A Mother’s Words of Wisdom
AUGUSTA, Ga. e’ve gone from green jackets to straitjackets at the Masters. Why interview the winner in Butler Cabin? Just rent a rubber room. On Saturday, as the field scoring average soared to 77.35, this Masters went through the looking glass into golf as farce, where what matters most is luck. And even that’s not enough. So cross your fingers for a Sunday that makes any sense at all.
For a symbol of this Masters that has suddenly and accidentally gone insane, we take you into the gallery beside the second fairway at Augusta National. There, Kultida Woods, mother of the Tiger, sat with her hands in white socks for makeshift mittens. Bundled up against the chill on a 48-degree afternoon with a stiff gusting wind, she drank straight from the bottle — Robitussin, that is. Down on the green, her son laboriously studied a 35-foot birdie putt while his galleries shivered, some in blankets.
“Just make your par,” muttered Tida, “and get the hell out of here.”
Those words should be the motto of this
monstrous Masters. Make T-shirts with those words in block letters and sell them in the players’ locker room, souvenirs of a major championship suddenly gone totally nuts. Anybody who can end Sunday with a score of 288, equivalent to 72 pars, will almost certainly be the champion. But can anybody, even Kultida’s son, who is 3 over par and a shot off the lead, produce such a score under the unique conditions here, ones that might never be duplicated?
Will anyone survive utter embarrassment? With two holes to play, Stuart Appleby looked like a sure leader alone at 1 under, yet after a triple bogey at the 17th hole, he had to hang one for a one-shot lead over Woods and Justin Rose.
“At least we all know what we’re in for on Sunday,” Appleby said. Wasn’t that what General Custer said?
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Appleby added. “There was bogey around the corner constantly. The course is just ready to slap you in the head if you do anything wrong.”
And, unfortunately, sometimes even if you don’t.
Pity most of the leaders Sunday. Perhaps masks should be issued on the first tee considering what happened to the poor men in the last group Saturday — Brett Wetterich (83) and Tim Clark (80). They were the lucky ones. At least they’re blessedly forgotten now.
Because of a spring that’s been bone dry in Georgia, followed by a record cold snap with strong winds this week, this Masters has suddenly combined the features of the three best and hardest events in the world: the pressure and putting pace of Augusta, the astronomical scores and blooper-reel humiliations of the U.S. Open, plus the raw, chilly winds of a British Open. It wasn’t intentional and definitely isn’t preferable. We’ll never see another Masters like this one until Magnolia Lane freezes over because the members here hate nothing worse than laughter when it’s aimed at them. But it’s stunning to watch.
Appleby summarized the miseries: lightning greens; enormously long holes, often with a northwest wind in the face; cold, which tightens the muscles and shortens tee shots; a course designed for gentle breezes that was suddenly being played in true wind.
“When the wind hit some balls, it was like watching skeet being shot out of the air,” he said.
Add to that, of course, the mini-forests and new rough that has been added in the last five years to protect the course from high-tech equipment.
Asked to describe all his adventurous saves of par, Appleby groaned: “I don’t think you want to hear about it. I was dodging bullets constantly.”
What about being paired with Woods in the last group on Easter? “He won’t even know I’m there. I’m sure I’ll know he’s there,” said Appleby, who has seldom contended in a major and never won one.
Many laughed to keep from crying. Augusta’s Charles Howell III said that he had played the course under comparably cold conditions “at Christmas.” Rich Beem said that hitting irons into the hard greens was like playing shots into a driveway, “but your driveway has mounds in them and they stick the pin near the mounds.”
Others missed the humor. A Swede, Henrik Stenson, wore a ski cap pulled down around his ears all day and grumped, “The unfortunate thing about this place is you can hit some great, great shots, and get absolutely nothing out of it.” Even Woods left the course grim-faced after bogeys at the 17th and 18th.
The lasting memories from this day will be of the 15th hole, where reigning U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy made a 9 and Paul Casey, reigning European player of the year, made an 8 to blow themselves out of contention. But then who knows what “contention” really is? Perhaps getting to the house with 300 on Easter will be enough to win all the eggs.
Because so many are reticent to be candid about any imperfection at the Masters, plenty of fans may be mystified at how an event known for winning scores considerably under par could suddenly have a three-day scoring average of 76.25.
The U.S. Open frequently offers, to be blunt, several holes so difficult that they become unfair tests — unless a test of luck qualifies. By lengthening its course 540 yards to 7,445 yards, the Masters has eight par 4s that average 467 yards. When several of them play uphill into the wind in the cold, they become normal par 5s. Finally, the 30-mph gusts on Saturday were worthy of a British Open beside the Firth of Forth rather than a pastoral Masters by burbling Rae’s Creek.
The kind of scores seen here are the sort of astronomical numbers usually associated with legendary one-day “massacres” at an Open, when British gales go wild or when USGA officials go temporarily insane and forget that grass, even at Shinnecock Hills, needs water to stay alive. Here, however, we have seen three consecutive massacres — continuous golf slaughter with no reprieve.
Sunday may be the worst day of all. The cold and wind are predicted to stay. Masters officials watered the greens on Saturday, moved up many tees and chose several semi-easy pins — to little avail. Unless they decide to use the members tees, allow lift-pray-and-place in the fairways and permit inside-the-leather gimmes, the nervous breakdowns will continue.
Few players here can even begin to cope psychologically. Vijay Singh shot 79. Even Woods was frazzled.
“You hit quality shots and just get absolutely hosed. . . . Putts from two and three feet, you got to play a little bit of wind,” Woods said.
When he left the course, Woods thought that he was four shots behind and back in the pack.
“It’s not like I’m a hundred back. So I got a shot at it,” he said.
Now, Tiger’s in the final group and every player around him — except perhaps Padraig Harrington at 4 over — appears ready to surrender if asked in a firm voice. In one more day, Woods may be three-quarters of the way to another Tiger Slam. That is, if he can follow his mom’s advice: make your pars and get out of here.