US MASTERS INSIDE TRACK
Our columnist Harry Emanuel brings you his pre-tournament analysis of the US Masters at Augusta.
Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia measures 7,445 yards. It is the second longest course in major championship history, just 69 yards shorter than the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
The conventional wisdom has always been that players leading the driving distance statistics have a distinct advantage at Augusta. Over recent years that wisdom has become distorted into ‘only long drivers of the ball can win’.
Last year’s winner Zach Johnson and 2003 winner Mike Weir serve as a reminder that length is only an advantage, not a prerequisite, to winning the Masters or at any major championship. Even at the 2004 PGA Championship short hitters Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco contested a play-off with Vijay Singh.
One should also bear in mind that after Tiger Woods’ runaway victory in 1997 a second cut of rough was added which punishes wayward tee shots by creating a flyer lie. With new trees added on various holes in 2006 (particularly 7,9,11 and 15) Augusta provides a sterner test off the tee than in years gone by.
Woods acknowledges this: “Now you have to drive the ball well to win here. Before you could spray it all over the place and it didn’t matter. It’s playing a lot more difficult and a lot more penal off the tee.”
Tiger believes the added rough is double-edged sword.
“I think it helps on the tee shots, there’s no doubt because it does slow the ball from going into the trees. But second shots it does hurt you, because it’s hard to control your distances on a golf course where you have to be so precise.”
Don’t translate this as some have suggested that Augusta is becoming more like a US Open.
As Woods added: “Generally this is a golf course which you can make birdies… and I think this golf course, over the years has become much more forgiving than the US Open.”
Heavy rainfall on Saturday has softened the course considerably and Retief Goosen feels “the course is playing very long at the moment”.
Once again long hitters will have an advantage but that doesn’t mean they are the only ones who can win.
Steve Stricker, who is considered a shorter hitter on tour, explained to me at the Sony Open: “It doesn’t really matter how long a golf course is, if I’m at the top of my game I know I can win.”
Indeed players will need to be at the top of their game to win, especially their iron game, as Augusta is first and foremost a second-shot course. The large, fast, slopey greens require accurate approach shots to the correct part of the green to leave players with makeable birdie putts.
Adam Scott knows from experience: “When you’re not striking your irons well here, you’re not going to have good results. You have to swinging the club well to consistently hit them well, and control them, and bring in some high shots.”
Padraig Harrington agrees.
“I think it’s a real test of not just your nerve but of your ability to strike the ball.”
Any wayward approaches to the greens leave very difficult chip shots and as Phil Mickelson points out: “Your short game has to be impeccable because these are the most demanding greens that we’ll ever face.”
The uniqueness of Augusta is the slope and speed of the greens. Players’ putting techniques face a rigorous examination and as Woods says: “You have to putt well here. You can’t putt poorly and win here.”
All facets of the players’ games will severely tested at Augusta this week.It is a very hilly course and Ernie Els describes it as “very much like a mountain course”.
He added: “The first thing that struck me was the amount of slope that you didn’t really see on television, you know, the elevation changes.”
Those looking for form lines need look no further than the Mercedes Championship held at Kapalua which boasts the most severe elevation changes on the PGA Tour.
Between 2000 and 2006 four winners of The Masters played at the season-opening event and all registered at least a top 10. 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir led after three rounds at Kapalua this year and three-time Mercedes winner Stuart Appleby led the Masters going into the final round last year.
Other players to boast outstanding Masters form also have excellent Mercedes records.
Woods has never been out of the top 10 in six visits to Kapalua, Vijay Singh has seven top-fives in seven appearances and Ernie Els four top-three places from only five starts.
Below are the hole averages from 2003-2007:
The first hole of any major championship is difficult simply because it is the first and players, no matter who they are, will be nervous.
Tiger bogeyed this hole at the start of his first round in 2005 and then went on to win!
Players need to pick up birdies on the second or third holes as four through seven are par holes at best. In fact changes to the seventh have made it play much
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