Monday, April 10, 2006

Masters Day 4: Major Buildup, Major Anticlimax

First off, no mention of any Sunday pimpin' because there was none.
Pimpin' Day 3
Pimpin' Day 2
Pimpin' Day 1

How far Mickleson has come. He has finally abandoned his swashbuckling, fire-at-every-flag ways that for years resulted in lots of birdies/eagles but often the round-killing double-bogey or three that would prevent him from winning majors and frustrate his fans to no end, while the winner of every major played consistent, smart, golf and was usually the one who made the least mistakes. Since adopting the philosophy that everyone in the golf world had been recommending to him for years, he has won 3 of the last 9 majors and 2 in a row. His ridiculous talent + new use of his brain, some discipline/restraint + the confidence in his results over the last 2 years looks to be the perfect storm for him.

PM: This is way better than Mike Weir putting my green jacket on
TW: Eyeing a spot in Phil's back for his dagger

The day itself was a bit anticlimatic. Well the back nine at least, especially after a front nine when it seemed that the top 30 on the leaderboard were all within 2 shots of the lead. It is always more entertainng to see several guys step it up and make things happen - this was a bit anticlimatic in that one guy comfortably cruised and everyone else shot themselves in the foot and fell by the wayside, and no real back nine exciting duel ever really got going. Instead we spent the final 2 hours getting really close to this but never quite got there. Very reminiscent of 2002, when a drool-inducing leaderboard turned into Tiger cautiously & comfortably cruising while everyone else screwed up and no challenge developed.

Other random observations:

Phil played the best overall and obviously deserved to win, but Freddy & Tiger hit the ball way better than anyone else tee to green. They were absolutely striping it, but both of them putted absolutely terribly. Freddy missed no less than FIVE from 4 feet in the final round alone, to go with some others earlier in the week, and Tiger missed at least half a dozen from inside of 10 feet. If these two could have putted worth a damn it would have forced Phil to turn the cruise control off, and would have made for an one of the all-time epic Sunday back 9 battles. This specifically is what contributed most to the close-but-no-cigar anticlimax feel of the day.

Best in Show again Sunday, but not Best in Putt

It was really cool to watch Phil & Freddy interacting during the final round of a major like us weekend warriors do. Smiling, laughing, hand pounds after good shots/holes, etc. You don't see that too much on the tour, let alone in the final group in the final round of a major. Good stuff.

Natural


Forced

The jacket ceremony was the complete opposite, as it has been golf's worst-kept secret for a while that Phil & Tiger don't really like each other at all. Hell, they hardly spoke to each other over 18 holes when paired as fourball teammates in a match at the last Ryder Cup, so this was Ron Burgundy territory: "Boy, this is a bit akward..." Actually it was more like the fake-nice interactions you have at work with people you either don't like or just have absolutely nothing in common with, where both people smile & pretend to be interested while at the same time they cannot wait to end the interaction as soon as humanly possible. Funny to see the polor opposite of what we saw all day with Phil & Freddy.

PM: Savoring the moment
TW: Counting the seconds until he can leave

There were other indications of the gentlemen's game as well, most notably a CBS microphone on #12 picking up D Clarke audibly rooting for Vijay Singh's putt to go in. Saying something like "go in" or "get there" or somemhing similar (don't remember it exactly now), just like we do for each others shots in our weekend rounds. I had never heard that before in a PGA Tour event, and thought it was really cool, especially in the pressure cooker of the final round at Augusta.

Never been a huge Rocco Mediate fan, but how can you not feel for a guy who battles his back, his short length off the tee all week, then when in the mix in the middle of the final round hits the flagstick on #9 only to watch it spin back off the green and down the hill (less than an inch 'cost' him 2 shots), and then 3 holes later hits 3 in the water on his way to making a 10... on a par 3?

Jim Nantz sometimes has a habit of trying too hard to be dramatic which comes off as cheesy, but I have to give him special credit for this: he once again was objective and unbiased while broadcasting his college golf teammate (and roommate) Fred Couples contention in a major tournament. It is classy that he doesn't ever seem to allow any slipups in this area, or ever drone on with 'When Freddy & I played golf at University of Houston..." stories. He gets what so many announcers in other sports do not: that his job is to tell us a story, not tell us stories about himself, or stated differently to report the news not make himself the news (I'm glad that ESPN, Joe Theisman, Joe Morgan are not involved in broadcasting the Masters, just to name a few.) Another solid (golf) job by Nantz, who must be relieved to be free of college basketball windbag sidekick Billy Packer for the next 10 months.

"I hope Nantz isn't talking about that night with the UH women's golf team..."

As far as the changes went, I felt like 1 and 17 were tougher but not too affected, and 7 was significantly tougher, but that the changes to these 3 were within reason. I thought that the changes to 4, 11, and 15 sucked, frankly. The 4th playing to 240 with that insane green just seems a little over-the-top unfair. The 11th was already the hardest hole last year, and now they have turned it completely into a US Open hole, whereby by simply making par you pick up 0.5 strokes on the entire field. It used to be a classic Masters hole, with tons of risk reward, and a Sunday pin perched right next to the pond, but now it is totally a US Open hole where there is no excitement and golf is about slogging through and pars are like birdies. There is a place for that kind of golf, and the back 9 at Augusta is not that place- Father's Day weekend is. The 15th was the worst change for me, where one of the most exciting holes in all of golf, with lots of birdies, eagles, and double-bogeys, completely had the fun factor taken out of it. This massively takes away from part of the whole ethos of the Masters, that they set up the golf course, particularly the back 9 on Sunday, to provide as much excitement as possible, where if you hit 2 really good shots on 13 & 15 you can eagle either one. We still saw that on 13, but that excitement factor on 15 seems to have been massively diminished in my opinion.

Another interesting thing I was thinking about their decision to make the course 7,445 yards is that maybe it was done intentionally to maximize the chances of having all of "The Big 5" on the leaderboard at the end by subtley tilting the playing field in the favor of their strengths. If this was their intention and reason behind the changes then they worked perfectly. They got the leaderboard they wanted, and we got close to the Sunday shootout, but then it fizzled out a bit.

Some commentators in the media are using the argument above - that the changes were great because the leaderboard ended up being amazing, and all 5 of the big 5 were at the top. This is an extemely lazy analysis, the equivalent of saying that the BCS works great in a year when there are 2 and only 2 undefeated teams. It is not unusual for all of the big 5 to be near the top, especially at majors, because majors are a more serious test of golf and these are the 5 best golfers on the planet. Also, I've ben watching the Masters since the mid 1980s, and I don't ever remember the lack of the biggest names in golf on the leaderboard being a problem for this event. The big 5 are going to be at the top of most major leaderboards, I think the relevant issue for the Masters is how the changes affected the overall tournament, not just who was contending. I still think this years' event had more of a US Open feel to it, where players were more conservative, and didn't take risks, and that the course is now presenting less and less instances where players feel like they have the "green light" are persuaded to "go for it". That is what makes the Masters so exciting, and I think they are going away from this and making the tournament less exciting. I am interested to hear any thoughts you might have on this, and interested to see how the tournament "feels" next year.

My pick Mr. Els was there all week and then faded on Sunday. Walking 30 holes in one day on his recovering left knee may or may not have been too much, or maybe he just didn't have it yesterday.

The winner of the 1st Annual Pimp Of The Masters title is none other than Darren Clarke on day 1. With Jesper Parnevik & Ian Poulter not qualifying for the tournament this year Clarke was always the favorite, but he lived up to his reputation and came out with guns (and cigars) blazing on Thursday. A tremendous effort that looks a) sharp as hell b) like a Las Vegas driving range pro from 1982 c) what TCU football fans would look like if they adopted to the University of Tennessee's gameday dress code which states that fans must wear multiple articles of school color clothng that to not match in their shade or tone.

"I'll go ask her for her phone number, Clarkey. Now you think you could put the cigar down and start thinking about this 5 iron from 198 that we have left?"

Congrats again to Phil. Cue lots of talk in the golf world about Phil stepping up to be Tiger's main rival and Phil now being halfway to the "Lefty Slam". Ten weeks to the U.S. Open, to be played this year at Winged Foot.

4 comments:

Brain said...

Kanu, the thing you have failed to notice about the Master's is that they are their own golf world. The coarse CAN be stretched out to 7400+ yards but there were MANY tees that were moved up through out the week. The par 3 4th CAN be stretched out to 240 yards but you heard the players all week long saying "they were easy on us by moving the tees to the ladies tees today" or "they moved up the tees on holes X,Y & Z today". The MEN OF THE MASTER'S play by their own rules. I feel that the competition committee will be setting the tees and pins in challenging positions Thursday through Saturday. Sunday may be GREEN LIGHT day. The pins seemed to be in accessible places. Pins at 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 13, 15 and 18 seemed the least difficult to get to all week. I think the Augusta National has it right. I have never seen it live and in person but to win major championships you have to be able to do all facets of the game well. Not just bomb it were ever you want without any penalty form rough or trees. Now you really have to golf your ball round that track. I say that the changes will bring MORE of the field into play. Part of these changes may be trying to push the Orville Moody's and the Charles Cooty's of the world out of their tournament without disturbing Bobby Jones's wishes. The addition of the bothersome but not penal "2nd cut" is enough of a bother to the squirrelly drivers. The additional trees are penal for the misguided drivers. I watched the 96 Master's on Tuesday and I think the death of the Balata golf ball started these changes. Seeing Norman, Couples and Mickelson just rip backspin balls off those rock hard greens. That is a big defense that the course used to have that it doesn't anymore. The new golf balls don't spin anywhere near as much as the old ones did. Thoughts?

Kanu said...

B-

Good stuff as always. They certainly are in their own world.

Let me be clear: I do not want to go back to pre 1997. The changes made since then have been very good, making the course much more challenging but still very playable and exciting. Much needed length was added but several non-length things were done as well: adding rough, trees right of #11, trees right of #15 & #17, making the fairway bunker bigger on #1, etc. Then some holes were lengthened further, and a nice balance seemed to be struck between making it more challenging/keeping scores from getting really low, and keeping lots of risk/reward golf that made it the most exciting tournament of the year for fans. I am just saying that the some of the latest length changes are starting to cross the line in my opinion, and that is 4,11, and 15, but mostly 11 & 15 because they affect the famous "back 9 on Sunday" thing. As I said #11 is now a US Open hole. Last year it was the most difficult hole statistically, so why add another 30 yeards and make it even harder? There was exactly ONE birdie on #11 on the weekend. Avg score was 4.6 so par means you gain 0.6 shots on the field. That is a US Open hole, not an exciting risk/reward hole. And 15 was not nearly as exciting as in year's past: it used to be 200 for the long hitters and 230 for the others over water to an insanely sloped green. Now it is 235 for the longest hitters and unreachable for everyone else, so it just wasn't nearly as exciting as it once was.

I just think they went a little overboard with these 2 and that it detracted from the excitement factor.

Perhaps they freaked because Tiger & DiMarco both shot -12 last year, and maybe they don't want the winning score to be in double digits. But no one else in the entire field did any better than -5 last year, and the two years before that the winning score was -9 and -7. 2003-2005 were as exciting as it gets, with 2 playoffs and the Phil/Els finish. It just seems like they may have messed too much with a good thing.

There is definitely a place for conservative, survive & advance, war of attrition golf. I love watching the US Open each year and seeing the best players in the world struggle to shoot par. I am just saying that The Masters is not the place for it, so I hope they seriously consider any future changes with regard to this, and if they do make changes they should get more creative then just lengthening holes.

As far as the balata goes, I don't know about that, but it is an interesting point. I thought that back then some dudes used the balata ball but most did not, but I'm not sure.

Brain said...

Let's say that the USGA comes in and announces Augusta National will hold the 20xx US OPEN. What would they do? Make it par 70 by making 13 a par 4 and 2 a par 4. All things being equal, Phil shot +2. This proves the US Open point. I think the golfing community gets caught up in the amount of strokes over or under "par" someone is. As we both know Tiger has that great percentage when he plays in par 72 events. I think he even gets caught up in it. A possible weakness. HMMMMMMM......

Any way you may be on to something here. I still think it was a great week. I think the MEN will tweek the setup for the next few years to get what you are asking for.

That's my story.

Mike said...

Mike
Great thoughts on a great week of golf. For me, it sucked listening to a couple of English sportcasters on Sky Sports "cry" for 2 days (Sat/Sun) about the lack of any European players near the top of the leaderboard.

I can't wait to get back to some decent sports news in the States....

Devil