On so many fronts, recalling anniversary stories of past Masters is pure pleasure. The highlights and unforgettable moments usually fill a few different lists.
An exception might be the Masters of 10 years ago, however.
While it no doubt will forever be a lasting memory for Mike Weir, it’s hard to recall the 2003 Masters without shivering and reaching for the rain gear. The weather that week was abysmal – and that’s being kind. A nagging low-pressure system came in from the west, stayed a few days and blanketed Augusta in a cold, wet havoc.
What should be a rite of spring – Monday gates being opened to allow thousands of patrons to savor the glorious site of Augusta National Golf Club – was not to be. For the first time in 20 years, officials had to keep the gates closed to the public during Masters week out of concern for the course. There was 1.3 inches of rain that day, and every player wore a frown, for the forecast for the next few days was equally bad, and everyone knew it would be difficult to prepare properly for this Masters test.
It was only marginally better the next day, and practice rounds were not as plentiful as they annually are on Tuesdays. In one respect, that did lead to one fun memory, with then 63-year-old Jack Nicklaus played the back nine, then fooled his caddie/son, Jack Nicklaus II, and walked to the first tee. The son, known as Jackie, thought they were done for the day, especially since it had begun to rain again. But the Golden Bear took note of all the patrons, opted for nine more holes, and said to his son, “Woody Hayes used to say when you fight in the North Atlantic, you have to train in the North Atlantic.”
Several patrons thanked Nicklaus that day for providing at least one lasting memory of their visit.
Not even the magic of Nicklaus and Augusta National could put a halt to Thursday’s deluge, however, and for the first time since 1939, the first round of the Masters was rained out. Gates were opened, but patrons were allowed only as far as the edge of the course, for good reason. The treasured course was saturated, and tens of thousands of feet were only going to make it worse.
As if the cold and the wet weren’t enough, what totally dampened the spirits – at least for yours truly – was knowing Jeff Julian wasn’t going to realize his dream. There was a knot in my stomach that day, and truth be told, it was one of the cruelest things ever. With more passion for golf than the next hundred people you could find, Julian had always wanted to be inside the gates of Augusta National. He had always dreamed of it happening as a player, naturally, but he had accepted the impossible nature of that, given that he was dying of the insidious ALS disease.
But Julian was ready for the next-best thing: A view of the iconic course as a fan. Only thing is, he never got there.
Having come to Augusta to receive the 2003 Ben Hogan Award from the Golf Writers’ Association of America, Julian summoned all the strength he could to bring the house down that Wednesday evening. Then he did it all again Thursday morning to drive to the course with his wife, Kim, and sisters. When it was announced that golf would not be played that day, Julian turned around. Kim said Jeff took the news graciously, saying that he “would come back next year.”
But by the next spring he was in no shape to travel, and in July of 2004, his fight with ALS was over. Julian was just 43, a beautiful man with a bottomless passion for the game.
He never did see inside Augusta National, but the wonderful thing is, some of us got to see the game in a different light because of him.
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NOW THAT’S A TEST: A true testament to the quality of the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort is the fact that Kevin Streelman didn’t shoot himself out of contention with an opening 73. By miles, it was the highest first-round score produced by any PGA Tour winner this year; previously it had been Dustin Johnson’s 69 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
The first-round scoring average for the 10 PGA Tour winners entering the Tampa Bay Classic was a blistering 66.2.
Opening with a 73 and still winning – and by two, no less? That’s major-championship-like. Take a bow, Copperhead.
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PLACE HAS GROWN ON HIM: Regarding Copperhead, you’d have to say that it took Streelman a few times, but he has developed a feel for it.
He has played four times there. The first five rounds, he was 19 over; the next eight, he has gone 20 under.
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HE’S HAD HIS MASTERS: The closest Alvaro Quiros will get to the Masters this year will be the T-56 he recorded in India last weekend at the Avantha Masters.
Having ended 2012 with a string of pedestrian finishes, then going to the sidelines after surgery on his left wrist, the big hitter from Spain has fallen to 123rd in the Official World Golf Ranking and has his work cut out for him as he tries to make it back into the majors. Then again, it’s not as if he had proved himself to be a major force. Quiros played in 16 consecutive major championships from 2009 to ’12 and made the cut in just four of them – one each at the Masters (T-27), U.S. Open (T-54), Open Championship (T-11) and PGA (T-24).
Quiros reached No. 42 in the world last May, after good finishes at the Volvo Match Play Championship (T-5) and BMW PGA Championship (T-10), but he did no better than T-43 in any of his next 11 tournaments before opting for surgery.
Entered into this week’s Maybank Malaysian Open, Quiros seems resigned to the fact that he’s got to work his way back onto the big stages.
All of which shouldn’t leave fans of the home-run ball disappointed, because when you get to Augusta, worry not about the absence of Quiros. The Belgian Bomber, Nicolas Colsaerts, is longer and every bit as entertaining as the Spaniard when it comes to letting it rip.
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THEY’LL PLAY WITHOUT HIM: Speaking of the Malaysian Open, a change of dates from mid-April to mid-March meant that it lost its defending champion.
Louis Oosthuizen proved that he didn’t have much of a Masters hangover a year ago. He went directly from his playoff loss at Augusta National to victory in Malaysia, but the change in dates for 2013 didn’t suit his schedule. Oosthuizen is skipping this week’s festivities in Malaysia, though some world-class players will tee it up – Luke Donald, Charl Schwartzel, Padraig Harrington and Matteo Manassero among them.
Curiously, Oosthuizen might have moved his American home base to Florida, but his game hasn’t really adjusted to the PGA Tour venues down there. The classy South African is not playing at Bay Hill this week, meaning his Florida swing in 2013 was a missed cut at Honda, T-33 at Doral and a missed cut at Tampa Bay.
In the past three years, Oosthuizen has played eight times at those tournaments, going 10 over for 26 rounds, and his best finish for the four cuts he made was a T-18 at the 2011 Cadillac Championship.
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ONE OF HIS FAVORITES: We have reached the second point of the PGA Tour schedule where they tee it up at one of Tiger Woods’ playgrounds: Bay Hill.
A popular topic of conversation of late has been his ability to dominate events at certain layouts, with 40 of his 76 victories spread across just seven golf courses. Bay Hill is one of them, with Woods having won seven times. That ties Firestone for second on his list behind Torrey Pines, where he has taken eight titles.
Curiously, though, Woods does not contend every time at Bay Hill. In five of his 15 pro starts here, he finished outside the top 20. In one four-year stretch (2004-07), he played 16 rounds and broke 70 just twice, with a best finish of T-20.
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POWER HASN’T HELPED: With Woods having done well at Bay Hill, it has helped fuel the sentiment that it’s a big-hitter’s ballpark. Certainly, victories there by Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Kenny Perry don’t put a dent in that argument, but it isn’t hard to find longer hitters who haven’t exactly overwhelmed the course.
For instance, consider these seven names: Bubba Watson, Martin Laird, Angel Cabrera, Dustin Johnson, Robert Garrigus, Gary Woodland and Bill Haas. Each moves it pretty well, but only Laird has won there. Only Watson (seven times in 22 rounds) has piled up sub-70 rounds.
Combined, those seven have played 27 tournaments at Bay Hill, totaling 90 rounds and posting just 15 scores in the 60s.
All of them except Johnson are entered this week.
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A FEW THOUGHTS: Augusta’s on the mind, yes, but it doesn’t dominate the thought process. Here are five observations, considerations and curiosities:
- Two things about the penalty incurred by Stacy Lewis when her caddie, Travis Wilson, was deemed to have tested the conditions of a hazard. First, caddies needn’t go into bunkers until after the shot has been played. And two, officials needed only about 30 seconds to review that one.
- Of course, Lewis showed her outstanding character by overcoming that miscue without a word of complaint and winning the tournament.
- Is there not a more ludicrous question to ask a player who has just played at Augusta National than, “How was it?” What, you’re thinking he might tell you the fairways were choppy, they had temporary greens, and oh, by the way, did you know the 12th is a par 4 now?
- He’s Tommy “Two Rounds” Gainey these days, having missed seven straight cuts.
- Question to Michelle Wie: Who taught you that new putting stance, Gumby?
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IN NEED OF A TURNAROUND: One could surmise that Zach Johnson is looking to reverse a dismal trend when he plays at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. His last four rounds have been 77-75 (at Doral) and 77-76 (at the Copperhead), for a whopping 19 over.
He just might be in the right spot, too. In nine appearances at Bay Hill, Johnson has three top 10s and a T-11.
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THE FLAVOR CONTINUES: The folks at the Shell Houston Open have found a healthy niche as a place where young and talented international players can tee it up and tune it up for Augusta National. Rory McIlroy played in 2009, and so have Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Alvaro Quiros and Francesco Molinari.
That trend will continue next week because highly ranked attractions Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark (41), George Coetzee of South Africa (42) and Shane Lowry of Ireland (67) received sponsor exemptions.
Jordan Spieth of Texas at first accepted the fourth invite, but the former University of Texas standout no longer needs it, thanks to his top-10 finish at the Tampa Bay Championship. Spieth will make the Houston tournament his fifth start of the year. What he has done thus far is impressive, to say the least.
In his last three tournaments, Spieth has broken par in 10 of 12 rounds and gone for a cumulative 32 under. He ranks fourth in greens in regulation, fifth in ball striking and 20th in the all-around category.
Well deserving of the temporary special membership that he has earned.
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PERFECT ATTENDANCE: Geoff Ogilvy will make it 4-for-4 on the Florida swing as he tees it up in the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the first time since 2008. His mission is admirable – maintain his spot in the top 50 in the world ranking in order to qualify for the Masters.
There’s little breathing room, either: Ogilvy heads into Bay Hill at No. 50, and the cutoff will come after the Shell Houston Open next week.
Ogilvy arrived in Florida No. 79 in the rankings, but finished second at the Honda, T-47 at Doral and T-61 at Tampa Bay to thrust himself back into Augusta – for now, at least.
Bay Hill was an annual stop on Ogilvy’s schedule, at least from 2001 to ’08, and he had back-to-back T-14 finishes in each of his last two visits there.
Jason Dufner, John Huh, Jason Day and Brian Gay also will play in all four Florida tournaments.
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SHORT SHOTS: Four players who finished inside the top 10 at the Tampa Bay Championship posted best-ever PGA Tour finishes: winner Kevin Streelman, Cameron Tringale (T-3), Shawn Stefani (T-7) and Ben Kohles (T-7). . . . Luke Donald matched Streelman’s effort with a bogey-free weekend at Tampa Bay. . . . It was perhaps easy to overlook Stewart Cink last weekend, given that he was only T-14. But his play showed character. He opened with five bogeys and 76, then made just five bogeys for his next 54 holes, shooting 68 three straight times. . . . Billy Horschel continues to play steady, if not spectacular, golf. He finished T-56 at Tampa Bay and has made 18 consecutive cuts, tied with Ian Poulter for the Tour best. Horschel hasn’t missed a cut since the Byron Nelson last May.