A Mother’s Words of Wis­dom

The Washington Post Sunday - - Sports - THOMAS BOSWELL

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

W

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.

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