Editor’s note: James Achenbach is covering his 44th Masters, taking in all that Augusta National has to offer and will be providing his daily awards throughout the 2014 tournament.
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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Here are the Masters daily award winners from Wednesday, April 9. Who selects these recipients? I do, and I can be bribed with with an old-fashioned vanilla milk shake.
• The longest hitter award, minimum age 74, goes to Gary Player.
Sure, I’m looking ahead, but Player is the prohibitive favorite in Thursday morning’s long-drive contest also known as the Masters opening ceremony.
Jack Nicklaus is 74, while Arnold Palmer is 84. Can either keep up with Player, 78? In a word, no.
The Nicklaus-Player-Palmer threesome will again hit ceremonial drives from the 1st tee. If Player hits the longest drive, as he has the last two years, perhaps the long-drive showdown should be replaced with something less strenuous – like a putting contest.
Of course, Nicklaus and Palmer might not view this nostalgic gathering as a competition. Player, meanwhile, is training as if his honor is at stake.
“Age is not an excuse for anything,” Player said. “I want to show the world that fitness is something that should be cherished at any age. I’ve been training very diligently for this.”
No vanilla milkshakes for him.
Unfortunately for the three players, their drives are hit off the 1st tee and not the 10th. At the 1st, the tee shots fly into a hill and stop almost immediately. At the downhill 10th, they would roll an extra 30 or 40 yards.
Regardless, the old-timer with the longest drive can expect to win another award from your intrepid reporter. It’s golf, the game for the ages.
• The battle-tested driver award goes to two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal.
Oops . . . the driver in this case was tested by Miguel Angel Jimenez and not Olazabal.
While the two Spaniards were playing a practice round at Augusta National, Olazabal asked Jimenez if he could hit his driver. Sure, why not.
“I want one just like it,” Olazabal said.
And he got it, too, just one day before the start of the Masters. It was a Ping i25 driver with an Aldila ATX Blue 65X shaft.
Actually Olazabal’s driver was slightly stiffer, because the shaft was tipped one inch.
• The back-and-forth flyboy award goes to Mark King, chief executive of TaylorMade.
King’s was in Augusta for Masters practice rounds, but was set to fly back to Carlsbad, Calif., where TaylorMade headquarters is located.
His plan included retracing his steps Sunday night, flying back to Georgia for a Monday event at Reynolds Plantation on Lake Oconee.
King is actively promoting a 15-inch cup to lure new golfers to the game, and PGA Tour stars Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia agreed to play an exhibition round at Reynolds Plantation using 15-inch cups.
• The “Feeling old at 33” award goes to Justin Rose.
“When I was 30, I said . . . 30 to 40 is when you have to do it (win major championships). From 20 to 30, yo can always put things down to experience, you can put things down to learning. But from 30 to 40, that really is the time to do it.”
No reaction from the injured Tiger Woods, 38.
• The “You can’t out-handicap me” award is given with special pleasure to Augusta National Golf Club chairman Billy Payne.
“When I became a member of Augusta National,” Payne admitted, “I had dreams of becoming a scratch golfer. Have I made it there yet, Fred?”
Payne was addressing Fred Ridley, former U.S. Amateur champions and chairman of the Masters competition committees.
“Working on it,” Ridley responded.
To which Payne added, “However, I compete quite well here because I’m also chairman of the handicap committee.”
• The “Let’s discipline my 4-iron award” is earmarked for Lee Westwood.
On the practice range, Westwood was trying to get more yardage from his Ping i20 4-iron. The problem: The 4-iron was going about 6 yards longer than the 5-iron, and he wanted a bigger separation.
So Ping tour rep Matt Rollins strengthened the 4-iron by bending it in a loft and lie machine. The gap went to 10 degrees.
After all that, Westwood decided maybe he would replace the 4-iron with a 3-iron. So Rollins weakened the 3-iron, and Westwood was experimenting Wednesday with a 3-5 iron combination.
• The “Big man, mini golf club” award goes to Justin Rose.
Never reluctant to try a new club, Rose was practicing Wednesday with a TaylorMade MiniDriver in place of his 3-wood.
If he carries it in Thursday’s opening round, he would become the first player to use the new club in a major championship.
Why is Rose a two-time Wednesday award winner? Because he too is a proponent of milkshake mania.