14 Nov 2020 | Professional golf |
Augusta plays the fall guy
by Martin Blake
Augusta in the fall has been different to say the least. But notwithstanding that, it’s never dull.
Bryson DeChambeau’s attack on the golf course ensured that for 2020, the Masters would remain a huge topic of discussion; in a way, a touchpoint for the future of the professional game.
DeChambeau is struggling to make the cut at the Masters, such were his travails today in perfect conditions. But the American never backed off or equivocated, pulling driver after driver from the bag and bombing away over the corners.
He landed some blows of Dr Alister MacKenzie’s classic layout, and copped several in return fire.
At the par-five second, he launched it 380 yards down the fairway. At the par-four third, playing 350 yards, he took driver and tried to knock it on the green, dragged it left, could not find his ball in the rough, and had to kart back to the tee and reload. A triple bogey seven resulted.
At the par-five 13th, he was wedge distance out with his second shot having gone over the left side rather than the traditional route – a nice draw starting down the right. He slept at one-over par through 12 holes with an eagle putt to come at 13, his chances of winning the Masters quite distant but not quite extinguished yet.
It’s fascinating to watch it unfold; DeChambeau with his six-degree driver and his souped-up body and one of the world’s greatest courses trying to find a defence. Ultimately, Augusta won this little duel but the fact is, there are many more bombers out there other that Bryson and many more to come.
As Geoff Ogilvy put it a few years ago, the game has outgrown its stadiums like baseball did when aluminium bats were legal.
Not surprisingly, Augusta National is becoming impatient with the lack of action to protect its course. This was evident in the words of Fred Ridley, the club chairman, earlier this week.
Ridley called it “a crossroads” for golf, and flagged changes to the 13th at Augusta, arguably the best and most famous par-five on the planet, by 2022. At 510 yards turning right-to-left it was set up by MacKenzie and Bobby Jones in the 1930s as having a choice – to go for the green over the water or not.
Nowadays, the players fly their second shots to the green with short irons so long as their tee shot is good enough.
Many people thought that Augusta would introduce a tournament ball to slow the modern players down and protect the integrity of the course. But the club has chosen to wait for the authorities – the R&A and the USGA – to act. So far, they have seen a report released and some strong words spoken, but no direct action.
“We don't think it's good for the game,” Ridley said. “But the issue is a lot larger than Augusta National and the Masters.”
Augusta National was already soft before this tournament, being played for the first time in November because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Then it rained heavily and flooded the course early on Thursday. Round one became target golf, like a run-of-the-mill PGA Tour event, with the round-one scoring average of 71.41 breaking the record for the lowest opening-round number.
Fifty-three players broke par, another record, overtaking the 38 that were in red numbers in 2009. Watching it, six-time winner Jack Nicklaus observed: “That is hardly Augusta National at its finest or most challenging.”
By the time darkness brought an end to day two, there were four leaders – including Queenslander Cameron Smith – at nine under par. Smith is in great company alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, world No. 3 Justin Thomas and Presidents Cup star Abraham Ancer of Mexico.
Ironically he is not a long hitter in the modern context. But he does have a cool head and a great short game.
He also likes Augusta, where he was tied-fifth two years ago. For the game, and for Cameron Smith, this might be a watershed week.
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