Players are major Masters fans

By Rex HoggardApril 14, 2009, 4:00 pm
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2007 Verizon HeritageHILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. ' Steve Flesch signed for his final-round 67 to tie for sixth last Sunday and quickly picked his way through the crowd to the clubhouse, to a TV, to a comfortable seat and a cool beverage. Dark horse contender meet couch potato.
 
These guys are good, per the Ponte Vedra Beach marketing machine, but if this weeks sampling at Harbour Town Golf Links is any indication they are also good fans and no week on Tour crystallizes that point more than the Masters.
 
Watched every shot, said Charles Howell III, who missed his first Masters since 2001. Its the greatest tournament in the world, even if Im not playing in it.
 
In Howells case he didnt so much watch the years first major as much as he studied it. The kid that grew up on the other side of the fence at Augusta Country Club knows the place better than most and this years green-light Sunday was the way he remembered Augusta National.
 
It was nice to see the birdies being made again. It was not a U.S. Open slugfest, Howell said. Every fan knows what (No.) 13 is, what 16 is. They know 12. Ask a lot of fans what the 13th hole at Bethpage looks like, they dont know.
 
And CH3 wasnt alone. According to early reports, ratings were off about 3 percent for this years final round telecast but by all accounts the slump wasnt due to a lack of interest from the Tour rank-and-file.
 
With the exception of maybe only Davis Love III ' who marked his second Masters miss the same way he passed the time last year, turkey hunting in south Georgia ' if you didnt have a tee time at Augusta National you had a date with a remote control.
 
I dont miss a Sunday at Augusta National, said Charles Warren, who grew up 60 miles away in Columbia, S.C., and attended the event with his father from 1984 to 2001. Every time I see clips from 86 I still get chills.
 
Not only do Tour players watch, but some seem to have turned the telecast into an interactive affair, much like the rest of the couch potatoes in Americana.
 
I was yelling at everybody, smiled Jason Bohn. Dancing with the Stars has nothing on the Masters.
 
In a scene that could have occurred in any living room in America, Warrens talkback reached almost professional levels as Sundays final round moved along: My wife says I say exactly what the announcers say just before they do.
 
Players also inevitably end up with a rooting interest, with a friend moving into the hunt for a green jacket. Last year as Brandt Snedeker dueled with Trevor Immelman, normally reserved Brendon de Jonge, Snedekers long-time friend, became more vocal.
 
I was yelling at the TV, de Jonge said. I wont repeat any of the things that I said. But I always watch. Put football and golf on at the same time, Ill watch football. But all things being equal, Ill watch golf.
 
John Mallinger was on vacation last week in Mexico but made sure to TiVo Sundays final round, which featured friend John Merrick roaring to a closing 66 in his first Masters.I watched the back nine, which is the most important part, Mallinger smiled.
 
Of course, Tour players ' by a nature a curious lot with critical eyes ' cant resist the urge to bring out their inner Johnny Miller, particularly on a Sunday that featured almost as many momentum changes as birdies. And on Tuesday at Harbour Town conversations all seemed to begin and end with the Masters.
 
I watched the 18th hole (first playoff hole) thinking Chad (Campbell) has the biggest green light ever after Kenny (Perry) hit his second short and (Angel) Cabrera was in trouble, said Ryan Palmer, a friend of Campbells. For a draw-ball hitter (like Campbell) that was just perfect.
 
For Warren, the return of the roar on Sunday was no surprise. In January, he and Lucas Glover took a scouting trip to Augusta National and heard rumblings officials planned to shorten some tees and play particularly accessible pins on Sundays.
 
The best thing you can say about Augusta is you can have the toughest tough day and easiest easy day, Warren said. Theres a hole location on every hole where you can see balls getting close or holes in one. (No.) 16 is the perfect example. If you get in the right slot with anything close to the right speed its going to be close.
 
On Tuesday, 48 hours removed from the final-round fireworks, Flesch, the fan, was still buzzing like a crazed college student: That was cool.
 
Spoken like a true fan.
 
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