Hello from a rather chilly and damp Augusta National. The forecast is for the weather to improve as the week goes on, but if it stays like this, I can’t see any of the shorter hitters like Zach Johnson standing any chance of winning. Several tee shots on the first this morning just hit the upslope and stopped dead – it’s just too damp for any roll. Tiger has just said the same thing in his press conference.
There’s plenty of gossip doing the rounds this morning. The biggest is the news that Ernie Els has dropped David Leadbetter and gone to Butch Harmon. The word in the press centre from someone who talked to Butch on a recent flight is that Harmon couldn’t believe what had happened to Ernie’s swing, even saying “how the hell did you win the PODS Championship” with that?” Ernie is due in a press conference this afternoon, so we’ll bring you all the details of the switch from there.
I don’t know how much Butch will have done with Ernie in the last couple of weeks, but I reckon he will have done something – Phil Mickelson won the Players Championship last year just weeks after joining Butch. Now I’m wondering if Ernie will be a good pick for my Fantasy Golf team… Other guys worth a punt from the press room include Lee Westwood, who’s reinvigorated his short game (we have exclusive instruction from him in the next issue of Golf World). The other tip is Andres Romero, who won a couple of weeks ago on the PGA Tour. Yes, it’s his first time, but it was his debut at Carnoustie too and he could have won that. Plus, he hits it miles, which is what you need here, and he isn’t carrying any expectations… Definitely worth a look. Have you got your Fantasy team in yet? If not, click here.
Sergio Garcia has been busy in the build-up to Augusta – practising at Valderrama. Both Sergio Garcia and Soren Hansen were there last week. Golf World’s contact at the course said: “They both travelled from the USA and chose Valderrama because ‘it provided them with greens and fairways which were equal to Augusta’ in order to prepare themselves for the Masters. The course was, and still is in magnificent condition and we had the greens really fast. These are all positive comments from two Europeans who are in the top 50 in the World Rankings and which reconfirms that Valderrama is still the No1 Course in Continental Europe.”
Nick Dougherty is loving his first experience at Augusta – even though it feels like a home from home. The Brit said: I’ve got half the crowd with me this year. I’ve got mum and dad, my girlfriend, brother, uncle, auntie and a couple of friends from the golf club. We left the pets at home.” Dougherty has been fielding questions about emulating Fuzzy Zoeller’s record of winning here on his first attempt. Dougherty said: This course demands patience and acceptance more than any other course. Fuzzy is probably the most laidback golfer you can get.”
Zach Johnson got into Augusta on Sunday evening – and immediately said the stress he’d been feeling recently lifted. As he arrived in the town, Johnson said: “The baby was crying and had strawberries all over his face, my wife had a headache and I wanted to go to the bathroom real bad. Then the clouds parted and Magnolia Lane opened up. I was very stressed before I got here. Now I’m distressed.”
Golf World’s now infamous interview with Ian Poulter is still causing amusement in pro golf. Apparently, at the recenty World Matchplay in Arizona, Poulter and Tiger Woods were on the range, when Lee Westwood started hitting balls between them. Then he turned round and said: “I’m so nervous – I don’t know if I’m good enough to be between the first and second best players in the world…” And Poults has revealed that every time he and Woods pass each other, the world No1 says: Hello, number two.”
Stood on the grandstand overlooking the 15th and 16th holes, I was thinking how awesome it would be if someone had an ace. Cue Ian Poulter, who smashed an 8-iron 169, then watched as it hit the slope and rolled round into the hole! Incredible. The crowd went wild, Poulter raised his hands to his ears, and Poults had a share of the lead.
Elsewhere, I spent some time at the short par-4 third hole, just watching how the world’s best played it. Tiger Woods, for instance, creamed a drive all of 320 yards, leaving himself just 30 yards to the flag. But it was such a tricky chip, over a hump, that he could only get it to 20 feet – and he missed the putt. Mike Weire and Stuart Appleby had a different approach, leaving about 130-150 yards in by hitting an irons off the tee. Both men knocked it to a couple of feet for an easy birdie. Angel Cabrera three putted from nowhere, while Padraig Harrington showed how the pros put bad shots behind them by fluffing his second shot well short, and then getting up and down.
I still can’t get over how these guys strike the ball. Whenever I hit a drive, I hear a titanium tink from the clubhead. Now I know that’s not what you should hear. When the pros hit a drive, there’s a loud thwack off the meat of the clubface. It’s the same with iron shots – and they all look as if they’re all swinging so effortlessly. It’s a great lesson in timing and tempo.
Another gorgeous, warm day here in Georgia – a far cry from the frigid temperatures last year. Trevor Immeleman has been quick out of the blocks this morning, picking up a shot at the ultra-tough fifth – but then giving it back at the next. Justin Rose is due out at the end of the day, but I hope we don’t see him finishing in the dark. Last night, the final group – including Lee Westwood and Camillo Villegas – certainly dropped three shots between them because they couldn’t see the breaks in the greens. Westwood’s up-and-down at the 18th was crucial – a bogey-bogey finish would have hurt his confidence badly.
Talking of Westwood, the office has just e-mailed me some proofs for the next issue of Golf World, in which he and short game coach Mark Roe reveal what they’ve actually done to turn Lee into a world-class chipper. It’s fascinating stuff, and their tips will be able to help the short game of any player.
There’s a story doing the rounds here in the press room that Jose Maria Olazabal has already been picked as the 2010 Ryder Cup captain. I’ve got nothing against the Spaniard, but why has Sandy Lyle been overlooked? Surely if he doesn’t get the nod at Celtic Manor, he’ll be too old for the next one (where Monty is tipped to lead, anyway). If the former Masters and Open champion never gets to lead a team out against the Americans, it will be a disgrace.
Well, it’s moving day here at Augusta National – and expect some big things to happen in the third round. There’s a phrase here in the press room I keep hearing this morning – effective lead. It means the two guys at the top of the leaderboard, Trevor Immelman and Brandt Snedeker, can’t keep their phenomenal play up on the weekend as the pressure mounts, so the field believes Phil Mickelson’s five under is the real target. That’s definitely what Tiger’s thinking…
Talking of Tiger, he crafted one of the most remarkable pars I’ve ever seen on the 18th hole yesterday. After hitting his drive way right into the trees, he was thinking about chipping it back out onto the fairway when he spotted a gap into the trees towards the 10th fairway. He knocked a shot through the trees, missing them by inches, and ended up just short of the 10th tee. From there he hit a wedge onto the green, and had his ball not hit Stuart Appleby’s, it would have rolled up the slope and back down to a couple of feet. As it was, Woods holed a snaky eight-footer for his incredible par.
There’s rain forecast here today, and several people have asked why the tournament didn’t bring the tee times forward a couple of hours. Apparently a storm is due in around 2pm, with lightening, meaning there’s a good chance play will be stopped. But with the first tee time at 10.40am, it would have made sense to get everyone off at 7 and get jn as much play as possible… But they do things their own way here at Augusta National.
Some big names have missed the cut – and I think they need to ask themselves some serious questions as to why. Ernie Els – he needs to spend a few weeks in Vegas with Butch, sorting his swing and his head out. This guy nearly won here a couple of years ago – now it’s two missed cuts in two starts. And Sergio Garcia – will he ever get over Carnoustie? The guy is still a phenomenal ball striker, with a stunning short game – but he needs to hire a putting guru and spend the next six months working on his stroke.
Right, I’m off to watch the guys warm-up on the range.
1pm PLAY SUSPENEDED DUE TO BAD WEATHER. Now I assume Tiger Woods will be sitting in the locker room, rubbing his hands together, because this is really going to play in to the big-hitters’ hands. I stood by the first hole earlier watching tee shots – every ball just hit the upslope and stopped. According to the guy measuring the shots, some tee shots were only going 250 yards… Now big boys like Woods and Westwood will have a three-club advantage over the shorter hitters if they can get the ball in the fairway, and with so much water dumped on those greens, they’re going to be ultra-receptive to the shorter irons. Should be an intersting afteroon. Just heard play will resume at 1.40pm local time.
It’s cool and breezy today here at Augusta – a day when anything could happen. Inevitably there’s loads of speculation here in the media centre about who will win. A lot of that speculation centres on Tiger, and the old boys who’ve been covering this event for years say write him off at your peril. The closing stretch here is so scary that the guy who are leading who’ve never won a Major before will be under enormous pressure. The only thing we think is that Woods needs to post a 66 at worst to have any chance – unless the leaders all collapse.