Practice doesn't make perfect at Augusta (but it helps)

Thursday April 9th, 2009

Freddie Couples was holding court on Augusta’s 16th green this afternoon. Wielding his belly putter like a conductor’s baton, Couples stood in the back right corner of the green pointing out break lines and likely hole locations to Masters rookie Dustin Johnson. When the lesson concluded, Couples promptly exited the green and Johnson and the two other youngsters in their group — Anthony Kim and Rory McIlroy — quickly followed his lead. If ever a newbie can benefit from a veteran’s knowledge, it is at Augusta National, where the bewildering subtleties of the rolling terrain can take a lifetime to grasp. That much was evident all over the course in the final day of practice as putts rolled off greens, wedge shots trundled back into creeks, and seemingly well placed drives bounded into beds of pine needles. In a chipping area left of the 18th green Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa honed a cute little shot no 15-handicapper should try, a chip and check up a bank and down a slope to a hole not 20 feet away.Behind the green at No. 9, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland worked in solitude, stroking putts from the fringe with a fairway wood. McDowell has played in just one other Masters, in 2005, but chose to practice solo for fear of distractions. “You want to hit as many chips and putts as you can and try as many different pin positions,” McDowell said after his final putt of the day snuggled up to the hole. “If it’s busy out there and you’ve got three or four guys running around, it’s tough to get work done.”

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