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Augusta National Bared Her Teeth at The Masters

By: | Mon 12 Apr 2021 | Comments


TALK about chalk and cheese. Was that really the same course that Dustin Johnson brought to its knees in November? Augusta National bared its teeth and we got a “proper” Masters. It was a completely different animal from the one that allowed Johnson to get through 72 holes with just four bogeys last year on his way to a 268 winning score. This time he had more dropped shots in the first round alone, and would go on to miss the cut.

The firm and fast conditions – a stark contrast to what we saw in November – were the talk of the tournament and they tested the players all week.

No golfer likes shooting high scores, but the world’s best prefer seeing Alister MacKenzie’s masterpiece play to its potential, even if red numbers were harder to come by than tickets to this year’s Masters. When the greens are slick and balls are bouncing, the genius behind Augusta National’s greens is accentuated. Steep slopes help well-positioned shots funnel closer to the hole while penalising mishits and wayward strikes. Put your ball in the wrong place and you are done.

“The golf course is more fun this way,” Webb Simpson said after shooting 70 on the opening day, “because you really have to think.”

Justin Rose’s opening 65 – which included a 10-hole stretch that he played in nine under par – was a freak round. Even he would admit that. His four-shot advantage was the second-largest Thursday lead in this tournament’s history. Only two other players broke 70. Simply breaking par put you in the top 10 at day’s end.

Even Rose admitted that he didn’t think “today was the day for a 65.” He teed off at 12:48 p.m. om a day the latter half of the draw averaged 75.02 strokes.

“I feel sorry for the guys who played their first Masters in November,” said Kevin Kisner. “They're walking out there today wondering what the hell is going on.”

Even though players knew what was coming Thursday, they struggled. On Monday, the conditions were already comparable to what we’re accustomed to seeing on a Sunday, when courses traditionally play their toughest. Simpson was standing in the 14th fairway on Thursday with a nine iron in hand and knew there was no way he could find the putting surface. “Sure enough, it went over the green,” he said. Even short irons are bounding across these baked-out putting surfaces.

An inconsistent breeze – which made shot selection a guessing game – added to the challenge.  “It can go from blowing 15 (mph) to 0 pretty quick out here,” said Brooks Koepka.

Jon Rahm arrived at Augusta National on Wednesday after the birth of his first child. New parents often speak glowingly about the perspective they’ve gained. Everything else seems less important than the little child you’re now responsible for. It’s often a perfect recipe for good golf because the 6-foot putts suddenly feel less stressful.

Augusta National wasn’t interested in providing a warm welcome, however.

“There was not one moment where … I felt relaxed out there,” Rahm said after shooting 72.

We saw chip shots roll across the 15th green and into the water. Some putts didn’t stay on the putting surface.  The patrons were back for the first time in two years but roars were rare. Players were on the defensive.

Kisner teed off before 9:30 a.m. He described the start of his round as a “nice, casual stroll around Augusta.” By the time he got to the second nine, it was more like “a roller-coaster.” His scorecard showed it. Kisner made eight pars and one birdie on the first nine. His final nine holes featured two birdies, an eagle, a triple-bogey and two bogeys.

For those of us watching at home it was enthralling. There is something very special about The Masters. And no matter how brutal a beast Augusta National can be, somebody ALWAYS finds a way to tame her.


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