, youre going to win easily. This year, if it stays dry, probably the same thing.
Woods played the course prior to this week; so, too, did Els. When asked about the changes, Els laughed and said, They are quite major. Woods called them, interesting, very interesting.
In sharing their experiences, Els said he hit 2-iron into the green at the 240-yard, par-3 fourth; Woods, who doesnt carry a 2-iron, hit 3-iron and came up short. Both players are thinking about putting a 5-wood into their bags.
Ive talked to some of the older guys, who played there back in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and they never had to hit (a) wood into (No.) 4 before, but youll see a lot of guys hitting wood into 4 this year, said Woods.
Johnson and the Green Jackets want their tournament, their course to play like it did when Byron Nelson won it, when Jack Nicklaus won it, when Nick Faldo won it. They say that they are making changes out of necessity, in order to hold true to Bobby Jones original vision.
They think theyve done that. Not everyone agrees.
Its becoming more like a U.S. Open instead of the Masters, Weir said. I dont think this is what Bobby Jones envisioned.
Said Olazabal, who doesnt even know if he could win on the current set-up during his prime, Nowadays, the golf course is completely different to when I started playing there in the late 80s and all through the 90s.
We have seen the direction they have taken, he added, and time will tell if they are right or wrong.
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    Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

    By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

    After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

     There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

    It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

    It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

    “The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

    In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

    Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

    Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

    “You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

    Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

    Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

    If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

    For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

    Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

    Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

    While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

    When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

    Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

    After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

    The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

    That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

    The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

    While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

    Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

    Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

    “We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

    The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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    Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

    John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

    That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

    Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

    Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

    By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

    Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

    Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

    Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

    World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

    Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

    Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

    Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

    By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

    The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

    Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

    "I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

    Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

    Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

    Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.