Changes Shorten List of Contenders

By Mercer BaggsApril 3, 2006, 4:00 pm
Even the optimists have reservations. Those who cling to the hope that they can actually win the Masters Tournament have within them the understanding of a Realist.
I wouldnt say that Im not able to win the golf tournament, said Jim Furyk, but its more difficult now than it was 10 years ago.
Ten years ago, Augusta National measured 6,925 yards, just as it did 62 years prior, when the tournament was first played and won by Horton Smith.
Tiger Woods
Many players believe Augusta's latest changes have only made it easier for Tiger Woods to win more green jackets.
Over the years, club officials have made innumerable alterations to the course. But it wasnt until the 1999 competition ' two years after Tiger Woods won with a record 18-under total ' that length was added to the overall count. It was just 60 yards then, as well as a second cut of rough. Three years later it was another 185 yards. The next year, another 20. And now, for this weeks edition, the 70th overall, there is an additional 155 yards, bringing the new total to 7,445.
Since the first Masters in 1934, this golf course has evolved, and that process continues today, said Hootie Johnson, club chairman at Augusta National, in a statement. As in the past, our objective is to maintain the integrity and shot values of the golf course as envisioned by (architects) Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie.
Augusta National, golfs green Mecca, is now golfs Green Monster.
Where it used to be kind of the most fun of all the majors, said Ernie Els, its becoming the hardest now.
If the conditions are firm, said four-time winner and defending champion Tiger Woods, that golf course is probably the most difficult golf course youll ever play.
Distance-wise, six holes have been stretched for this year: the par-4 first (435 to 455); par-3 fourth (205 to 240); par-4 seventh (410 to 450); par-4 11th (490 to 505); par-5 15th (500 to 530); and par-4 17th (425 to 440).
I dont mind them lengthening the golf course, 2003 champion Mike Weir said. But, I dont think they should have rough; I dont think they should have all the (new) tees that theyve put in; I dont think they need all of the trees where they put them.
In addition to the additional distance, some fairways have been narrowed, more pine trees planted, and certain angles of attack completely eliminated.
Most of the premium was on iron shots and short game. I think that has changed, said two-time champion Bernhard Langer. Its still a great tournament, but its a different golf course.
I heard them say that they want it to play like it used to play. I dont know if theyve done that.
Langer believes that the changes are playing right into the hands of the longer hitter. Fellow two-time champion Jose Maria Olazabal thinks the big boppers 'will have the hugest smile from ear to ear. And theyre not alone in their belief. In fact, there are few who would bother to disagree ' even the bombers.
It eliminates a lot of guys, Woods said about the recent changes.
The short-but-straight Fred Funk, the man who survived to win the 2005 Players Championship, harbors no delusion of grandeur for this week.
No, he said flatly when asked if he could win.
There are probably 25 to 30 guys playing long enough to have a chance. Of those 25 to 30 guys, theres probably five or six who have the mental ability to win. And out of those five or six, theres just one whos going to win.
That one, Funk believes, will be Woods.
If they want Tiger to win every year, then they got it with the changes theyve made.
Others arent ready to write themselves off just yet. They are optimist. And realists.
That was the thought when I won in 2003, that only a longer hitter could win, said Weir. But anybody whos playing good, making putts, wedging it well is going to have a shot.
Of course, the longer player will always have an advantage, because theyre going to have shorter clubs in (to the greens).
I wouldnt make the statement that theres only five or six people who can win the tournament, said Furyk. But, absolutely, youve probably eliminated a few people and narrowed the odds on a lot of people.
Arnold Palmer won the Masters four times and felt that he should have won it even more than that. Then again, no one ever gave him much of a chance to ever win one green jacket, not with his low ball flight. But, as Palmer recently said, The desire to win at Augusta was as great as the lack of maybe game to do it. I learned how to win there.
Desire and fight will allow certain players to hang in there for a little while, but Els feels they will be filtered out as the event progresses.
Over four days of competition, its going to narrow the field dramatically, Els said about the course length. You might see more tournaments like we had last year where a couple of guys break away, and its kind of two different tournaments within a tournament kind of thing.
Last year, Woods and Chris DiMarco ended regulation knotted at 12 under, seven shots clear of third place. Sixteen players managed to break par ' and the course was once again playing soft due to rain on Thursday and Friday.
Many believe that if the course plays dry ' which it did in last years practice rounds, but hasnt done during actual competition since the major renovations began taking place four years ago ' that no one will finish in red numbers.
We havent seen the greens hard and fast, said Woods. With or without the rain last year, we were thinking in the practice round that over par is going to win the tournament. If you can keep it around even par, youre going to win easily. This year, if it stays dry, probably the same thing.
Woods played the course prior to this week; so, too, did Els. When asked about the changes, Els laughed and said, They are quite major. Woods called them, interesting, very interesting.
In sharing their experiences, Els said he hit 2-iron into the green at the 240-yard, par-3 fourth; Woods, who doesnt carry a 2-iron, hit 3-iron and came up short. Both players are thinking about putting a 5-wood into their bags.
Ive talked to some of the older guys, who played there back in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and they never had to hit (a) wood into (No.) 4 before, but youll see a lot of guys hitting wood into 4 this year, said Woods.
Johnson and the Green Jackets want their tournament, their course to play like it did when Byron Nelson won it, when Jack Nicklaus won it, when Nick Faldo won it. They say that they are making changes out of necessity, in order to hold true to Bobby Jones original vision.
They think theyve done that. Not everyone agrees.
Its becoming more like a U.S. Open instead of the Masters, Weir said. I dont think this is what Bobby Jones envisioned.
Said Olazabal, who doesnt even know if he could win on the current set-up during his prime, Nowadays, the golf course is completely different to when I started playing there in the late 80s and all through the 90s.
We have seen the direction they have taken, he added, and time will tell if they are right or wrong.
Related Links:
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    Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

    By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

    MELBOURNE, Australia – Five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thomson has died, his family said Wednesday. He was 88.

    Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members on Wednesday morning.

    Born on Aug, 23, 1929, Thomson was two months short of his 89th birthday.

    The first Australian to win The Open Championship, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by Tom Watson.

    On the American senior circuit he won nine times in 1985.

    Thomson also served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years, designing and building courses in Australia and around the world, helping establish the Asian Tour and working behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

    He also wrote for newspapers and magazines for more than 60 years and was patron of the Australian Golf Writers Association.

    In 1979 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

    Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

    Funeral arrangements were to be announced over the next few days.

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    Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M

    By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

    In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

    This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

    Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

    Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

    The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

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    Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

    By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

    Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

    Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    “Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

    Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

    “There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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    Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

    By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

    Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

    Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

    Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

    “Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

    Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

    “Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

    Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.