Date: April 06, 2007

Hit big or bust

Augusta National has always been a course where the firmness and speed of the greens has dictated the scores, and when the wind gets to swirling amongst the pines, the golf is difficult in the extreme. Golf played in hills as steep as those at Augusta makes judging the wind no easier and if the scores are the measure, Thursday was one of the more difficult opening days in the history of The Masters. Only eleven players were under par and a bare two, Justin Rose and Brett Wetterich, were under seventy. The course is now very long, a response to the catastrophic impact the modern ball has wrought on the intent of the original architect, and the dimensions of the golf course have been altered to counter the modern player. The fairways are so narrow that Alister MacKenzie would barely recognize his course, and trees have intruded far onto the playing lines and distorted the noble concept of freedom from the tee. The surest way to make for boring golf is to turn the game into a straight hitting contest and the game has one of those every June at the U.S Open. If the object of the alterations is to make the course more difficult, there is little question they have been successful but we will need to watch the rest of the week to determine if the golf is to be a long plodding route march to the finish or a championship full of bold shots and decisions both of which were revered by the founder of the championship, Bobby Jones. It is now almost a decade since Rose finished in the top five as an amateur in the Open Championship at Birkdale and he is turning into a fine player. He was awful for a year or so as a teenage pro but that he had the necessary talent was never in question. He has spurned playing both the European and American tours, deciding instead to concentrate on the United States and that has probably been to his financial detriment because it costs him his easiest path onto the European Ryder Cup team which is to make it through playing full-time in Europe (and Asia, China, South Africa, The middle East, Australia and New Zealand). He is easily among the best dozen European players but one has to admire his will not to chase the easy appearance money in the fashion of others who have decided to cash a guaranteed cheque for turning up at events that will have no effect of their careers should they win. Having said that, Rose did play in and win our Masters at Huntingdale just before Christmas and one assumes he didn t pay for his hotel or air-fare that week. Tiger Woods was 73 which was a score blighted by crooked drives at the final two holes that led to fives and whilst he is in a fine position, other favourites Phil Mickelson (76) and Ernie Els (78) are not so well off. Els in particular will have to play decently just to be around for the weekend. The Australian favourite pair of Adam Scott (74) and Geoff Ogilvy (75) were just good enough to retain some hope and Ogilvy especially should be pleased given he made an eight at the second hole one where he would be hoping for a birdie four. Five years ago that start would have all but guaranteed something north of eighty. Stuart Appleby joined Ogilvy just inside the top thirty, but breaking eighty by only a shot were Aaron Baddeley and Robert Allenby. There is most likely no way back from there but we will watch with interest as this championship unfolds from the perspective of not only the players but the course as well.