Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Masters' New Identity

The topic came up on the podcast this week that the Masters seems to be losing its identity and this is what is causing the sour grapes among all of us who want to see the days when scores in the 60s were possible, even probable in the case of the best players. John Hawkins at Golf World had a couple of nice paragraphs to work as an aid in my argument.

A competition once weighted heavily to favor power players and good putters has fallen into the hands of the control freaks. You have to hit fairways to even think about winning. Scoring angles have been reduced to direct lines. Certain sections of the course have gotten alarmingly tight, but it's the congestion framing those alleys that has nullified the shotmaking and recovery skills that helped brand the Masters from its inception.

Not to indict the last two green jacketeers -- they only did what they could and had to do -- but things have really changed. Good strategy is now conservative strategy at a place where all hell used to break loose on a regular basis. "It usually doesn't turn out too well if you try to be aggressive," said Geoff Ogilvy, who shot six over on the weekend and finished T-39. Not that he needed to finish the thought, but Ogilvy did: "Aggression doesn't work, but the guys four or five back have to be aggressive because you're not going to win parring every hole."

After years of dealing with disadvantages one could trace to his lack of supreme power, a top-tier control player such as Jim Furyk might figure to factor, but even he speaks in somewhat jaded tones. "It's a pretty good test of golf," Furyk said. "I mean, it used to be a lot of fun to play. It's not fun anymore, but it definitely got a lot more difficult." Addressing the notion that people don't hoot and holler over solid pars, Furyk added, "I don't think we have [heard roars] for the last few years. It's obviously a decision they [tournament officials] made. It's their event, a different golf course, and there's a different way to approach it now."
It's very disconcerting to realize that ANGC has made a conscious decisions to change the character of the Masters tournament. The identity of the Masters is now one that borrows heavily from the US Open and PGA Championships - both of which seem to be getting on the right path to great setups. (Yes, I just complimented the USGA on an Open setup. I think that Mike Davis is really changing minds there.)

You hit fairways and greens to win the green jacket. Forget distance, per se. Those are US Open formulas.

You have to put the ball in a certain spot on the fairway to get the correct angle to the hole. Those are both ideals of the US Open and PGA Championship.

I am sure I could think of other things, but you get the point.

Then I came to a stark realization about the blending of the US Open and the Masters. Players and critics alike have said that Augusta should stop worrying about winning scores because there will still be a winner no matter what - why force the scoring?

Perhaps consider this. Let's just say that Augusta reduced a couple of the shorter par 5s - 13 and 15 perhaps - to par 4s and played the course at a par of 70, aggregate par of 280. Trevor Immelman shot 280. He would have finished at even par. Is even not THE ideal score that the USGA seems to preserve in the Open setup? And in the era of the "single red-digit," according to Tom Fazio, should the effective player's par of 68 at Augusta be adjusted by two strokes?

Just throwing it out there.

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