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Augusta — Day One

Augusta was brutal on Thursday — hard and fast, the way it should play. But with many [photopress:palmer.jpg,full,alignright]of the options removed and more trees added to narrow the course, the Masters seemed more like a U.S. Open than the first major of the year. Watching on TV yesterday, it seemed like an endless series of players chopping balls out of the pines, and then defensively putting in the hopes of keeping the ball anywhere near the hole. I typically love watching the Masters, but I’ll admit this was pretty dry most of the time, perhaps with the exception of David Howell’s eagle on 16.

Regardless of how the course played, some, like Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski, seemed to think the changes have made the course better. Strange, as Posnanski seems to think the only thing that is wrong with the changes to the course is that “old guys” like Tom Watson, can’t compete any longer. My question for him is, when could they? And I know not everyone “agrees” Augusta had to change.

Augusta National had to change. Everyone agrees about that. The kids are too strong. Golf clubs are so technologically advanced they can parallel park your car. The golf balls now fly so far they have business-class service.

So, the place had to change. The Augusta National was becoming a fossil. So they added length ” lots and lots of length. They grew some rough. They narrowed here, cut there, tucked here. They shaped and molded a new golf course that still had most of the magic of the old golf course.

And the changes are a smashing success. Rave reviews! Two thumbs up! The course is playing tough but fair. Players are shooting scores and using golf clubs that match up with history. The azaleas still bloom. Its progress. And progress is good, right?

Sure. Except for one small thing. The old guys cant win anymore.

Yeah, they really did take us out, Tom Watson says. We cant compete now.

Chicago Tribune columnist Ed Sherman is among those who appear to think Augusta has pushed things too far:

Now with Augusta playing more than 500 yards longer, there are predictions the tournament could produce the highest score ever for a winner, eclipsing the 1-over 289 Sam Snead and Ben Hogan posted in 1954; Snead won in a playoff.

“It might not be playable [Sunday],” said Tim Herron, who had a 72. “If it stays like this, over par is going to win.”

When asked to assess his round of 75, Dean Wilson said, “Survivor.”

I guess both the Masters and Survivor are on CBS — so perhaps this is co-branding.

Sherman agrees with me — watching Thursday’s round was not fun and more than a bit dull.

Thursday was one of the dullest rounds in recent memory. It could stay that way through the weekend unless Augusta officials find their water hoses and start spraying the greens.

“It will be a different story if they decide to water the greens,” two-time champion Jose Maria Olazabal said. “That will give more options to score low. But if they keep the greens like they are today, then you are not going to see low scores.”

Who is going to win the 2007 Southern Massacre? I think anyone 76 or better on day one can stay in the fray, especially if some of the handful under par come back above par today. Phil Mickelson apparently thinks he’s in a tough position after shooting 4-over.

“Before I got to the eighth hole, I told myself, ‘If I can shoot even par or better from here, if I can just be under par from here, I won’t have shot myself out of the tournament,’ ” Mickelson said. From that juncture, he shot 1 under, salvaging a score slightly better than the brutal field average of 76.2 on a day when Augusta’s greens were the hardest and fastest in many years.

Given that, don’t be surprised to see the likes of Mike Weir hang about on the weekend. He won’t win, but he’s usually very strong on ulta-hard courses. I wouldn’t expect to see Brett Wetterich around on Sunday, nor Justin Rose, but I wouldn’t be surprised if David Toms is there. Similarly Zach Johnson seems like a good fit.

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If you are Canadian and want to watch the “Live at Amen Corner” coverage, head to TSN.ca. You have to sit through a couple of commercials that open the program, but beyond that its pretty well done. Makes you wonder why they just don’t televise more.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • hard and fast? around the greens sure, but the fairways were NOT rolling out.

    funny, just last week tiger said he loved the British Open at Hoylake and TOC when the fairways ran faster than the greens… quite the opposite.

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