Notes Talking about practice Dubious Donald


 AUGUSTA, Ga. – Robert Allenby decided to change up his practice routine this year.

He’s hardly practicing at all.

Allenby played the front nine on Wednesday, having played the back nine on Tuesday. That’s all the golf he has played at Augusta National this week, prior to the start of the Masters. That’s not unusual among players who prefer to take it easy during tournament week and instead make earlier trips to the course.

But Allenby didn’t even do that.

“You can overdo it,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t want to treat this any differently from a normal tournament.”

Any other week, he plays the 18-hole pro-am on Wednesday and then tees it up on Thursday. Augusta requires a bit more study than the Honda Classic or even Riviera, and far more is at stake. Even so, Allenby figured it was time to try something new.

“You put so much into this tournament, and you can get very little out of it,” said Allenby, who has never cracked the top 20 in 11 previous appearances. “So I’m changing my strategy. I might shoot 50 over – that’s a slight exaggeration – but at least I’ll have tried.”

DUBIOUS HONOR: So much for Nick Faldo’s pick to win the Masters.

The three-time winner said Wednesday afternoon that fellow Englishman Luke Donald is in such good form he ought to win this week at Augusta National. Donald then went out and showed off that form by winning the Par 3 Tournament, shooting a 5-under to finish a stroke ahead of former Masters champions Raymond Floyd and Angel Cabrera.

There’s only one problem: No Par 3 winner has ever gone on to capture the green jacket.

“I said, `Oh, poor Luke,”’ Lee Westwood said.

Donald, however, chose to see it differently.

“Some short shots that you hit out here are similar to the course, so it’s partly why I play some years. I think that it’s good preparation,” he said. “If you’re hitting wedges close, it’s only a good thing.”

Donald’s best finish at Augusta National is a tie for third in 2005. He has missed the cut two out of the last three years.

FIELD SIZE: The better the players get on the PGA Tour, the larger the field gets at the Masters.

It’s enough to prompt Augusta National chairman Billy Payne to say officials will take a close look at their criteria after this Masters to decide whether a change is required.

There are 99 players in the field, the most since 103 players in 1966.

“We say every year in response to that question that we look and we study the qualifications, which we do,” Payne said Wednesday. “But we are really going to look at it this year, because there is a maximum number of competitors for which we can give the experience that we want them to have and do it in a way that’s manageable. The 100 pushes that limit quite significantly.”

The biggest change over the past few years has been taking the field of the 30-man Tour Championship to conclude the FedEx Cup, along with the top 30 on the PGA Tour money list. The Masters also began taking winners of PGA Tour events, as long as they are not opposite-field events or part of the Fall Series.

Kevin Streelman and Kevin Na got into the Masters based on getting to the Tour Championship. All that was required of Streelman was finishing third in a playoff event. What also increased the field were 10 players who won PGA Tour events. It’s possible that Tiger Woods not winning and Phil Mickelson winning just once in the last year contributed to that.

“The trends vary every year, and we do look at that and we’ll have a thorough evaluation after the tournament this year,” said Fred Ridley, chairman of the Masters’ competition committee. “And we’ll make adjustments if we think it’s necessary.”

TECHNOLOGY AT AUGUSTA ... SORT OF: Featuring the Masters in a video game is one thing. Tricking out Augusta National with video boards and electronic scoreboards is quite another.

Though Augusta National has embraced digital technology in hopes of increasing participation in the game, there is a line it will not cross, chairman Billy Payne said Wednesday.

“We already have cutting-edge technology, but most of it is buried underground,” Payne said in his annual address. “You’re not going to see any video boards or those kind of things out there.”

The Masters has one of the most advanced web sites in sports, with eight live video channels making fans feel as if they’re at Augusta National even as they watch from the office or home. There will be live feeds from Amen Corner, the 15th and 16th holes and the practice range when the tournament starts Thursday, and a DVR-like function will allow people to stop and rewind coverage.

There will also be a 3-D video stream, which the Masters said is the only live one available on the Internet.

The first Masters app for the iPad also was unveiled last week, which Payne said will complement the broadcast coverage. It includes on-demand features and highlights, as well as a digital simulcast of CBS’ weekend broadcast.

“We have literally tens of millions or hundreds of millions of fans, who through recent times, have acquired the capability and capacity to see the Masters in ways they have not been able to do historically,” Payne said.

Taking that one step further, the Masters is the backdrop for the latest edition of EA Sports’ popular “Tiger Woods PGA Tour” franchise, which Payne said has already been “an enormous success.”

“This decision was completely based on our motivation to positively influence the growth and visibility of the sport of golf,” Payne said. “Playing video games is a popular entertainment choice for kids today, and our involvement just may, we hope, inspire greater appreciation for golf, and in turn, encourage participation.” 

He can see that firsthand in his own family.

Payne said he took on his 12-year-old grandson, Bo, in match play in the new game, and had to give up after nine holes. He was down seven.

“I told him my back was hurting,” Payne said, drawing laughter.