AUGUSTA, Ga. – The Masters is held at beautiful Augusta National, where it can exemplify the old quote about golf being a good walk spoiled. Difficulties during Saturday’s third round left Ian Poulter, Steve Stricker, Bill Haas and Darren Clarke searching for answers – not to mention the entire field at a par 3 that was the day’s unbeatable hole.
Here are 5 Things to know about why the Masters is tough enough to be a major.
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1. POULTER DOESN’T FEEL EVEN: Ian Poulter started the Masters with a 4-over 76, just like he started last year first major. But instead of the 75 in last year’s second round, the Englishman shot a 2-under 70 to make his ninth cut in 10 appearances at the Masters.
So when Poulter shot another 70 Saturday and moved into the top 14 with one round to go, you might have thought the Ryder Cup hero would be happy with his success considering his start. You would have been wrong.
“I’m pissed,” Poulter said of his score Saturday. “I’m really pissed and I should be pissed. Four under par out there on the golf course, I’m playing some phenomenal golf. Anyone would be pissed.”
Poulter disappointment comes from giving up two shots on a golf course that was set up for scoring on “moving day” Saturday.
Five shots out of the lead, Poulter gained on the leaders as he sat in the clubhouse – but could not get over the fact the he blew a chance to get more deeply into the hunt.
“Looking where they put those pin positions, they wanted guys to move forward,” Poulter said of the golf course setup. “And guys certainly are going to move forward today from the back of the pack. There are only a few guys that have done that because the greens dry out very quickly and they get really, really fast. So it’s easy to make mistakes. And it’s just really disappointing when you’ve played so well as you have to walk off 2‑under par. It’s just not right.”
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2. BEAST MODE ELUDES STRICKER: Steve Stricker’s year is still in its early stages. With the cold and wet weather in Wisconsin, Stricker has struggled to find his game.
If you add in the fact that he has been changing equipment during the last two weeks, trying to find the proper irons setup, the success or lack thereof has been frustrating.
Stricker’s 2010 Titleist AP2s just wore out; his wedge had no grooves left and some of the irons would not spin the ball any longer. So with no choice but to change, Stricker has been trying to find the right combination of head and shaft.
Last week in Houston he tried a softer shaft and this week went back a stiffer shaft, but in both cases the baby draw Stricker used to see is missing. It’s difficult aiming for a shot that isn’t there.
“The club is a reacting a little bit differently,” Stricker said after hitting just 50 percent of the greens through three rounds. “They just don’t rotate through there. They’re a little more face‑balanced so I don’t curve it as much, and I’ve been used to playing a little draw in there, so I’m trying to play this little draw and they hangover the right on me and I’ll end up pulling it because I know I can’t turn it as much.”
The tradeoff for Stricker is that the club has a better bottom and goes through the ground much better, thus eliminating getting stuck as he used to experience with his old irons.
Taking the iron play out of the equation, Stricker has putted better then he ever has at Augusta National in the past.
With a putting average of 27 putts for the first three days and just one three-putt, Stricker has a chance statistically for his best tournament on the greens.
“I’m putting the lights out of it, which I haven’t been putting all that great up to this point, so that’s good to see,” Stricker said. “My short game is right on. I drove it a little bit better today, so it’s still early in the year for me, too.”
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3. TWO-ROUND SLIDE: Bill Haas for the last two weeks has led golf tournaments after the first round, last week at the Shell Houston Open and then Thursday at the Masters.
But then there came a second round in which the leads would evaporate and finishes would fall short of stellar.
Haas’ third-round, 2-over 74 at Augusta National a came after a second-round, 6-over 78. Haas is wondering why his game goes in hiding after Thursday.
“I maybe would shoot a couple over or something like that, but I always try to keep myself in it,” Haas said after falling nine shots behind the leaders. “. . . I don’t even know how to explain it really, honestly.”
Haas will play in Sunday’s final round, then at Hilton Head before a break, which clearly he will need.
“Just everything, got to get sharper,” Haas said. “You don’t shoot 76 and putt well, so I’ve got to putt better. I don’t think that’s been very good the last two rounds. I definitely can be better. Off the tee, I feel okay. So just fine-tune a little bit.”
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4. WORKING FOR THE OTHER WEEKENDS: Darren Clarke is doing everything he can to score better.
He has lost weight, working hard on his game, but three rounds over par (74-74-73) have the Ulsterman unhappy with his week so far at Augusta.
“I’m playing OK,” Clarke said on a relatively calm Saturday. “It’s not quite all there, but I’m certainly – my bad shots aren’t as bad, and that makes a big difference. I know that sounds stupid, but it does.”
Seeing Miguel Angel Jimenez’s 6-under 66 and Rickie Fowler’s 5-under 67 on the leaderboard, Clarke saw good scores were out there – making Saturday a little more frustrating.
With his best finish in the Masters a T-8 in his first Masters in 1998, Clarke is looking for, if not hoping for, a good round Sunday. That would validate not only his efforts this week, but what he has been working on this year. It also would set him up for the other three majors.
“I hope so, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing all the practice that I’m doing,” Clarke said of his hopes that all the work is going to show up soon. “Hopefully all the practice, all the going to the gym, that’s the whole reason why I’m doing that is try and play a little bit better. It’s getting there, slower than I would like, but hopefully it shows up at the right time.”
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5. UNBIRDIED EXCITEMENT: The greens at Augusta National can be tricky, but Saturday the par-3 fourth hole was extremely difficult. With a scoring average of 3.706, it played more like an easy par four.
With no birdie recorded on Flowering Crab Apple, only nine players (18 percent) found the green in regulation – which was only half the battle. Once you found the green, you had to putt to a hole location that was just 13 paces from the front of the green and usually downhill.
Brandt Snedeker, generally known as one of the better putters on the PGA Tour, needed five putts and eventually wrote down a quadruple-bogey seven on his card.
The fourth allowed only 23 pars, 22 bogeys, five double bogeys and Snedeker’s other.
One player that took exception to calling the hole location on the fourth difficult was Poulter.
“Not really,” Poulter said when quizzed if the hole location on the fourth was difficult. “You know, whenever that pin location is on that front left, hit it in the left‑hand bunker.”
Poulter went on to say.
“You can’t be right of that pin, and you certainly can’t be long of that pin, and if you are, you’re going to have a treacherous birdie putt downhill and can run it six, eight feet past,” Was Poulter’s advice. “We know when that pin is in that position, if you can keep it on the left edge, great; if not, if it drops in the bunker, fine.”