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.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Masters Tournament
  • Whan details LPGA changes for 2018 and beyond

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 8:56 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – The Race to the CME Globe’s season-long series and its big-bang finish at the CME Group Tour Championship are secured for another six years.

    Tour commissioner Mike Whan announced a contract extension with CME Group through 2023 in his annual state-of-the-tour address Friday at the Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club.

    Whan also outlined changes to next year’s tournament schedule and detailed specifics of the revamp of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament, with a new Q-School Series devised as the final stage beginning next year.

    Highlights from Whan’s address:

    Extending the CME Race . . .

    The Race to the CME Globe, a season-long competition for a $1 million jackpot, will be played at least six more years, with Whan announcing a contract extension through 2023.

    “We’re pretty excited about that,” Whan said.

    The LPGA is also close to finalizing details that will keep the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club.

    2018 schedule will include two new West Coast events . . .

    The LPGA is likely going to lose three events next year, but it will gain three new ones, leaving the tour with 34 events, including the UL International Crown. That’s the same number of events being played this year. Total prize money is expected to reach $69 million, up from the record $65 million played for this season.


    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


    The Manulife LPGA Classic in Canada is off next year’s schedule, and the Lorena Ochoa Match Play also is not expected to return. The McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open is not returning, but only because it is sliding off the schedule to move up early on the 2019 schedule.

    Whan said two new West Coast events are being added, and they will be positioned on the calendar next to the Lotte Championship in Hawaii, to give players more reasons to stay out west.

    Whan said there’s also a new international event being added to the schedule, but details of the new events won’t be released until the full schedule is released sometime after Thanksgiving.

    “I hope you’ll agree that stability and predictability haven’t always been the calling card of the LPGA, but it has been the last few years,” Whan said. “I’m proud to tell you that the revenues of the LPGA in the last five or six years are up almost 90 percent. We have added 20 title sponsors and over 20 official marketing partners in the last five or six years. Don’t know too many sports that could claim that.”

    Q-School officially overhauled . . .

    Whan said the LPGA Qualifying Tournament will still be played in three stages next year, but the final stage will get a makeover as the Q-School Series.

    The LPGA will continue to host first and second stages, but instead of a five-round final stage, there will be an eight-round finals series, with two four-round tournaments scheduled in back-to-back weeks in the same city, with cumulative scores used over eight rounds. The new Q-Series site will be announced early next year.

    A field of 108 will make the Q-Series finals, with 40 to 50 LPGA tour cards up for grabs.

    The Q-Series field will be filled by players finishing 101st to 150th on the LPGA money list, players finishing 31st to 50th on the Symetra Tour money list, with up to 10 players from among the top 75 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings who don’t have LPGA membership. Also, the field will include the top five in the Golfweek Sagarin College Rankings. The rest of the field will be filled by players advancing through Q-School’s second stage, which could be anywhere from 23 to 33 players, depending how many from the world rankings and college rankings choose to go to the Q-Series.

    Ryu, S.H. Park among winners at Rolex awards

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 5:51 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – The Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy winners won’t be determined until Sunday’s finish of the CME Group Tour Championship, but seven other awards were presented Thursday during the LPGA’s Rolex Awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort.

    The awards and winners:

    William and Mousie Powell Award – Katherine Kirk won an award given to the player “whose behavior and deeds best exemplify the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.” Kirk won the Thornberry Classic this year, her third LPGA title. “Some people ask me if I feel obligated to give back to the game,” Kirk said. “I think it’s a privilege.”

    Heather Farr Perseverance Award – Tiffany Joh, who had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma earlier this year, thanked the Farr family and all those who supported Joh through her diagnosis and recovery.

    “I found a great quote from Ram Dass, `We are all just walking each other home,’” Joh said. “I’ve really come to understand the value of all my relationships, no matter how fleeting or profound they seem.”

    The Commissioner’s Award – Roberta Bowman, outgoing chair of the LPGA Board of Directors, was honored for her service the last six years. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan called her “my friend, my boss and my hero.” Bowman deflected the praise for her back on to the tour, thanking Whan, LPGA staff, players, sponsors, fans and the media.

    “The world needs more role models for little girls,” Bowman said. “And they don’t need to look much farther than the LPGA.”

    Ellen Griffin Rolex Award and Nancy Lopez Golf Achievement Award – Sandy LaBauve, who founded the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf program, was honored as the first person to win both these awards.

    The Griffin Award honors golf teachers and the Lopez Award honors an LPGA professional who emulates the values Lopez demonstrated. LaBauve is the daughter of Jack and Sherry Lumpkin, both teachers of the game.

    “This program doesn’t belong to me,” LaBauve said of LPGA-Girls’ Golf. “I merely planted the seed. The fruit belongs to all of us.”

    Rolex Annika Major Award – So Yeon Ryu won the award, named for Annika Sorenstam, for the best overall performance in women’s major championships this year. She won the ANA Inspiration and tied for third at the U.S. Women’s Open.

    “It’s such an honor to win an award named after Annika Sorenstam,” Ryu told Sorenstam during the presentation. “It’s a special award for me.”

    Rolex Rookie of the Year Award – Sung Hyun Park won the honor, telling the audience in a message translated from Korean that she was disappointed failing to win the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year Award and was grateful for a dream come true getting the chance to win it on the LPGA.

    Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

    By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

    At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

    Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

    In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

    Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.


    DP World Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship


    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.

    Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

    Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

    Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

    ''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

    ''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

    Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

    ''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

    ''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

    Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

    Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

    ''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

    Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

    By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

    Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

    ''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

    The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

    ''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

    The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

    ''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

    Joel Dahmen had a 64.


    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


    ''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

    ''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

    Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

    ''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

    He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

    ''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

    Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

    ''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

    Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

    Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

    Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.