Monday, March 10, 2008

All right, it's Wednesday and I've been ensconced in Augusta since last Saturday night. I played golf on Sunday with the 1967 Masters champion Gay Brewer, who after playing in 36 Masters tournaments was just as interested as I to see the changes that have been made here. The first and most obvious difference is that each hole is more clearly defined and separated by the so-called "second cut." It's semi-rough to you and me, and believe me, it will be the cause of much head-scratching here this week. After Sunday I have a bald spot, caused specifically by the 11th hole.

For years players have been able to run the ball onto the front of the 11th green from short and right, letting it kick down the hill. The front pin was always easy. On Sunday, I hit what I thought was an excellent second shot, landing it about 20 yards short and right. As usual, the ball appeared on the green and ran toward the hole. So far so good. But then it ran past the hole and into the water. "Hmmmmmmm," I thought, "that was a strange bounce." So I hit the same shot again and got the same strange bounce. I tried twice more, and after the fourth strange bounce and subsequent visit to the pond it finally dawned on me that perhaps it was I who was strange and not the bounce. The 11th green is now two feet higher than in the past, and apparently the front of it is sloping slightly more toward the H20.

This is not the only area of the golf course that will cause players problems either. After making my casual 12 on the 11th, I blasphemed my way around Amen Corner, killed two squirrels and severely injured a woodpecker on the 14th, and finally reached the hole I'd been waiting for all day, the 15th, my domain for the tournament. Little did I know it had been waiting for me also. The folks down here describe the new trees on the right as "saplings." Let me put it to you this way. You wouldn't want to fall out of one of these "saplings." The tee shot now says, "don't go right," so I went left, which isn't any good either. But at this stage, after the 11th, I was no longer interested in my score so I gave it the old Etonic chip shot into the middle of the fairway from whence I bludgeoned a driver over the back right towards my tower. Last year this was not a bad play, if a little limp-wristed. This year, as I was soon to find out, it is not the right place to be. The area behind the greenside bunker and my tower has been scooped out and is now well below the putting surface, making it easier to chip it in the water ........ twice, that is.

Anyway, on Sunday I had more hits than the Beatles, but I suspect it will still be my most enjoyable round of the year. I'm making a not very bold prediction that even with all the changes and all the "second cut" controversy we're going to have the same intriguing tournament from the first tee shot on Thursday through the finish on Sunday. If anything, Augusta National will now be an even more severe examination of the short game, mainly because we;re going to see more short game as more greens are going to be missed. Trust me. I found out on Sunday, and yes, Gay Brewer did kick my butt.

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