Back-nine roars at Augusta unlike any other

By Rex HoggardApril 4, 2009, 4:00 pm
The roar is distinctive, a pine-rattling clarion call that has announced charges and celebrated victories since Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie carved 18 ribbons of golf heaven from the former nursery.
 
The soundtrack to major championship history at times appeared dubbed along Augusta National Golf Clubs inward loop, from Arnies Army to Jack Nicklaus historic charge in 1986 to the modern variation of the theme that was introduced in 1997 when Tiger Woods lapped the field by a cool dozen.
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson's duel with Ernie Els in 2004 produced big noise from the patrons. (Getty Images)
For more than seven decades, time was kept on the Grand Slam clock by the echoes reverberating from Augusta Nationals back nine on Sunday. But earlier this decade things started to change. Roars were replaced by stunned silence, birdies supplanted by bogeys, charges gave way to pile ups.
 
Its just quiet that last couple of Sundays Ive played there, said Davis Love III, who before last year had played in 17 consecutive Masters. Theres been a lot of oohs and aaahs, instead of the big roars.
 
When Masters merrymaking turned to mayhem is not in dispute. In 2002, in reaction to soaring golf balls and sliding scoring averages, officials nip/tucked an additional 285 yards onto the storied layout. Since that makeover an additional 175 yards has been added.
 
Whether all that additional real-estate has added up to a collection of sleepy Sundays is a matter of opinion. Officials will point to Phil Mickelsons closing 31 to win in 2004 among the best back-nine charges in Masters history and wild weather in recent years has factored into an atmosphere that feels more white-knuckle than red-hot.
 
However, the ultimate experts, the players, have no doubt the current version of Augusta National simply doesnt allow for the type of late Sunday charges for which the Masters is known.
 
The golf has become much more difficult, Tiger Woods said. Some of the holes you used to take for granted you cant anymore. Fifteen used to be a driver and a wedge.
 
The evidence is in the numbers and at the Champions Dinner.
 
Its little surprise to many that the last two Masters champions ' Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman ' were wedge-and-putt specialist, a pair of plodders who may be scrappy but would never have much of a chance in an NBA lineup.
 
Johnson won in 2007 with a simple plan, hole every putt that matters and never, under any circumstances, try to reach one of Augusta Nationals historically scoreable par 5s in two shots. Immelman followed with a similar, win-with-a-wedge mentality.
 
It is in stark contrast to the way the golf course played before the changes.
 
When I played in 99 I could hit 3-wood (off the tee) at 15 and get on with a long iron. Now, theres no way, said Brandt Snedeker, who finished tied for third last year. It makes things so much different. Every guy in the field used to be able to go at 15, not anymore.
 
The numbers also suggest a substantial change in the way Sundays final nine holes are played, if not a shift in the fundamental way the golf course is set up.
 
In the seven Masters played since the 2002 makeover, the Sunday final-nine scoring average for the top-10 finishers was 35.53, nearly a half stroke higher than the seven tournaments played prior to the changes.
 
Its going to be tough now (to shoot 30 on the back nine), Snedeker said. Youre talking about 11 being a 500-yard par 4. Its a par 5. I dont see 30s anymore, I really dont. Unless the place gets really firm and guys are hitting it way down there. (No.) 18 is a par 4 .
 
The extra length, which included an additional 30 yards to the 11th hole and almost 60 yards tacked on to the 18th, seems to be the primary culprit, but difficult weather conditions, the addition of the second cut of rough in 1999, slight variations to traditional pin placements and a reluctance to adjust tees have also factored into a series of relatively quiet closes.
 
The golf course plays so much harder now and even when the winds blow they dont move the tees up, Woods said.
 
The second cut, which was 1 3/8 inches last year, has also taken away from the strategic beauty of the golf course, according to some.
 
Its a wide open course without the cut, but it was such a great departure from normal golf because you could hit way up the right side to get a good angle and take a chance of going in the trees or way left depending on the pin, Stewart Cink said. Its taken a lot of the creativity out of the course, and really the genius that Bobby Jones created.
 
Minor changes to traditional pin positions also have limited birdies, and in turn quieted patrons. Last year, for example, the Sunday tee sheet listed the pin at the par-3 16th at 29 paces deep and three paces from the left edge, a Sunday Masters tradition like pimento cheese and Butler Cabin. In practice, however, the difference between a birdie hole location and a hit-and-hope location can be a matter of inches.
 
They move them within three of four paces and thats big paces, Snedeker said. On 16 the difference between back left and middle left is a huge difference. It changes the complete shot shape of the hole.
 
It all adds up to a back nine that, according to many players, simply will not yield low scores or late charges like it once did. Gone are the days of Nick Faldo roaring past Greg Norman with a closing 33 like he did 1996, or Ben Crenshaws closing 34 to win a year earlier.
 
Its how they want it to be decided, Love said. Do you want it to be decided by scrambling and par putts, like the U.S. Open, or do you want it decided by who ever makes a bunch of birdies and eagles coming down the stretch. Thats their decision, but it sure was exciting in 86 when Jack (Nicklaus) was making a bunch of birdies and eagles and came back and won.
 
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  • Rose (65) leads Rahm, Frittelli in Dubai

    By Associated PressNovember 18, 2017, 3:24 pm

    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Justin Rose shot a 7-under 65 Saturday to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship.

    The 37-year-old Rose made a gutsy par save on the final hole after a bogey-free round for an overall 15-under 201. The Englishman leads South African Dylan Frittelli, who produced the day's best score of 63, and Spain's Jon Rahm, who played in the same group as Rose and matched his 65.

    Rose is chasing his second Race to Dubai title but leading rival Tommy Fleetwood is only two shots behind here after a second straight 65 on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates.

    Fleetwood did his chances no harm by overcoming a stuttering start before making eight birdies in his final 11 holes to also post a 65. The 26-year-old Englishman was tied for fourth place at 13 under, alongside South African Dean Burmester (65) and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat (67), who closed with five birdies in a row.

    U.S. Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit crown, is tied for 13th on 10 under.

    Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

    Rose is hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey

    If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

    She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

    You don’t believe it, though.

    She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

    Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

    Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

    “In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

    Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

    Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

    At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

    She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

    She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

    And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


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    There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

    It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

    Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

    Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

    “I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

    About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

    Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

    “She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

    David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

    “She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

    Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

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    “Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

    Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

    “It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

    Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

    “No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

    Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

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    The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

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    By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

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    Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

    In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

    If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

    “He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”