Tough Masters set-up not prompted by Johnson's record win
Augusta (United States) (AFP) –
Augusta National didn't create firm and fast conditions for this week's Masters because top-ranked Dustin Johnson went 20-under par to shatter the course record last year on a rain-softened layout.
But club chairman Fred Ridley isn't complaining about the difficult conditions set to greet golfers when the year's first major championship tees off Thursday morning.
"We have the golf course where we want it. It's playing firm and fast," Ridley said. "Our goal is to maintain it for the week."
A world-class field of 88 golfers made final preparations Wednesday on the eve of the 85th Masters, the lightning-quick course a very different test from last November's Covid-delayed event dominated by Johnson.
"That really had nothing to do with the way the golf course is playing right now," Ridley said.
"The course is in the best condition that I've ever seen it in the 20 years I've been a member."
Johnson will try to become the first repeat winner since Tiger Woods in 2002 while four-time major champion Rory McIlroy seeks a win to complete a career Grand Slam.
Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters winner, practiced with 12th-ranked McIlroy on Wednesday and both marveled at the speed of the greens on the par-72 layout.
"Rory said it five times -- 'Have you ever seen the greens like this on Wednesday,' -- and five times in a row I said no," Couples said.
"If it stays like this, I mean, honestly a 70 or 71 will be a heck of a score."
Players worked on putts, chips and driving as well before the chase for the green jacket begins.
"The faster greens have a little more pace to them," 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir of Canada said. "You really have to think. Those landing areas shrink down when the greens get firmer like this and the precision shotmaking is heightened."
Such shots will elicit roars from a limited number of spectators allowed under Covid-19 safety protocols after last year's Masters was played without fans due to the virus.
"Bad shots are punished a little more and the good shots are rewarded because the areas on the green are so small," Australian Marc Leishman said.
"The more you know the course, the bigger advantage it is. When it's like this, there are places that you have to put a big red X in your yardage book and make sure you don't hit it there."
Italy's Francesco Molinari, the 54-hole leader in 2019 before losing to Woods, is in uncharted territory.
"Don't think I've ever seen it this fast and firm already," Molinari said. "We'll see. I'm as ready as I can be."
Lee Elder, the first Black golfer to play in the Masters, this year will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as honorary starters, hitting the ceremonial tee shots to begin the tournament on Thursday morning.
- Even crazier? -
There's a chance of thundershowers on Friday that could soften course conditions, one likely reason the course has been so firm so soon.
"If the rain doesn't come, then it will be really fun," sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele said. "It has the potential to be even crazier.
"I think every guy who plays professional (golf) is a little bit of a masochist, so I'm here for the torture," Schauffele said, "and my caddie and I will do our best if it gets really tough."
Absent for the challenge is five-time Masters winner Woods, who suffered serious leg injuries in a one-car crash in February. California authorities said Wednesday the accident was caused by excessive speed.
"I was deeply saddened when I learned of Tiger's tragic car accident," Ridley said. "Tiger Woods is one of the greatest competitors in the history of all sports.
"He's greatly missed this week and we continue to hope and pray for his recovery."
© 2021 AFP