April 10, 2014

Masters commentary: Firm course leads to a hard day

THE DOWNPOUR that washed out Monday at the Masters is a distant memory, and the forecast says there’s no chance it’s coming back.

THE DOWNPOUR that washed out Monday at the Masters is a distant memory, and the forecast says there’s no chance it’s coming back.

The 97 players who played the tournament’s first round Thursday hope that forecast is wrong. They could use a break.

Four players shot sub-70 rounds on the opening 18 at Augusta National and even those who did scuffled at it across a dry and unforgiving track.

“The greens are as firm and fast as I’ve seen for a Thursday,” said Brandt Snedeker, who is playing in his 10th Masters.

Three more days of sun aren’t going to help that.

“It’s only going to get faster and firmer through out the course of the week,” Snedeker said. The rest of the week “should be very, very tough.”

Snedeker shot a 2-under 70 to sit two shots off the lead. He was one of the lucky ones. Jason Dufner shot a 44 on the back nine on the way to an 80. Luke Donald shot a 79, Zach Johnson a 78, and Dustin Johnson a 77, a new high round for him at Augusta National.

Golfers only had to whisper at putts to push them 20 feet, and things weren’t a lot easier when the ball was in the air. The par-3 No. 12 played at an average of 3.423 strokes and washed balls for Adam Scott, Ben Crenshaw and Miguel Angel-Jimenez among others. All of Amen Corner caused some unholy words. The par-4 11th was the day’s toughest hole, with a stroke average of 4.474, barely pushing No. 12 to second place.

Swirling winds played a factor there and across the front nine early in the day.

“We played a few holes on that front where we felt like it should have been helping, and it was hurting and vice versa,” Steve Stricker said.

“The wind changed 15 times today,” Snedeker said. “I watched Jamie (Donaldson) hit before me, he hit a pretty 8 iron into 12, and I hit one almost into Augusta Country Club, 30 yards over the green. So I got no clue. It’s just playing tough. This golf course is right on the edge, it’s in perfect shape, and they got it exactly how they want it.”

They wanted it tough Thursday, Rory McIlroy said, pointing to the pin placements as his proof.

“Setup was much more difficult than it has been in the past,” he said. “Tomorrow afternoon, the greens are going to be firmer. I wouldn’t mind if they were a little softer. But it was a tough setup, I think that they really wanted to do that, they didn’t want the scores to get too low. You can see by the boards nobody is going too low.”

Some of that was self-inflicted.

The marshals at 18th green moved more chairs than Broyhill thanks to wayward shots that had nothing to do with wind or green speed. In three consecutive groups late in the day, Bernard Langer played his approach to the 18th from the 10th fairway, Johnson and Jason Day rolled their approach shots to the feet of the seated spectators around the green and Sergio Garcia plunked a patron standing a dozen rows deep in the gallery.

“The pin positions today were brutal,” Snedeker said. “There was not one getable pin really out there where you felt like you can make a birdie and get it going. You had to hit some quality golf shots to make birdies.”

A faster course in the final three days will increase more than the scoring, McIlroy said. It will also up the number of contenders.

“I think it brings the guys that don’t hit it as far into the mix a little bit more because it’s not just about power then, it’s about precision, it’s about putting your ball in the right place and it becomes more of a mental challenge than anything else, just playing to your spots,” he said. “It almost becomes like chess, where you’re just making these moves. That hasn’t been my forte in the past, but I’ll learn to love it this week.”

Those who don’t learn to love it will leave it shortly.

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