Augusta playing as tough as ever in first two rounds

By Rex HoggardApril 12, 2014, 12:08 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – This wasn’t how things were supposed to play out according to those who read tea leaves and the grain on Tea Olive, the name for Augusta National’s climbing opening hole.

Between Monday’s deluge, the destruction of the Eisenhower Tree and the rebuilding of Tiger Woods’ back, the path to the green jacket in 2014 was supposed to be, if not less encumbered, then at the least a tad more accommodating.

But the combination of surprisingly difficult pins on Day 1 and devilishly confusing winds on Friday has produced the harder side of Augusta National.

If the year’s first major is defined by pine-rattling cheers, the sound track for this week’s edition has been largely moans for anyone not named Bubba.

There were moans when Phil Mickelson went from bunker to bunker to bunker at the 12th hole and signed for a triple-bogey 6 – his second triple in two days – when Jason Dufner signed for opening round of 80 and when Rory McIlroy airmailed the green at the fourth and introduced the world to a previously unseen corner of the historic club.

With the lone exception of Bubba Watson, who scorched the closing nine with five consecutive birdies, the soft and scorable course many envisioned during Monday’s downpour had gone rogue.

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It’s hardly a surprise, no course in golf changes as much from Monday to Thursday as Augusta National thanks to a time-tested setup and the best maintenance tech money can buy. Nor will it be a surprise when officials take the lid off on Sunday and white knuckles give way to red scorecards.

But for two days, Augusta National has been as testy as the traffic that chokes Washington Road the first week of April.

“In ’07 on that Saturday it probably played harder, that wind was going around like something at a fair,” Henrik Stenson said. “But today was really tough. At 13 I had a shot from the pine needles and hit 6-iron on the green, by the time I got to 14 it had turned down wind from the other direction . . . in 15 minutes.”

The consensus among the field - that after ’07 this was the most demanding two days to open a Masters in recent memory is not open to interpretation. Augusta National played nearly a stroke and a half higher on Thursday than it did for Round 1 last year and almost a half stroke higher than the cumulative average for the layout going back to 1942.

And Friday wasn’t much easier despite an apparent move by those who call the shots to dial back the hole locations, with a 74.08 average for a two-day average of 74.27. While that is well below the frigid blast that sent the 2007 field into a deep freeze (75.9), it wasn’t what players expected.

Winds that gusted past 20 mph on Friday seemed to be the primary culprit, but some of the confusion stems from a rare dose of creativity in coming up with this week’s hole locations.

“There were some good (hole locations) today, and yesterday they were harder than you normally get on a Thursday,” said Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters winner making his 43rd start at Augusta National.

Specifically, players were surprised to see a never-before-used hole location on No. 5, where the hole was placed on the lower plateau of the green five paces from the right edge.

“They broke the ice at No. 5,” said one caddie on Friday who has looped in a few dozen Masters. “I’ve never seen it there, not even during a practice round.”

They also broke some backs.

Gone for the weekend will be Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson; while McIlroy, the favorite entering the week, finished two days on the number at 4 over and 11 strokes back.

For those who made it to the weekend, however, there is the prospect of better days. On Friday it appeared as though officials dialed back the hole locations and the wind is forecast to subside on Saturday and Sunday.

“It looks like they're doing six, six, six. Six (holes) you can get at and six you can kind of get at and six you're lucky if you get to it, kind of thing. Which is great,” Lucas Glover said. “That's the way it ought to be. It's a major.”

There will be roars on the weekend at Augusta National, there always are. The field and the fans just had to endure two days of moans to get there.

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Watch: Daly makes birdie from 18-foot-deep bunker

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 11:14 pm

John Daly on Friday somehow got up and down for birdie from the deepest bunker on the PGA Tour.

The sand to the left of the green on the 16th hole at the Stadium Course at PGA West sits 18 feet below the surface of the green.

That proved no problem for Daly, who cleared the lip three times taller than he is and then rolled in a 26-footer.

He fared just slightly better than former Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “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.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.