Hate to be Rude: My money's on Whisper Rock
AUGUSTA, Ga. – OK, here’s the proposition: If you had to bet $1,000 on someone to win the Masters, would your hard-earned money be on a member from Isleworth, Whisper Rock or Lake Nona?
Isleworth’s Tiger Woods aside, my cash probably would back Whisper Rock.
We’re paid to interpret the present rather than predict the future, but for the purpose of this exercise I like Whisper Rock because of numbers. It has three in-form members who have a chance to win: Phil Mickelson, Geoff Ogilvy and last week’s winner, Paul Casey.
Lake Nona has what football coaches call “quality depth,” what with defending champion Trevor Immelman, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Ben Curtis and Graeme McDowell among its membership. But outside of Goosen and Stenson, none appears in top form.
On top of that, the gut hunch here likes the Mickelson-Ogilvy and Woods options better. I’d like the Isleworth choice even more if bomber J.B. Holmes, playoff loser last week, were here. Which begs the question: How is J.B. Holmes not in the Masters, a tournament he could win?
• You just never know who might give whom a lesson these days. That thought arose from a rare snapshot from the Masters Champions Locker Room.
Tiger Woods walked in Tuesday and sat down at a table with Gary Player and got into a lengthy discussion about bunker play, according to an eyewitness. Player was doing most of the talking, playing the role of mentor/instructor. After their chat, they headed to the short-game practice area together.
As Woods always says, he’s always trying to improve.
• As reported on Golfweek.com, the World Golf Hall of Fame is delivering two most worthy new members soon: Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal and 21-time Tour winner Lanny Wadkins.
Olazabal, 43, is fortunate he didn’t suffer annual rejection for a long time as Wadkins did. Wadkins, known for his aggressive and fearless play, felt some emotional pain as he watched year after year as players with fewer career victories got inducted.
In addition to winning a U.S. Amateur, PGA Championship and Players Championship, Wadkins was one of the best players in Ryder Cup history and known as a guy you wanted on your side in money games during Tuesday practice rounds.
• Some victories are valued more than others. Some Masters victories are valued more than others. In other words, it meant more to Phil Mickelson when longtime rival Tiger Woods put the green jacket on him in 2006 than when Mike Weir did in ’04.
“To get that jacket from Mike and keep it among lefthanders was cool,” Mickelson said. “But I do have a picture of (Woods) sliding that jacket on me. That felt good.”
• The Masters Champions Dinner on Tuesday night has been known for a string of laughs over the years, particularly when Sam Snead was still around. But this year’s was marked by the pulling of heartstrings.
The emotional moment came when Olazabal read a letter from Seve Ballesteros, a fellow two-time Masters champion from Spain. Ballesteros is in his fourth round of chemotherapy after undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor.
“It was very emotional, very loving. As it was read you could feel in the air the reciprocation from his friends and former champions, going all the way back to Spain,” Masters chairman Billy Payne said. “It was an amazing, amazing moment.”
• We’ve known for years that the Masters sprains a rib muscle not to price-gouge spectators – or, as the Masters refers to them, “patrons.” A ticket is $200 total for the four days, parking is free and kids 8-16 get in free with a badgeholder.
Yes, merchandise prices are creeping up, but Payne revealed Wednesday that some concession-stand items are sold for below the club’s cost. Sounds right. Prices for sandwiches and soft drinks are out of the 1980s. And $2.50 for a 16-ounce beer in a keepsake plastic cup isn’t too bad, either.
• Here’s one right out of Hollywood: Greg Norman, playing his first Masters since 2002, aced the sixth hole of the Par-3 Contest on Wednesday. Not sure who pulled the club, but his wife of less than a year, tennis legend Chris Evert, was caddying for her man.
If that weren’t enough, Gary Player, playing in his 52nd and final Masters, holed a shot from the ninth tee while playing with old pals Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. But Player made three; he hit his first in the water.
• The Par-3 Contest is perfect for television. It combines nostalgia, scenic beauty, hole-in-one thrills and all things warm-fuzzy. It’s perfect for TV, too, because it’s a tough watch in person. Patrons need to slither and juke to be able to get a spot to see the action on many holes.
But because of the tube, it’s no longer the best tournament no one’s ever seen.
• I’ve never seen Tiger Woods calmer than he was at his Tuesday news conference. I’m not sure what that means in relation to how he’ll play this week, but he exuded peace. But then you might, too, if you had a nice, young family, gorgeous Swedish wife, 14 majors and a high stack on the verge of a billion bucks.
• If you think the world’s best players don’t get nervous, think again. Greg Norman related this story from his first Masters in 1981 when he played with Jack Nicklaus.
“Walking down the bottom of the hill (on No. 1 with Jack Nicklaus), he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘I hope you’re as nervous as I am,’ ” Norman said.
The Shark was stunned.
“I said, ‘Wow, (crap). I can’t believe you said that.’ Jack was sending a message like, OK, you’re nervous ... calm down and let’s just go play golf.”
• The Masters will get its “first real test” if the weather is good, chairman Payne said. Good weather means warm, sunny, firm and fast instead of cold and windy.
He has heard criticism from players and fans and media about the loss of constant roars and back-nine challenges since Augusta National has been lengthened and toughened. But until further notice, the club has no plans to make big changes and Payne is clinging to his weather theory.
“I’m aware of (constructive criticism from players) and I start thinking about them and, you know, continue to blame the weather,” he said.
If he can, he might want to hit the 2004 Masters repeat button. Just when people criticized the Masters for lack of drama, officials placed Sunday pins in trickle-down areas. What followed were aces, holeouts, eagles, birdies, roars and oh mys.