Masters notes: Augusta meets its match

Golf fans walk near a large tree leaning at an angle near the third green during a practice round prior to the 2011 Masters. A storm that passed through the area overnight caused damage and delayed tee times on the course.

Golf fans walk near a large tree leaning at an angle near the third green during a practice round prior to the 2011 Masters. A storm that passed through the area overnight caused damage and delayed tee times on the course.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Through the years, it has been widely suggested that officials at Augusta National can control anything they want. We now have definitive proof that that’s not true, because a ferocious storm in the middle of the night served up plenty of damage that hardly made for an ideal situation on the eve of the 75th Masters.

Though club officials had yet to issue any sort of official statement about tree damage, it appeared fairly extensive. High wind had knocked out power in the surrounding area, and one of the casualties was one of the historic trees that frame the legendary Magnolia Lane entrance to the club.

Phil Mickelson was among those who noticed, too.

“This place does it right,” Mickelson said. “I guess it was 60 Magnolia trees now instead of 61, but that did not detract the drive up.”

The left-hander quipped, “I was surprised, you know, that it wasn’t replaced the first half-hour. I don’t understand what happened. I think Chairman (Billy) Payne must have been sleeping.”

Mickelson’s humor aside, it alluded to the great attention to detail that is legendary at Augusta National. Sure enough, anywhere from 50 to 100 workers were out picking up tree limbs, branches and other debris by 3:30 in the morning, and officials kept patrons on the outside for more than an hour until the situation was deemed OK.

A large tree was reported down at the par-4 11th, then another fell on the 15th, but no injuries were reported. One thing was for sure: it will take a lot more than a fast-moving thunderstorm with high wind to sidetrack a Masters show that spares no expense.

•••

photo

Alex Cekja, left, and Martin Kaymer of Germany walk down a fairway during a practice round prior to the 2011 Masters.

While there’s been a steady parade of world-class players coming in and out of Augusta National in recent weeks to prepare for the Masters, No. 1 has not been among them. For being different, Martin Kaymer offers no apologies, either. After all, he has missed the cut at Augusta in each of his three appearances, and in 2009 and 2010 he missed the cut in Houston the week before the Masters.

“I needed to change something,” said the quiet, 26-year-old German, who has broken par just once in six rounds and has yet to break 70 at Augusta National. What Kaymer decided upon was a few weeks at home in Scottsdale, Ariz., then a few days at Sage Valley GC in Graniteville, S.C., with his brother and father. A short distance from Augusta, Sage Valley also is a pristine private club. And as if that weren’t enough of a relaxing environment, Kaymer was afforded special treatment: one of the greens was cut similarly to what the reigning PGA champion will face in the Masters.

All in all, Kaymer is hoping the experience pays off.

Then again, “it can only get better,” he said. “If you miss the cut three times, then I think it cannot get really worse.”

•••

Notes: No. 99 in your Masters program for 2011? None other than Rory McIlroy. The young man from Northern Ireland was assigned the last number in the field by virtue of being the last player to register. . . . Tim Clark has registered and he was seeded into the pairings alongside Vijay Singh and Aaron Baddeley in Group 7 (8:51 a.m.). However, Clark still is experiencing problems in his right elbow and will decide after Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest whether he can go Thursday. He hasn’t played since the first two weeks of the season in Hawaii. . . . Told that Ian Poulter did not fancy Tiger Woods’ chances this week, that he probably wouldn’t “finish in the top five,” the four-time champion flashed a sour expression. “Well, Poulter is always right, isn’t he?” For the record, Woods has been within the top five in each of the last six Masters.

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