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.
 
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    Hataoka leads Minjee Lee by one at LPGA Volvik

    By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:54 am

    ANN ARBOR, Mich. - After losing in a playoff last weekend, Nasa Hataoka is making another bid for her first LPGA Tour victory.

    Hataoka shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, and the Japanese teenager led by one stroke over Minjee Lee after the second round of the Volvik Championship. Hataoka, who is coming off the first two top-10 finishes of her LPGA career, made seven birdies at Travis Pointe Country Club. She began her round on No. 10, and her best stretch came toward the end, when she birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

    ''I'm really comfortable playing the LPGA,'' the 19-year-old Hataoka said through a translator. ''I've really got confidence now.''

    Hataoka made the cut nine times in 17 starts as a rookie in 2017, and she has made significant strides of late. She tied for seventh at last month's MEDIHEAL Championship and nearly won a week ago at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia.

    Hataoka finished the second round in Michigan at 9 under. Lee (69) was also solid Friday. Gaby Lopez (68), Jodi Ewart Shadoff (70) and Lindy Duncan (70) were a stroke behind Lee in a tie for third.

    Hataoka did not make a single bogey in last week's three-round tournament, and she didn't have any in the first round in Michigan. She finally made a few Friday, but that didn't stop her from taking sole possession of the lead.

    ''I kind of feel like not really perfect, but I just kind of try to (be) aggressive,'' she said.


    Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship


    Lee, who lost by one stroke on this course last year, is in contention again.

    ''I guess the fairways are pretty generous and I think the greens are a little bit on the trickier side to read,'' Lee said. ''As long as your iron shots are pretty solid, I think you're going to be in good position around this golf course.''

    Lee birdied the first two holes, and the only blemish on her scorecard Friday came on the par-5 14th. After missing the fairway to the right, she hit an aggressive shot out of the rough that went straight toward a water hazard well in front of the green. She settled for a bogey after taking a drop.

    ''I thought the ball was sitting OK in the rough, but it must have been a bit funny, or underneath it,'' she said. ''I made a mistake. I thought it was good enough to hit 3-wood there.''

    Lee lost last year in Michigan to Shanshan Feng, but Feng will have some ground to make up in her attempt to repeat. She shot 69 on Friday but is still eight strokes behind the leader.

    Ariya Jutanugarn was 6 under after a second consecutive 69.

    Lopez made only six pars in the second round, tied for the fewest of the day, but her eight birdies and four bogeys put her near the top of the leaderboard.

    ''It was a little bit of an up and down,'' she said. ''There's so many opportunities out here to make birdie, that the most important thing to do is just to be patient, to be in the moment and not to get ahead of yourself. I think I came back from a couple mistakes that I did.''

    In contrast to Lopez, Brittany Lincicome parred all 18 holes Friday and made the cut at 1 under. Paula Creamer (71) triple bogeyed the par-4 13th. She followed that with an eagle on the very next hole but missed the cut by a stroke.

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    Childhood rivals share Sr. PGA lead

    By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 12:00 am

    BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron have been rivals since their junior golf days around Sacramento, California. The two old friends were back at it Friday at the top of the Senior PGA Championship leaderboard.

    ''It's honestly, nothing new for us,'' said Sutherland who played in the third-to-last group and birdied his last two holes for a 5-under 66 to match McCarron at 8 under.

    McCarron had a 68 in the morning wave to emerge from a championship record group of six tied for the first-round lead.

    Sutherland was last year's Charles Schwab Cup winner with his only senior win coming in the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, while McCarron has six PGA Tour Champions wins, including a major at the 2017 Senior Players Championship.

    ''We are both (Northern California) guys, played in high school, junior golf, on tour and it seems like a lot on the Champions Tour,'' Sutherland said. ''We were in the last group on Sundays a lot last year. Scott played so well and had an incredible year, and I had a great year, too.''

    Sutherland's lone PGA Tour victory came at McCarron's expense in 2002 at La Costa in the Accenture Match Play Championship, when he beat McCarron 1 up in the 36-hole final. As youngsters they played on opposing high school teams located about an hour apart and met often in state tournaments as well as on the California junior circuit.

    ''It's been happening for 30 years, wait 35 years now, I guess,'' Sutherland said. ''Playing together on a Saturday is a little different. We're both still trying to get in position to win.''

    Jerry Kelly shot a 65 to join Tim Petrovic (69), Chris Williams (68) and Joe Durant (67) at 7 under. Durant tied for second last week in the Regions Tradition, also a major championship.


    Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship


    McCarron feels like he is just starting to warm to the task this year. He had to replace his clubs, including a favored putter damaged beyond repair in air transit two months ago.

    ''I've been putting with a back-up putter I had, but it just didn't feel quite right,'' he said. ''I changed last Sunday at the Regions Tradition and started putting better on Sunday. So I'm using this one again this week and seem to be putting pretty good with it.''

    McCarron said the Harbor Shores course played a little tougher in light winds in the second round. He made six birdies and three bogeys.

    ''I would just like to have a couple of those bogeys back,'' he said. ''But we're in a good position going into the weekend.''

    McCarron came to the press center after his round and walked in on a press conference where course-designer Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were being honored by sponsoring KitchenAid with the establishment of a local college scholarship program in their name.

    McCarron, who said he has idolized Nicklaus since his youth, played media and asked Nicklaus what he ate when he was near the lead going into the weekend of a major championship.

    Nicklaus said if you play well one day, eat the same thing the next day.

    ''But no hamburgers, or you will play like hamburger,'' he said.

    Stuart Smith, the Reno, Neveda, club pro who was tied for the lead after the first round, missed the 36-hole cut with a second-round 83.

    ''I'll take the 66, 83 and enjoy the 66 yesterday,'' he said. ''You put this one down to just plain old golf. It's a nasty game we play sometimes. Glad I have a day job.''

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    Wise, Simpson both miss cut at Colonial

    By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 11:34 pm

    The two most recent winners on the PGA Tour, Aaron Wise and Webb Simpson, missed the cut at the Fort Worth Invitational on Friday.

    Wise and Simpson both came up short of the 2-over total by a shot following rounds of 70-73.

    Wise was safely inside the number before playing his last four holes in 4 over par with two bogeys and a closing double following a trip into the water at the par-4 ninth.


    Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

    Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


    Simpson, making his first start following his Players triumph, similarly struggled coming home, bogeying three of his final six holes.

    Other notables who won't be around for the weekend at Colonial include Xander Schauffele (+4), Jason Dufner (+5), Patrick Cantlay (+6), Smylie Kaufman (+13), and Sam Burns (+13).

    This is Kaufman's 11th consecutive MC and his 15th in his last 16 starts.

    Jason Seaman and Kristi Hubly Seaman

    Sr. PGA caddie learns of nephew's heroism in school shooting

    By Tim RosaforteMay 25, 2018, 10:33 pm

    Tracy Hubly caddied for her husband, club pro Chris Starkjohann, on Friday at the KitchenAid Senior PGA and learned after their round that her nephew was credited with helping stop the school shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana.

    Jason Seaman, a 29-year-old science instructor and seventh grade football coach at the school, took three bullets but survived as what his aunt called a hero.

    “You hear the stories about these shootings and I think about Parkland and the officer that was trained but didn’t go into the school,” Hubly said. “It’s really shocking to think it comes close to your family, but it does."

    It’s not unusual for Hubly to caddie for her husband, a teacher at Carlsbad Golf Center and coach of a PGA Junior League program in Southern California. Hubly, who works in the pro shop at Emerald Island Golf Course in Oceanside, Calif., was on the bag when he was low golf professional at the 2009 Senior PGA Championship held at Canterbury GC. 

    Starkjohann, 61, missed the cut at Harbor Shores with rounds of 76-79—155 and was heading to the Colorado State Open.

     “I didn’t hear about it until after my round was done,” Starkjohann said. “Everything happened after I got in.”