Bubba admits that fighting “being scared” was a big factor in his Augusta successes – and this after being familiar with the course from his University of Georgia days.
Hopefully Rickie can go into Augusta confident, though it may not be easy as he lost to Jason Dufner in round one of the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship, despite bombing a 410-yarder on the 12th.
Adam is definitely confident, anchoring early 2016 with two consecutive wins while adapting to life without the anchored putter, outlawed this year. And Phil, while not having won this year, nor in 2015 or 2014, has posted some quality finishes and is currently number 1 in scoring average at 69.008 as at March 27th. Some thanks must go to his new swing coach, Andrew Getson, who replaced Butch Harmon and has helped Phil achieve lower scores through more consistent shot making.
Jason figures that Rory, Jordan, and Rickie hold a slight advantage over he and others that have to balance golf with fathering young kids - though Day won the Arnold Palmer Invitational by one stroke with a superb sand shot on the 18th to seal the deal. And Day’s adopted Tiger’s golfing keys: patience and aggression. (His driving, scrambling, and putting - ranked number one overall in the 2014-15 season helped him win this past week, despite a wonky back, the WGC. (He beat Rory in a semi-final by a stroke.)
Rory, for his part, had his best finish ever at the Masters, last year, shooting a 12 under. In fact, his last six rounds at Augusta have been under par. This year he’s decided not to put undue pressure on himself. He’ll be more relaxed, hoping this pays off – and if it does, he’ll have a career Grand Slam – but not if he doesn’t get rid of the double bogeys that killed him in Palmer’s tournament.
But for the son of Texas, Jordan Spieth? Of late, he missed the cut at the Northern Trust Open and tied for 21st at the AT&T Pebble Beach and tied for 17th at the World Golf Championships. At Valspar his 3rd round putting woes made the highlights/lowlights and in the final round, he lost head-to-head against amateur, Lee McCoy – who finished fourth. In three of four rounds Spieth started slowly, when he started at all. So he’s coming into the Masters seeking better play. Remember, however, he did win, by eight shots, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions this January, it’s not like he needs total redemption. But cold play of late is cold play, no matter how you, ahem, slice it. (He started slicing his irons in his loss to Louis Oosthuizen in the round of 16 at the WGC. He added, “He felt very uncomfortable over the ball.”) Yesterday, however, at the Shell Houston Open, he shot a 67 in the first round. When asked about his game he replied “...It’s very close.”
Wanna an august dark horse? How about Zack Johnson? He’s the only current player who has won both the Masters and The (British) Open. The others are Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus, and slammin’ Sammy Snead...
This course has undergone many changes since Snead’s day, with the latest proposed change to lengthen the 13th hole, if Augusta National Golf Club can, no pun intended, swing a deal to buy land from the adjoining Augusta Country Club. The hole already stands at some 510 yards and one pro, Billy Horschel is horrified at the thought. Jack Nicklaus thinks, on the other hand, that adding a little length there might be a good idea. The reason why folks in the know are looking at the 13th is they want to prevent the long-ball drivers from playing over the trees because, if done perfectly, they have a wedge coming into the green.
But before one gets to the 13th, the 12th must be tackled. This par-3 is called the scariest 155 yards in golf and its swirling winds are so infamous, pointy-headed engineers from Johns Hopkins are studying the situation there, to prevent future golfers from being scared silly.
The Masters is a Major with attention to detail like no other: where else can you find the most beautiful dogwood trees and azalea shrubs – 30+ in type - nestled in with the other estimated 350 varieties of plants? Heck, even off-the-field situations are scrutinized. (This 2016, for example, fans “patrons” in Augusta-speak, will no longer mess with the traffic, trying to cross Berckmans Road. Thanks to the Augusta Traffic Engineer – yes there is such a title and person, Steve Cassell - they’ve now under-road pedestrian tunnels to access the grounds. Which is great, but the hardest work is still to be done, walking, climbing and descending this very hilly golf course. And don’t wander off the 11th to the left – as you’ll end up in a 55 acre wildlife preserve.)
Despite CBS Sports’ primary golf announcer, Jim Nantz, opening the Masters evoking wonderful traditions and amazing competitions, this Major has had an ugly past, where the golfers had to be white, and male, and the caddies had to be black, and male. For the latter, whether this was a make-work-program or a weird reminder of slavery, isn’t quite clear. Lee Elder broke the black-as-player color barrier in the 1975 Masters.
One new truly great tradition is the stipulation that no cell phones be allowed onto the course during the Masters.
Clearly The Masters will be blessed with a top notch youth core, but, nevertheless, golfing spectators will ask: when’s the next Guan Tianlang coming along? Who’s Guan? He was the Chinese player, just 14 years of age, who not only qualified for the 2013 Masters, but made the cut and finished 58th! What a dreamy finish.
But, alas, the man who inspired the golfing dreams of millions, Arnold Palmer, The King, who, as Day puts it “...made golf sexy...” will not hit the first drive in the honorary tee-off at this year’s Masters. At 86, with a sore shoulder, he figures it’s time to take a pass.
Even great, grand, major-master traditions must change with the times...
But note: Bubba tweeted that son Caleb Watson’s favorite Masters Champion is Arnold Palmer. The King being favorite? That august tradition will never change.