__*"You guys make me sick. You think it's your right to birdie every hole. Well, there's such a thing as par, you know...." *
-- Bob Jones to group of players at the Masters, as recalled by Byron Nelson__
It may have been cold in Augusta, but you were hot in your living rooms. I base that conclusion on the first batch of letters we've received about the weekend. Like a number of bloggers, Geoff Shackelford in the lead, many readers think that course changes and set-up have ruined their Masters.
Scott Camp of Dallas entitled his rant "Masters Debacle 2007." "This 2007 Master's event represents the sorrowful end of the finest week in American sports. The changes to the course are an unnecessary overreaction. They have taken away the dramatic Sunday, back-nine charges, the glorious roars heard nowhere else, and replaced them with low groans and bleary-eyed competitors who will not speak to the media. A tournament that witnessed the birth of legends, unbelievable comebacks, and redemption for the forgotten, is no more. Forget the divine Nicklaus 1986 back-nine heroics, Tiger's 40-30, Faldo's Sunday Fireworks, and Larry Mize's "local boy makes good" heartwarmer. The purists might balk, claiming that Par is the mark of excellence, and that everyone plays the same course. But we already have that in the British and US Opens. Do we need another rehash of the mid-summer drudgery that humiliates the world's best? An early April major in the world's most naturally beautiful setting, marked by real hopes that a Sunday afternoon charge will leave us all hopeful and encouraged for the new year, has been the watermark for the season to come. Starting 2007 with such a depressing sight ranks the Master's right up there with filing taxes."
Ralph Chapman cries, "Give Us Back Our Masters." Writing to thank Dan Jenkins for his column on the Masters he's covered, Ralph blasted away at Hootie Johnson's course changes: "Now the full impact of the changes is known. We all want good shots rewarded; now the course rejects all shots, good or bad, on a random basis. No one enjoys the world's best players shooting 83, or 42 on the back nine. It's obvious that Jack's charge of 29 on the back nine can no longer occur absent perfect conditions. Evidently the Committee approves of Tiger laying up on 13 due to his ball being in the '2nd cut'. Please let them know the notions of '2nd cut' and layups on 13 are not in the best interest of the tournament - otherwise let's play the US Open twice yearly!"
I'm not so sure. Yesterday was great drama. Given somewhat warmer weather and more accessible hole locations a day earlier, it might have been a much noiser Saturday, too. But they'll be changes. I suspect they'll shorten No. 2 a bit to entice players to challenge the left side, and soften No. 11, removing more trees on the right. That said, the back nine yesterday reminded me of those good old days you long for: First, players had to consider carefully whether they could go for the par fives in two because they had long or mid irons in their hands. (How great was Tiger's eagle at 13!) Second, they played No. 11 just as it was played years ago, when the cagiest, Hogan among them, played short right. Third, at the end, the tournament was there for Tiger's taking, just as it had been for Jack (or Tom or Seve) before him. And, just as it happened on those Sundays in Jack's day, the field seemed to know that this was Tiger's to win.
The problem was, and this is not Billy Payne's fault, Tiger a) dumped it in the water on 15 from about the distance Seve did in 1986; b) missed a very makeable birdie on 16 and then failed to get near a very accessible pin on 17. Everyone got the message that you wanted that finish of old, with The Man charging through back nine to victory. Everybody but Zach Johnson...and Tiger.
-- Bob Carney