|Rains washes out 1st day at Masters|
|Tuesday, April 08, 2014 12:00 AM|
By DOUG FERGUSON
AUGUSTA, Ga. — The first full day at the Masters turned out to be a short one Monday.
Augusta National was open for only two hours because of storms, still enough time for a few players to see some of the changes to the golf course — even though this was supposed to be a year with really no change at all.
The ice storm in February that led to the demise of the famous Eisenhower Tree also cost the club countless other trees, giving Augusta a slightly different look. Instead of a forest of Georgia pines, players can see from the 10th fairway all the way across to the 15th fairway. Players couldn't help but notice the number of trees missing from the right side of the narrow, claustrophobic seventh fairway.
"You don't feel like you're going down a bowling alley as much," Brandt Snedeker said, his hair wet from wearing a visor in the rain.
The club lost thousands of limbs that were damaged from the ice storm, so many that Jimmy Walker said he saw workers up in the trees with chain saws when he came to Augusta a few weeks ago for a practice round.
"I haven't played here a ton, so I kind of got the feeling you could see down through the golf course a little bit better than you used to be able," Walker added. "I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing."
Some things never change. The course was starting to burst with color. The greens already had a tinge of yellow to them. And there was a buzz about the Masters, even without Tiger Woods around for the first time in 20 years because of recent back surgery.
Still, nothing stood out quite like the 17th hole.
Masters champion Adam Scott always assumed the 440-yard par 4 was a dogleg left because of the 65-foot high loblolly pine that jutted out from the left side about 220 yards from the tee, forcing shots to the right except for the big hitters who could take it over the tree.
Mike Weir is not one of the big hitters, so when asked how he found the 17th hole on Monday, the Canadian smiled.
"Much friendlier," he replied. "I was playing with Jason Day. For him, it doesn't matter. He hits it high and long enough. For me, I had to hit around it. It was probably the toughest drive on the course. Now, it's much easier."
It was amazing to him to walk up the fairway and see a patch of pine straw where the tree once stood so proud and tall. Weir and several other players assumed that Augusta National would have another pine placed their before the Masters.
Maybe next year. But not this week.
The tree was such a treasure — named after former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a club member who hit into the tree far too often — that it was taken off site for storage. The club will determine later what do with the trunk and what limbs remain.
But what a difference it has made already.
"If the tree was there, I would have hit it yesterday," said Patrick Reed, who arrived on the weekend and already got in two practice rounds. "It was cold. It was a little into the wind and I hit it down the left side. I knew exactly where the tree was and I probably would have caught the top half of that tree and would have been underneath it."
"First three times I played this course it was there and it made that hole really hard."
Snedeker played on Sunday with Masters rookie Harris English and told reporters he pulled his tee shot on the 17th. Any other year, he would have hit the tree.
"It was perfect," he explained. "It's still not an easy tee shot. But it's not as hard as it used to be."
The rest of the course should be the same as usual. The Masters can set up the course any way it likes — difficult for scoring, or birdies that make cheers reverberate. It has trended toward excitement over the last several years, such as when Charl Schwartzel won with four straight birdies at the end, or even last year when Scott and Angel Cabrera in the last two groups each made birdie on the 18th to force a playoff.
The biggest change is likely to be the guy in a red shirt.
Woods won his fourth green jacket in 2005, though he usually kept it interesting, and always kept fans guessing. His back surgery last week means the world's No. 1 player will be out of golf until the summer, and out of the Masters for the first time in his career.
"Without Tiger here, it's a different feel," Snedeker added. "It's a different event. He does a great job of bringing energy and bringing fans out that we don't usually get."
Those fans had to leave early on Monday. By lunch, the course was closed for good.
Masters chairman Billy Payne said they would get a refund in May and were guaranteed a chance to get practice round tickets for next year. Woods likely will be back by then. And odds are, there will be more trees.
Day feeling healthy for first event in 6 weeks: Jason Day goes into the Masters coming off a big win. Trouble is, that was six weeks ago.
Day told reporters his left thumb was ailing even as he won the Match Play Championship to close out the West Coast Swing. He withdrew from Doral. He withdrew from Bay Hill. He hasn't played a competitive round since that 23-hole victory in Arizona.
And that was match play.
The 26-year-old Australian last competed in a stroke-play event on Feb. 8, when he failed to qualify for the final round at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
"Not really a concern," Day said Monday. "I think I just need to tighten up a few things, just kind of get a little sharper with my tee shots. I think I'll be good."
Day explained the rest was a good tonic for his thumb and had a cortisone injection a week ago in Ohio. He feels no pain, though he will be taping it as a precaution, and has been icing the thumb at night.
"It's more frustrating for me because just coming off the win at the Match Play, I was playing some pretty good golf," he said. "It was trending in the right direction going into Doral and the Florida Swing there. Just something so small, it's so frustrating, because everything else is fine. But you need your hands to grip the golf club and every time it hurt when I swung the golf club. I would kind of flinch at impact and you just can't compete against the best players in the world doing that."
Day is among the best players at the Masters.
Even though the Match Play win was only the second of his PGA Tour career, he was a runner-up at the Masters in his debut in 2011 and last year finished alone in third. In 2012, Day had to withdraw because of an ankle injury.
IKE RAMIFICATIONS: It's bad enough that Augusta National had to remove the famous Eisenhower Tree from the 17th fairway because of damage from an ice storm.
That might have been the hardest decision but the easiest to execute.
The loss of Ike's tree led to other changes that the club felt needed to be made. And this is a major that spares no expense at trying to do everything just right.
Augusta National had already mailed out some 2,000 media guides, with a glossy cover, color photos and 420 pages of information. A week or so after the tree came down, the club sent the media guide back to the printer to update the mention on page 28 of the tree. Everything was changed to past tense and it mentioned how it was taken down in February 2014 after an historic ice storm.
The club didn't stop there.
It removed all the calendars on sale in the merchandise shop because they had photos of the Eisenhower Tree, redoing the calendars with a different image of the 17th hole. It also changed the yardage books and spectator guides that are on sale this week to reflect that the tree is no more.
And the daily pairing sheets? Those have a course guide on the back and the template was changed to show the 17th hole without the tree.
MAGNOLIA LANE: For any Masters rookie, one highlight is the drive down Magnolia Lane toward the Augusta National clubhouse.
Matt Jones, the last man to qualify for the Masters by winning the Shell Houston Open on Sunday, will have to wait. He only arrived at Augusta late Sunday night and really didn't know exactly where he was supposed to go. Instead, he tagged along with good friend Kevin Stadler.
"He had to go to the caddie area, so I followed him to the right, so I never drove down. I'll get to do that tomorrow," Jones said. "I just walked into the clubhouse here. It's awkward when you don't know where you're going because every tour event, you walk in and know exactly what you're doing. I'm not quite sure where to go or what doors I can go in or out of."
But at least he's here, giving Australia seven players at the Masters.
WHO'S NO. 1?: Four players could claim No. 1 in the world Sunday night after the Masters.
Woods has been No. 1 for just over a year but he won't be playing the first major of the year while he recovers from back surgery. That has left the door open for Day, Adam Scott or Henrik Stenson, none of whom has ever been No. 1.
Scott has had a chance his last two tournaments to reach No. 1, the best one coming at Bay Hill until he squandered a 3-shot lead in the final round. The defending Masters champion would need to finish in a 2-way tie for third at the Masters.
Stenson, of Sweden, is No. 3 and would need at least a 2-way tie for second at the Masters to be No. 1.
Day has to win to go to No. 1 and then only if Scott doesn't finish alone in second.
"My goal is obviously to be able to get to No. 1 one day and to have a green jacket and I can do that in one week. That's exciting stuff for me," Day added. "Because I know that there's been a lot of hard work and dedication that I've put into the game for many, many years, and it could all pay off in one week."