Masters week got underway Monday. Here’s 5 Things you need to know as the year’s first major approaches:
1. DAWG HOUSE: Russell Henley has won on the PGA Tour, but Monday’s practice round was a new experience for him. Henley, who attended the University of Georgia, estimates he’s played Augusta National 10 times. Never in front of the patrons, though.
“I haven’t felt nerves like I did today,” Henley said, “not about how I was going to play but just the excitement of being here and knowing I’m a contestant is a feeling like I’ve never had. . . . Something about walking around here, and just knowing the history and just knowing how much it means to me, adds to the excitement.”
Henley played Monday’s practice round with Tom Watson and former Walker Cup teammate Nathan Smith. How’d Henley get hold of Watson? “They gave me his number in the pro shop,” he said.
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2. YELLOW JACKET SEEKS GREEN JACKET: Like Henley, Matt Kuchar attended college in Georgia. He went to Georgia Tech, the alma mater of Augusta National co-founder Bobby Jones. Kuchar’s history at Augusta National dates to 1998, when he gained attention as an amateur playing alongside Tiger Woods. Kuchar, who won his first World Golf Championship earlier this year at the Accenture Match Play Championship, finished third at last year’s Masters. Augusta National has always been a special place for Kuchar.
“As a college kid, you never iron clothes or prepare the night before, but when you come to Augusta National, you iron your clothes and you lay out everything the night before,” Kuchar said. “You just can’t wait for that morning to come and make that drive down I-20 over to Augusta and sit outside across the street from the entrance and wait for the member to arrive so you can get in.”
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3. PART-TIME PLAYER: Steve Stricker has had success in his limited starts this season, finding the top 5 in three of four starts this season, including runner-up finishes at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and WGC-Cadillac Championship. Stricker took last week off after finishing 38th in the Shell Houston Open.
The weather has just started to warm in Wisconsin, but Stricker still had to prepare for this rite of spring by hitting balls from inside a trailer. He wasn’t able to work on his short game, either, as the courses around his home are still closed.
“I hit it great today and I feel great with what I’m doing,” Stricker said. “I’m coming out really fresh, really relaxed and I don’t feel like there’s any pressure on me at all, which is a good thing. And I’m hitting the ball nicely, so I just hit some putts and chips and just continue to work on that short stuff, the short-game areas that I can’t really do at home yet. I hit (balls) for probably a couple hours a day when I’m at home. . . . And that’s all I can do, and maybe hit some putts in my basement, and that’s my practice.”
Stricker’s best Masters finish is sixth in 2009. “I’m starting to feel a little bit more comfortable going around here, but there’s still a few things I haven’t figured out,” he said. “You know, feeling a little overwhelmed about this place at times. There’s been some issues, not only physically but I think mentally here, as well.”
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4. LESSON FROM A LEGEND: Long-hitting Nicolas Colsaerts is among the contingent of first-timers at this year’s Masters. He arrives after an hour-long meeting with a man who knows a thing or two about Augusta National, Jack Nicklaus. The meeting was hastily arranged by Nicklaus’ son, Jack Jr., in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“We pretty much spoke about every hole,” Colsaerts said. “He said, you know, a few pin positions and a few shots that you might need to hit and the ones you don’t want to hit. Usually when you play courses, you don’t really think about the shots you don’t want to hit; not as much here.”
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5. WALK IN THE PARK: Tianlang Guan played practice rounds Monday with Ben Crenshaw, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson. It’s a great start to the week and puts Guan within reach of one goal. When asked what he would consider a success, Guan said, “Just enjoy the tournament and play some good shots. . . . I’m not going to push myself too hard.” Playing with two Masters champions is enough for a memorable week.
Guan’s lack of length – he hits his driver about 250 yards – has some worried about his chances here. Guan did not seem concerned. “I would say I’m not long enough, but I think I’m still all right for this golf course,” Guan said, “. . . Not really a serious problem.” There aren’t any serious problems when one is playing Augusta National.