Rude: Augusta National should Bubba-proof course

Should Augusta National consider Bubba-proofing the golf course after the long-hitter won two out of the last three Masters?

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Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.

• • •

Fourteen years ago, your correspondent spent four interesting hours in the Cypress, Calif., house where Tiger Woods grew up. During that long interview session with father Earl Woods in his living room, the topic of Tiger-proofing Augusta National came up. The kid was less than three years removed from winning the Masters by 12 strokes and was in the midst of what would become the most brilliant of his many remarkable seasons.

Earl Woods was dressed in a gray heather sweatsuit and wore no shoes or socks. He sat in his easy chair and smoked probably close to a pack of cigarettes during the visit. He took a drag on one of them before giving his take on the concern some had with his son dominating at Augusta.

“If they want to Tiger-proof the place,” Earl said, “then they should make everybody play from the red tees.”

That would have done it, since playing up front would have negated Woods’ power. Augusta National, though, figured out a different way that worked, for four-time Masters champion Woods hasn’t won there since 2005. Dramatic changes before the 2002 and ’06 Masters tightened and lengthened the National, from 6,985 yards to its current 7,435.

“They put trees wherever (Woods) used to hit it,” Hank Haney, Woods’ coach in 2004-10, said. “All the margins have gotten tighter, and he doesn’t overpower the course anymore.”

A couple of weeks before last week’s Masters, 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell mentioned that length isn’t the be-all, end-all it once was at Augusta. “It’s not the bombers’ paradise it was,” he said.

Unless, that is, you are Bubba Watson.

Gerry Lester Watson Jr., aka Bubba, might have a nickname fit for NASCAR or a Waffle House, but he has a golf game completely suited for the National. So much so that perhaps it’s time to Bubba-proof Augusta.

If you’re laughing, you didn’t watch him last week – or in 2012, for that matter. He carried a drive 366 yards on the par-5 No. 13 Sunday, even though his ball nicked trees on the left, and used a sand wedge on his second shot. The carry over the bunker at the 570-yard, uphill eighth is about 310, and Watson’s ball flew it with ease, leaving him with a 5-iron approach. (His play with the driver there went more than 60 yards farther than Jordan Spieth’s 3-wood, giving him a big advantage and leading to a crucial two-shot swing on the hole.)

The 530-yard 15th often leaves Watson a short iron to the green for his second shot. What’s more, Bubba could be seen carrying some 9-iron shots close to 190 yards last week. In other words, when he’s on, the place is about a par 69 for him.

About as impressive as his massive length was how straight he was off the tee. He led in driving distance for the week, no surprise, and tied for 13th in driving accuracy, hit 71.43 of the fairways. That’s a lethal combination, particularly at a place ideal for his power-fade game.

Little wonder then that Bubba has two green jackets in three years. Unless he’s driving the ball crooked and chipping and putting poorly, the 35-year-old Watson figures to be in the mix for a few more of these Augusta spring invitationals. And it could be there’s no stopping him again.

So, Mr. Billy Payne, chairman, please call Mr. Tom Fazio, architect, and let the Bubba-proofing begin. Pay Watson the ultimate compliment and do what Haney said the club did to stop Woods: Put stuff where Bubba hits it.

Put more trees on the left of the 15th fairway and move the tee back. Tighten the landing area some 360 yards out on No. 13 (or move the 13th tee to somewhere on adjacent Augusta Country Club). Extend the back of the fairway bunker at 8. Put a fairway bunker on the left side about 30 short of the third green, where Bubba was prone to bomb it. Move the tee back on No. 9, if possible. And with all due respect to President Eisenhower, put a tall Bubba Tree on the left side of 17, about 350 from the tee.

You get the idea. The National can take it from here.

• The 2013-14 PGA Tour season is more than half finished. The 2014 major-championship season is a quarter done. By either measure, Watson has a leg up on the Player of the Year chase, what with one major victory, one regular Tour triumph and two runner-up finishes.

• Trivia question: Name the two players who have finished T-8 or better in each of the last two major championships? Answer below.

• I have no idea who will win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, but it’s certain the week will be a Phil Mickelson lovefest. He has been an Open runner-up six times, including at Pinehurst in 1999, when he wore a beeper and was prepared to leave if wife Amy, carrying their first child, went into labor before or during the tournament.

So bring tissue this time and buy more if he contends and gets close to a coveted career Grand Slam. The unknown is whether Mickelson’s game shows up in North Carolina. He hasn’t had a Tour top 10 since August and just missed the cut at his beloved Masters.

• The pony-tailed, potbellied Mechanic, aka Miguel Angel Jimenez, has transported his cigars and red wine a bit down the road in Georgia and will make his Champions Tour debut this week in suburban Atlanta.

If the Most Interesting Golfer in the World – or fellow senior newcomer Joe Durant, for that matter – should win there, it would be the first time since the 50-and-old Tour’s infancy in 1980 that players have won their first starts in consecutive tournaments. Jeff Maggert won the last Champions Tour event in his debut.

• Trivia answer: Jonas Blixt and Rory McIlroy. Blixt, a two-time Tour winner from Sweden, finished fourth at the 2013 PGA Championship and tied for second at last week’s Masters. Not bad for someone who has played in only three majors. McIlroy tied for eighth in both.

• Rob Price, a United Kingdom college professor, bet $1,600 on McIlroy to win the Masters after he thought he saw an image of the Northern Irishman’s face in his sweet roll, Yahoo.com reported.

That, of course, didn’t work out for the professor. But then neither did those times back in the day when I’d see a sweet roll, doughnut or muffin and bet on John Daly.

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