No country for short-hitting men

April 13, 2008

Long hitters have reclaimed Augusta National this week due to the moderate, slightly damp course conditions.
“If you’re not long, you can’t play this week,” Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Brian Mogg said. “Last year the course played firmer and faster and it was pulling balls off fairways and greens. That’s why someone like Zach Johnson won; he’s not particularly long, but he controls the ball very well. April13_casey_299x449 “This year conditions are perfect and the course is playing shorter,” Mogg said. “Guys are hitting 7-irons into 18 and wedges into 17 like they did 10 years ago when the course was literally much shorter.”
This observation held true on the leaderboard going into Sunday’s final round. Long hitters like Trevor Immelman (-11), Paul Casey (-7), left, and Tiger Woods (-5) are at the top along with sneaky-long Steve Flesch (-8). The exception is Brandt Snedeker (-9), who’s 274-yard driving average ranks 168th on Tour, but Mogg said Snedeker’s enthusiasm for the event has elevated his game.
"He draws the ball, which is important here, and he’s young and excited,” Mogg said. “You saw that when he was playing with [Tom] Watson the first couple days. Brandt reminds me of Tom Lehman in 1993 and 1994 in the way he’s risen to the occasion.” (The draw-hitting Lehman finished T-3 and 2nd, respectively, in those years.)
Mogg’s knowledge of Augusta National runs deep. He first learned the course as a 15-year-old in 1977. He and a buddy were at Augusta for a junior tournament while the course was closed for the summer, and they figured a way to sneak on to the grounds and walk the course.
“We climbed some trees and jumped some walls, and next thing I knew I was on the 11th green” Mogg said. He later got to Augusta legitimately through the players he teaches, even caddying a hole for John Cook in the 2003 tournament when Cook’s regular caddie got stuck in traffic. What Mogg has learned is that two things matter more than anything else at Augusta: length and angles.
“It’s so important from where you hit your approach so that you can get a chip or a putt at the hole,” Mogg said. “The best example of that was on No. 15 Saturday: you saw guys lay up severely right so they could get that angle across the green. The goal here is to create the least severe lie.”
“You only had four birdies there all day with that sucker’s pin near the back right bunker,” Mogg said. “Mickelson took the wrong angle and ended up in that bunker, and carded a double-bogey, and he wasn’t the only one I saw.”
Mogg says the downside of the course playing shorter is that you don’t have the potential of a classic Masters grand finale where 12-15 players are within firing distance of the lead.
“You really only have four or five guys who are in it,” Mogg said. “I really can’t see a shootout happening.”
His own pick: Paul Casey.
“He was my dark horse before the tournament if Tiger didn’t win,” Mogg said. “He’s got the length, the strength and the draw shots to do it.” (Photo: Robert Beck/SI)