Augusta, Ga. | If Hootie Johnson was looking for proof that guile and finesse are just as important as length when taking on a fortified Augusta National, he found it in Ben Crenshaw.
Crenshaw may have finished 47th, with a 12-over-par 300 total, but he succeeded in demonstrating that any player with a steady putting stroke and a deft, creative short game can make noise during the Masters.
“A lot of people were really wanting to see dry conditions with the (course) changes,” Crenshaw said. “I think it worked out really well.
“It didn’t just reward those 10, 12, 15 guys who can really bomb it. It let a few more people into the mix.”
Including himself, although Crenshaw, 54, acknowledged he was the beneficiary of “a few miracles” over the first 36 holes. They included a 50-foot birdie putt at No. 16 Thursday and a par at No. 17 Friday after his drive hit the Eisenhower Tree and his second shot with a 4-wood was “half-topped,” leaving a full 9-iron to the flag.
Crenshaw was paired the first two days with U.S. Public Links champion Clay Ogden.
“It was amazing to watch,” Ogden said Thursday. “He keeps it out in front of him and he misses it in the right areas. His experience makes up for his length. He made a lot of great putts today. It was fun to watch.”
Ogden said Crenshaw’s best putt Thursday was at No. 5, a 50-foot lag from the front of the green and along a ridge to 3 feet of the cup, which was cut middle left.
“Trevor Immelman and I were walking off the green and he said, ‘Give me 20 balls and I couldn’t get it closer from there,’ ” Ogden said.
That kind of display proved a point for Johnson, who became Augusta National’s chairman in 1998. Since then he has introduced a second cut of rough and overseen significant changes in course length, contouring, bunkering and tree placement – all intended to preserve the “integrity” of the original design by Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones.
“I think the shorter hitter, or someone that’s not a bomber, has just as good a chance of scoring on this golf course as the guy that’s going to hit it 330,” Johnson said.
Coming into the Masters, Crenshaw ranked 65th (261 yards) in driving distance . . . on the Champions Tour, where he had posted only one top-10 finish in 22 starts in 2005-06.
Yet he made the cut for the 24th time in 35 Masters starts, moving him one ahead of Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper and Tom Watson. He trails only Jack Nicklaus (37), Gary Player (30) and Raymond Floyd (27).
Judging from the ovations Crenshaw heard from the gallery all week, he ranks near the top of the adoration category, too. Julie Crenshaw, Ben’s wife, was thrilled that their daughter Katherine was there to experience the affection shown for her father.
“It’s just so sweet,” Julie said of the fans’ support. “This is so much fun for us. (Katherine) was only 8 the last time we got to stay for the weekend.”
That would be 1997, two years after Crenshaw’s second Masters victory.
“That’s why he’s so excited about being here,” Julie said. “When he misses the cut, that hurts because it means two fewer days to play the course he loves so much.”
Crenshaw said he remains enamored of Augusta’s challenges.
“There’s no other golf course like this, anywhere. Never has been,” he said. “Its greens and its challenges on and around the greens are just super, super tough. . . . So they are fun to play in sort of a morbid way.”
Augusta National is 520 yards longer than when Crenshaw won in 1995, when the scoring average was 72.529 compared with this year’s 73.945. He conceded that length is essential to victory here, but cautioned that it is only one of many requirements.
“Playing shorter clubs to these greens, it makes a huge difference, I can assure you,” he said. “But really, no matter how long or short the course plays, you have to deal with these greens. They have been the main defense of this course and they always will be. I hope they never change because they are fascinatingly complex.”