Still More Changes in the Works for Augusta National
``I think '51 was the first year I played, and the 11th tee was almost behind the 10th green,'' Dow Finsterwald said Tuesday morning. ``Then one year, they moved it way back in the woods to the left, and the yardage never changed. And on No. 15, the tee used to be in front of the service road. They moved it behind the road, and it was still 6,925. But it was such a great tournament, nobody ever really raised the question.
``What difference does it make, anyway? Everyone plays from the same tees.''
Some of the tees won't be the same at the 70th Masters this April, and players won't need a scorecard to notice. The official yardage is 7,445 yards, courtesy of changes to six holes that added about 155 yards.
It's the third time in the last six years that Augusta National has strengthened its golf course -- 520 yards since 1999 -- each an attempt to restore the rhythm and shot value the way Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie designed it.
As usual, the new tees look as if they had been there all along.
Players will know better, especially when they leave the practice green for the first tee, which is now a short walk. The tee box has been moved back about 20 yards to make the hole play 455 yards, although change at Augusta National is not all about length.
The eye-opener is that cavernous bunker down the right side, where a finger of turf now dips into the sand and creates the appearance of a double bunker. Balls rarely will be in the middle of the sand, allowing for a routine escape; now there will be steep lips in the way.
Players might get lost on the way to the fourth tee.
It used to be positioned directly behind the third green. Now, take a hard right and go some 40 yards into the woods. Or what used to be woods. Already the meanest par 3 on the course, it now plays up to 240 yards.
Jones gave Sports Illustrated a hole-by-hole description in 1959 and said of the par-3 fourth, ``The shot is usually a strong iron, or even a 4- or 3-wood.''
``It's usually a 6-iron, depending on the wind,'' Retief Goosen said when asked last week how he played No. 4. ``Sometimes, it can be a 5-iron, or even a 4-iron, when the pin is to the right.''
Maybe the Goose should talk to Ben Crane, who played five rounds in four days a few weeks ago. Crane, no short hitter at 61st in driving distance on the PGA Tour this year, hit 3-wood to the green, except the one time the tees were slightly forward. Then he hit 2-iron.
The seventh hole is about a football field longer than when Jose Maria Olazabal won in 1999, thanks to a tee that has been moved back 40 yards so that it now plays 450 yards. Just look down a chute of towering pines and search for five white specks (bunkers) to find the green.
Finsterwald will be glad to know that No. 11 is now 505 yards, with a tee pushed even farther back into the woods. Again, it's not strictly about length. The club has added 17 additional pines down the right side, bringing the small forest to 43 trees and making the right side -- a bailout area when the pin was back left -- no longer a safe alternative.
The other two changes simply put an extra club in the players' hands, if that.
The par-5 15th is back about 30 yards and over to the left, so anyone hitting a power draw can still get plenty of roll and reach the green.
``This is a three-shot hole to most players ... but also a magnificent two-shot hole, as a skillful and courageous player will ... be able to pull his second shot around to the green,'' MacKenzie wrote in 1934.
Tiger Woods showed neither courage nor skill -- only raw power -- when he hit wedge into the 15th this year.
The other change is the 17th hole, mainly cosmetic. The tee has been moved back 15 yards, and the Georgia pines down the left side have been pruned to make the Eisenhower Tree more prominent. The base of the 65-foot loblolly pine is about 210 yards from the tee.
What does it all mean?
Augusta National, steeped in tradition, remains a contemporary course.
If the Masters had left everything the way it was, there would be no pond fronting the 16th green; the 10th green would be at the base of the hill, not above it; the 14th hole would have a bunker and the seventh hole would have none. And don't forget, the nines were reversed for the second tournament in 1935.
Augusta National is longer and harder than ever.
Players hit the ball longer and better than ever.
``Their ability is so marvelous,'' Finsterwald said. ``It's not that they're so much longer, they're straighter. And there are more good putters than there were. So I don't think the test has changed. But players have risen to the changes. But the scores stay pretty much in the ballpark, don't they?''
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Schauffele just fine being the underdog
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.
Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.
Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.
“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”
Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.
“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”
Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1
Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.
So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.
Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.
Jordan Spieth: 7/4
Xander Schauffele: 5/1
Kevin Kisner: 11/2
Tiger Woods: 14/1
Francesco Molinari: 14/1
Rory McIlroy: 14/1
Kevin Chappell: 20/1
Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1
Alex Noren: 25/1
Zach Johnson: 30/1
Justin Rose: 30/1
Matt Kuchar: 40/1
Webb Simpson: 50/1
Adam Scott: 80/1
Tony Finau: 80/1
Charley Hoffman: 100/1
Austin Cook: 100/1
Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.
For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.
By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.
But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.
As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.
“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”
Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.
As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.
But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.
After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.
“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”
But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.
Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.
“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.
There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.
Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par.
And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.
As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.
“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”
Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.
Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.
The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.
Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.
It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.
Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.
One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.
McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.
“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”
McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.
“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”