Wednesday, April 04, 2007

According to the forecast, Augusta is about to get colder and wetter. Scattered thunderstorms will start moving through the area Tuesday night, which could cause delays to Wednesday's practice round.

The temperature is forecast to drop by at least 10 degrees, which is starting to cause concern for some of the game's shorter hitters.

"In warm weather, I can hit a 7-iron 175 yards," said 2003 Masters champ Mike Weir. "If it gets colder, I might only be able to hit it 155. So those kind of changes can make a big difference."

The temperature could dip to below freezing through the weekend and is forecast to stay near 60 through Sunday. "I think we need to see a year where (the course is) running fast and it's firm all week and the temperature's warm," said Fred Funk, who is second on the Tour in driving accuracy but 172nd in driving distance. "The course becomes more of an equalizer (when it's firm). It would make it a lot easier for a guy like me to get some shorter shots into these greens." \n

Jim Furyk, who's currently No. 1 in driving accuracy but 180th in distance, would also benefit from a hard, dry course.

"(A softer course) leaves longer irons into the greens, which usually wouldn't be a big deal because the greens usually stay soft," Furyk said. "But here at Augusta, they tend to drain very, very well, and the greens get firmer before the fairways do, and it makes it tough for an average-length hitter."

Australian Nick O'Hern said that he thinks that only about 10-20 players would have a legitimate shot at winning if the course plays soft.

Skip! Skip!

As the threesome of Raymond Floyd, Michael Campbell and Brett Wetterich finished hitting their tee shots on the par-3 16th in a Tuesday practice round, the crowd began chanting "Skip! Skip!"

Skip Kendall is not playing in this year's Masters, so the crowd's plea could only mean one thing: they wanted to see the threesome skim their shots across the lake, which extends almost completely from tee to green. \n

So they tried. Floyd went first, taking out a long iron to hit a low stinger. It skimmed the lake once, bounced into the rough and got onto the putting surface to a roar from the crowd. Next up was Campbell, who skipped it a few times but didn't get enough oomph behind it. The ball ended up in the lake. Last was Wetterich, who failed to even touch the lake, hitting a screamer straight into the green and bouncing it over the back. Wetterich then received a smattering of boos from the playful crowd.

Scott looking for 2 in a row

After defeating fellow Aussie Stuart Appleby at the Shell Houston Open last week, Adam Scott said Tuesday that he's looking to carry over some of that luck to Augusta. \n

"I certainly feel like I picked up momentum," Scott said. "Hopefully it hasn't taken too much out of me."

Scott's best finish after a victory came in 2005 when he tied for fifth at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship after winning the rain-shortened Nissan Open in a playoff. But in 2004, after winning The Players Championship, Scott missed the cut the following two weeks at the BellSouth Classic and the Masters.

European drought

While the Europeans have dominated the Ryder Cup in recent years, the players from across the pond have had trouble in the majors. A European player hasn't captured a major since 1999, when Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain won the Masters and Paul Lawrie of Scotland took the British Open.

"We might have a (European) winner this week," said Johan Edfors, who is from Sweden and playing in his first Masters. "The European success at the Ryder Cup does not translate into majors. But there are a lot of really good players right now. I think it's going to be, if not one, at least two wins in the majors this year (for Europeans)."\n

The leading contenders for a possible European victory are Paul Casey from England, who won the 2007 Abu Dhabi Golf Championship; Henrik Stenson from Sweden, winner of the 2007 Dubai Desert Classic; Padraig Harrington of Ireland, who won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship; and Sergio Garcia from Spain, who scored a tournament low 66 during the final round of the 2004 Masters to finish in a tie for fourth.\n

Langer sees chances for another green jacket slipping

Two-time winner Bernhard Langer isn't ready to give up on winning another Masters title, but he sees his chances of donning a third green jacket getting dimmer. \n

"I'd like to think I have a chance, but I think it's getting less and less," Langer said before his practice round on Tuesday. "The course has been changed so much the last few years. It's so long now that the guys hit it 30-50 yards past me." \n

Langer, from Germany, won the Masters in 1985 to become the third international player to win. He beat Chip Beck in 1993 to take his second green jacket and has placed in the top 10 eight times in 24 appearances. But he believes the changes to the course over the decade, primarily the length and added rough, have eroded his prospects for another win.

\nDriving against the grain

\nOne subtle and sly feature of Augusta National can be found in the mowing patterns — or lack thereof. While most of the talk is about how difficult the greens are, especially in warm conditions, the way the fairway is mowed is a significant factor because it's mowed in one direction — toward the tee box. \n

On most courses, parquet or stripe patterns are often mown into the fairway, but Augusta mows away from the greens so the grass is going against players from the tee, which substantially reduces roll.

"When you try to run the ball, it just doesn't go anywhere," said Australian Nick O'Hern. "A lot of long courses I can get away with running the ball off the tee, hitting low shots and getting some run. But here it's all about the carry. They're a bit sneaky that way."

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