The Masters 2008 is here and todaysgolfer.co.uk has three of its finest at Augusta National to bring you the inside line on the first golf major of the year.
The team will be bringing you lots of insider, behind-the-scenes golf information on The Masters to give you a taste of what it’s really like at Augusta during major week.
Below you’ll find the first of our golf blogs from The Masters, written by Today’s Golfer Associate Editor Simon Penson on his first experience of The Masters golf tournament.
THE MASTERS 2008 BLOG - BEHIND THE SCENES...
By Simon Penson
Tuesday April 8th - Practice day
So this is it. The start of what for many, including me, is the best sporting event on earth – The Masters!
I’ve decamped to the famous Augusta National course to cover the event for Today’s Golfer but rather than provide you with the same old spiel about who’s on top and who’s not I wanted to give you a more personal account of what it really is like to be part of one of the most revered tournaments in sport from a different angle.
Over the next few days I’ll be watching the action and following the stars just as you would if you were here – and the one thing I really want to pass on is any golf tips that will help our games.
I’ve watched scores of Majors on TV over the past couple of decades and I know that the TV And traditional coverage can only give you so much so I want to fill in the gaps for you!
The main theme of it all is what goes on behind the scenes of The Masters, how much the players practice, what they practice, how they get used to the infamous Augusta golf course greens and so on and so on.
I’ll be updating my Masters golf blog twice a day to keep you up to speed with what’s going on from a Masters’ virgin perspective! So keep logging on….
Arriving in Augusta...
Having watched The Masters numerous times on TV you get the feeling that Augusta is indeed a very special place; perhaps the most special golf course on earth. Arriving here during Masters week makes you realise just how special it really is.
For some reason I expected the golf course to be surrounded by grandeur, but in actual fact it is situated right smack bang in the middle of a VERY ordinary American town. Blink and you would miss it as you roll along the interstate road from Atlanta airpot to the Florida coast.
Drive into town and there is little to tell you otherwise either, just a strip of chain restaurants and some very American looking houses. You could actually drive past the famous entrance to the Augusta course and miss it. Behind those tall trees on the side of the road however lies a very special golf course and I'll tell you exactly what it's like seeing it for the first time in the flesh in my next update...
Seeing Augusta National for the first time...
Think of Augusta National golf course and you immediately conjure up imagery of sunshine, green fairways cut shorter than you muni's greens and the world's most infamous sloping greens.
What you don't get on the TV is the elevation changes. They are unbelievable! As are the slopes and shape of those greens. I stood and watched Stenson, Couples and a few others hit near 300 yard drives on Tuesday afternoon before launching high, floaty 6 irons into the greens. You would have thought that would be enough to put them in prime position for a two putt and par but oh no! Land on the wrong part of the green and your ball WILL keep on rolling. Landing one sounds like hitting a shot onto a snooker table and even with lots of spin it is so hard to stop it. I can understand now why some players practice putting on such tables to get used to the Augusta surfaces! And why those lucky enough to play it say any normal golfer would do well to break 100 round the place!
Then there's the pure condition of the place. We've all seen the manicured fairways and greens but even the public viewing areas are cut shorter than most regular fairways. Pine needles are placed carefully around the base of every tree and every surface looks like carpet. It really is a truly awesome golf course in every sense of the word.
We have also been lucky enough to gain access to the Augusta National clubhouse too and have sampled the delights that the players, members of the course and past champions spend so much time before the tournament starts. Walk into the white, wooden building and you immediately come into a sitting area, decorated with wooden floors and comfy furniture, while upstairs there is a small restaurant and balcony that runs around the building, giving amazing views over the first.
I've yet to venture down to the infamous Amen Corner but when I do I'll make sure to give you the insiders view. Until then start praying for sunshine Thursday and get ready for the best golf tournament on earth to begin!
Amen corner, Tiger and day one round up...
A lot is said about Amen corner at Augusta National golf course and after seeing it for the first time I can tell you it's all true! TV just doesn't do it justice at all. It is an astounding piece of golf real estate; a collection of holes that I cannot imagine being bettered anywhere on earth and those 200-300 Augusta National members really are the luckiest people to be able to call it their own course.
The 11th is an ultra tough hole requiring a ballsy approach to a difficult sloping green, from which the course opens out over Rae's Creek and the wall of flowers beyond. The 12th is almost unreal, so manicured are its bunkers and surrounding flower borders and from the tee that green looks absolutely tiny. How the pros get it to land and stop between the creek and the back bunkers is beyond me!
And as if that wasn't enough the 13th possibly tops the lot, with a racking dogleg sloping heavily left to right which must look impossible to hit from the back tees. It is a hole that makes you wonder how the hell you would get anywhere near the fairway from the tee. The approach shot is worth it though - 200+ yards to a well protected green tucked into the hillside and surrounded by colour. Amazing!
And before I sign off for the day I have one more quirky story to tell that really sums up The Masters. I decided to pop into the pro shop to buy some Masters merchandise and was thumbing through the polo shirts when a voice piped up 'buy the black one'. Not wanting to ignore some good advice I turned round only for Jimenez to be standing there. It's not every day a top golfer does some personal shopping for you but that is the beauty of a place like this. You never know what's around the corner....
Wednesday April 9th
18 year old girl plucked from the crowd to play Augusta!
The weather has finally warmed up on day two of the official practice for The Masters 2008 and the crowds are out in force. One member of the public had quite an experience as they stood watching players tee off on the famous 16th par three. Instead of having to experience the hole from the stands the 18 year old girl was randomly plucked from the crowd by Fuzzy Zoeller to play the hole for herself - in front of several thousand cheering fans!!!! Plucking a hybrid from his bag she stood on the tee and started warming up like a pro as the crowds around her went wild. Talk about pressure!!! Think how you feel holing out for a win with just your mates watching, let alone playing one of Augusta National's signature holes during Masters week in front of a stadium-like line-up of ardent golf fans! Sadly the shot didn't quite live up to the build up, with two shots sliced over to the crowd but what a moment for the young woman! It just showed how tough it must be to keep your focus amongst so many spectators...
The boy's a bit special...
You may not yet have heard of Martin Kaymer but by the looks of the treatment the young German pro is getting for his first trip to The Masters he's got a huge future in front of him.
On Tuesday he was walked around the course by Langer, while today he's played a practice round with Nicklaus, Gary Player and Langer again. Esteemed company indeed and there can be no better players alive to pass on tips on Augusta National!
The 25 year old has already won on Tour but many in the know reckon he could well be a genuine Major contender this year and for many years to come. Keep an eye on him this week!
The par three tournament...
Watching a collection of the world's best golfers play a glorified pitch and putt course is a weird experience. OK, so it's Augusta's par three course but still, it doesn't seem quiet right somehow! Watching Phil Mickleson teeing it up on a 60 yard hole is like watching Ronaldo play headers and volleys at your local village park. But that is what makes it such a crowd pleaser at the same time. No where on earth, and in no other sport on earth are the average joe treated to such a spectacle. The atmosphere is immense, the noise incredible and with the chance of seeing a hole in one (we witnessed two!) it is the perfect tonic to the super serious business of a Major; especially when players like Justin Rose manage to miss the green completely!Then there are the caddies. Ranging from the players' own kids to Radio One's DJ Spoony and back again. It is televised events like this that turn golf into the globally loved sport it ought to be.
Thursday April 10th
It's D-Day, all the talking has stopped and the action begins. It's been a slow start thus far as I write this at 8.45am Augusta time as fog has descended on Augusta National. Arnold Palmer has got the tournament off, hitting the traditional opening shot from the first tee, managing to hit the fairway this year after hooking it into the trees in 2007! The first group of Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel, closely followed by England's own Ian Poulter have spent some time warming up on the driving range and putting green before working their way to the first. You can almost see the nervous look in their faces - we all know how much you want to get that first golf shot out of the way after all don't we!
My plan today is to spend some time watching how the guys are practicing before tee off so I can pass some golf practice tips onto you for your own warm up regimes, before I head out onto the course to watch a bit of the action and report back on form. Be back shortly!
Ian Poulter's hole in one witnessed!
It had to happen didn't it. TG favourite Ian Poulter has played 'the round of his life' here in Augusta and even managed to wow the crowds with a glorious hole-in-one on 16 - WHICH I WITNESSED FIRST HAND!!!. I had decided to follow him after noticing how well he was hitting his approach shots in practice. Despite missing several good birdie opportunities he arrived at 16 in good shape, drew out his 8 iron and pured it to 20 feet. The ball then rolled down the slope and straight into the cup! I was standing in the stands and couldn't help but get caught up with the crowd's crazy reaction. Poults recated like the showman he is, fist pumping the crowd time and time again into whoops of delerium. Even he admitted the hairs on the back of his neck stood up on end.
Mickleson has also holed an amazing putt after going through the back of the 1st green too. What a Masters this is turning into - and it's only day one!
There are always a few celebrities watching the action here and the great thing is they get no special treatment - they simply watch with the rest of us. I've already spotted Michael Jordan, Venus Williams and Poulter's mate DJ Spoony, all of whom were sweating away with the rest of us in the heat trying to get a good view of the golf through the crowds.
End of the first day's play...
What a first day it's been. We've had incredible chips, putts and approach shots and Poulter delighted us all with a hole-in-one. And to top it all the Brits are going great guns. Justin Rose leads on 4 under with just a couple of groups left to play as I write this. My own pick of the bunch Westwood is also motoring and playing some sublime iron shots, taking his score to 2 under alongside the magnificent crowd pleaser that is Ian Poulter. Bring on day two....
Friday April 11th
It's day two and the first of today's groups have just gone out. The weather looks to be fairly settled and warm at the moment which should mean another day of good scoring. We all hope to see Tiger do his usual race up the leaderboard today after a slow start yesterday and for us Brits Rose, Westwood and Poulter are the guys to keep an eye on. Poulter should have shot even lower yesterday thanks to his brilliant iron play and Westwood is in the form of his life so let's see what happens...
Lee Westwood and friends...
I decided to follow Lee Westwood fhrough the front nine today and I still think he's got a good chance of being right in contention come Sunday. As well as driving past his fellow players as you would expect his approach shots have been good too. A little more luck putting and he'll be right up there again by the end of the day. The back nine pin positions have made it easier to pick up a few birdies so to get through the front nine one under is fine, providing he can make the most of 16, 17 and 18.
Lee's dad Laurae and family friends were also following him and it sounds like his aim is to stick in there today before going for it Saturday, so we'll see how it goes.
Gary Lineker also popped over from the BBC's studio to watch Lee on the first couple of holes and was egging him on so it looks like he has the support needed to do well...
I watched Ian Poulter come in on Friday and spent some time listening to the American public. Put simply they are falling in love with the great showman for England. After his Tiger comments the USA now know who he is and he's matching his new found fame with a sublime golf game here at Augusta. His driving and approach shots have been fantastic, much better than Tiger's so far. All I hope is that he keeps it up, because the he could do great things for UK golf in the States. They love a showman!
Saturday April 12th
The players warm up...
I've been down to the driving range before kick off this morning and all the big names are there working on their swings. Tiger is spending time on his driving after a poor performance off the tee yesterday. Watching slo-mos of his swing the experts are saying he's coming too far on the inside, unlike when he was playing well a few weeks ago and he'll be aware of that. He will also spend an hour on the putting green just before his tee off.
Phil Mickelson is down there too working on his irons again as he looks to take the outright lead today. And with the weather threatening rain it looks like it's going to be a very interesting day that could well play into the hands of the big hitters like Tiger, Westwood et al...
Adam Scott has been warming up in preparation for his 12 noon tee time dressed in a hideous Burberyy rain jacket. It's a good job his golf game is better looking! His short game is loking really sharp on the evidence of his practice session. I watched him hitting chips, bump and runs and lob shots as well as bunker shots for 30 minutes and every one went within 6 feet - every single shot! That's more than I could have said for Ian Woosnam, also on the same short game area, who struggled to get one that close!
Adam then joined Tiger Woods and Boo Weekly on the putting green and continued his good form, hitting some superb long putts. Tiger was doing his usual putting drill through a tee peg gate and didn't stop until he had hit 50 consecutively into the cup from four feet. It's just a shame the rain has arrived to spoil the party!
Ian Poulter shanks his way out of contention...
It happens to even the very best of them. After his heroics on day one and two of The Masters the wheels came off a little for Poults on 9 and 10. I was watching him come through nine and he hit a good drive to put himself in a great position to play in. He set up as normal for his approach but then somehow managed to shank it towards me on the right side of the fairway. That, and then a double on the next hole put him in a difficult place and out of contention, unless he conjures up a few more hole in ones tomorrow.
As well as a fair share of sugar daddies with their trophy wives several decades younger than they are there are also a few celebrities paddling through the mud here at Augusta (the rain earlier has made some of the walkways more farmyard than Augusta fairway). I spotted Tiger Woods' wife Elin and randomly Max Beesley following Nick Doughtery, who has brought his whole village by the looks of his entourage!
'That' shot by Tiger on 18 and round-up
I watched Tiger come in from his 4-under round of 68 today and again he found the trees with his drive. From the green you couldn't see a way through at all but a flash of iron and a scuttling Tiger meant only one thing. Incredibly he had found the green. As you would have expected the crowd went mad as he had kept himself in the event.
A great back nine by Immelman again has meant that Tiger will, however, need a miracle final round to claw it back as I can't see Trevor buckling under the pressure. Snedekr proved his game can become a bit suspect under pressure so if anyone will drop away it could be him, closely followed by Flesch. Let's just hope Paul Casey isn't one of them and he brings it home for the Brits. All still to play for and I don't know about you but I can't wait for Sunday!!!
Sunday April 13th
This is when it all happens...
It's Masters Sunday, the skies above Augusta are full of Lear Jets bringing in the great and the good (and the ridiculously rich!) which must mean one thing. We're at the cutting edge of the greatest golf tournament - The Masters.
The players in contention are all out on the practice range sharpening their game for what promises to be one humdinger of a finalo day.
Can Casey shoot another low score, will Immelman and Snedeker capitulate or will Tiger Woods produce his greatest ever comeback. All of it and more is possible as we go into Masters Sunday.