Part three of three
The Masters 2013 will be well underway by the time this post is published, early morning on Friday 12 April, Pattaya time. In this last of a three-part post covering this year’s first major, we discuss what it takes to win, who, and the likely score.
The course has now been returned to its risk versus reward set-up, designed to encourage the more adventurous. Its recent lengthening has seen it assessed with an unofficial USGA Course Rating (unofficial because Augusta does not allow its course to be rated), of 78.1. This places it among the top ten most difficult courses in the US.
The previous two posts in this series both alluded to Augusta National’s defence as its greens. Indeed, if these greens were as flat as a resort course, the winning score could be in excess of -30 under par. But the greens are far from flat; the undulations are complex and their speeds faster than anything the pros encounter. This course demands the very best in determining where on a particular green the ball should come to rest, then executing the very shot that gets it there. Having done that, determine the precise line to the hole. Finally, ensure the ball is hit with the correct pace. And therein lies the two keys to winning the Masters – approach shots and putting.
How many times have we seen a contender, coming down the stretch on a Sunday afternoon, choosing to lay-up at the otherwise reachable par-five 15th? And then see that same player record a birdie because he “stiffed” his wedge to within one-putt distance. It is not simply getting on the green and putting. It is where on the green the ball is persuaded to stop, coupled with an ability to putt on wickedly fast putting services that determine the winner.
From last week’s post about the green keeper’s account of how these putting surfaces are set up, we read that only the most crisply struck balls will stop close to where they land. We also know that shots not hit “pure” may role to a point where par will be a struggle. The pros know they have only a very small landing area, depending upon that day’s pin placement, to get the ball to stop on the part of the green that offers a reasonable one or two-putt chance. Some of the slopes on these greens leave the pros terrified. A sloping left-to-right breaking three-footer, for example, if missed, could well leave a return putt of 25 foot, back up the slope.
Similarly, the sight of a player putting, with his back to the hole, is not unknown at Augusta National, such can be the challenge of the green’s contours and slope. This is especially true on the back nine.
Stimpmeter speeds and how they are determined have been discussed in previous posts. The speeds during the Masters tournament may start at 12 feet, and reach 13-14 by day four. No one knows for sure as this information is never revealed. I remember playing a tournament (low-key amateur event back in NZ), where the green speed peaked at 12 feet. I rarely struck the ball as well as I did over the tournament’s two days, but I finished well down the field – well below net par – simply because it was my first (and only) exposure to genuinely fast greens. Here in Pattaya, Mountain Shadow used to boast fast greens, about five to ten years ago. Back then they would have run at circa 10 feet, but alas, not today. Crystal Bay often display their Stimpmeter readings on a notice board outside the locker rooms. On a good day it will read 8.5. To get an understanding of Masters speeds, try putting to a central pin from the back of Bangpra’s 6th or 14th, or the Emerald’s 7th or 12th, in the dry season. And whilst you do, imagine if your ball misses the cup it could be hazard-bound.
The last word on Augusta National’s greens is left to a chap who knows a bit about them – six-time Masters winner Jack Nicklaus, who has been quoted as saying something along the lines that if a 10-handicapper played at the Masters, and had his ball placed in the centre of each green, in regulation, he still wouldn’t break ninety. The maths on that statement means the 10-handicapper takes 54 shots or more to complete his round after being in the middle of each green in regulation, and they wont all be putts. Scary.
The challenge from tee to green still exists, obviously. But fairway width is generous, and if the ball finishes in the second cut – Augusta has no rough – chances are the player can still reach the green. The test, however, is to place the ball in a position from where the approach shot can best be played, with a lofted club. In short, long off the tee, hope for a reasonable lie, determine where on the green to land and hit it there – with an absolutely pure strike.
So who will win and what is likely to be the winning score?
The second question is the easier one. Here’s a tip that should win you a beer or two when backing what you think will be a tournament’s winning score. By the time you read this, you may know the score, relative to par, of the first round leader. Simply double it and then deduct two or three shots. If the leading first round score is six under par, then the winning score is likely to be 10-under. This tends to work at most tournaments except US Opens – where you should just stick to a score between 1-under and 1-over par – or the Open Championship where you never predict the winning score unless you know what the wind is going to do, on what day, and from which direction it will do it.
As to who will win, well, that is a far harder question. Let’s list the characteristics of play that Augusta National demands the most:
Length: The course has been lengthened by 500 yards over the last five years. At 7445 yards it is genuinely long. It normally has roll, but the most important aspect to length is enough of it will permit the use of a more lofted club for the approach shot, and that is vital.
GIR: Greens in Regulation is a crucial part of scoring well at Augusta. In the last seven years, five of the winners have ranked 1st or 2nd for tournament GIR. Rather reinforces the need for pure ball-striking.
Putting: Enough has been said.
Consider the last four winners – Watson, Schwartzel, Mickelson and Cabrera – and ask yourself what two golfing characteristics do they have in common? A quick look through PGA Tour stats will show that these players are high in driving distance but not in fairways hit. The same would be true of multiple Masters winners from recent years; Tiger Woods, Jose Maria Olazabal and perhaps the most errant hitter of all the greats, the incomparable Severiano Ballesteros. The fact that their drives miss the fairway matters far less at the Masters than it does at a US Open.
There are of course exceptions to this general observation – Zach Johnson and Mike Weir being two recent examples. But I suspect other matters played a part in their wins, like rain and a shorter course.
I always think the bookies give the worst odds at golf tournaments. That a tennis major will be won by one of just three or four players is an absolute given, and has been for many years. But a golf major? Sure, Tiger appears back to near his best, and the golfer he just replaced as world #1 seems to have sent his game packing to wherever it was he left his old set of clubs. But to offer less than 4-to-1 on Tiger winning is so unattractive.
There are many other factors one could consider, but limiting it to just length, GIR and putting, my top ten would be, with selections and odds (paddypower.com) stated prior to start of play:
- Tiger Woods 7/2. The Tiger of old. Won three times this year and has new GF.
- Charl Schwartzel 22/1. Sneaky-long and is a multiple winner this year.
- Phil Mickelson 11/1. Loves this course. Will be the crowd favourite.
- Dustin Johnson 33/1. Seriously long. Has won recently.
- Brandt Snedeker 28/1. This boy can really putt.
- Nicolas Colsaerts 100/1. Longest of them all – on either tour. One for longer odds.
- Louis Oosthuizen 28/1. ‘Shrek’ – sneaky long. Last year’s runner-up. Recent wins.
- Justin Rose 20/1. Driving distance #9, but down on GIR. He’s won this year.
- Rory McIlroy 11/1. Made my top ten but only back him if he finds his old clubs.
- Adam Scott 22/1. Recent runner-up. Needs win before anchoring ban comes.
Two players reasonably long off the tee and absolutely superb at ball striking are Sergio Garcia (40/1) and Lee Westwood (25/1). The latter finished in a tie for third last year, two shots behind the winner. He led the GIR stats, but his average of 32 putts per round put his putting at 58th out of the 62 who played all four rounds. Consider this; also in the tie for third was Phil Mickelson, who, over the four rounds, accumulated 21 putts less than Westwood. Enough to make you weep. It would be great when/if either Garcia or Westwood win a major, but I can’t see it being this one, sadly.
Lastly, to the Augusta National Golf Club, on behalf of those of us who get to watch the Masters live on TV, thank you for ensuring the broadcaster gives us the quality of presentation they do. As a near commercial-free account of top-level golf at its finest, it is superb. Enjoy.