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Rob Hodgetts | 18:00 UK time, Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Tuesday lunchtime, Augusta media centre -

"Tiger, do you expect to win?"

"Always." He fixed the female journalist with that deadpan, fearsome stare. And then possibly sensing he'd overdone it, he broke into one of those big beamy smiles and shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry," he laughed.

But that's Woods through and through. He tells it how it is and doesn't complicate anything.

The two sides of Tiger Woods

Another reporter asked Woods if he had any advice for 39-year-old Steve Wilson, a gas station owner from Mississippi, who is making his debut after winning the US mid-amateur championship.

"Yes," said the four-time Masters winner. "Hit it straight, hit the greens, make the putts."

(During a follow-up question someone else made the gag that Woods could buy the whole oil company. Tiger liked that one.)

Woods also revealed a hitherto undisclosed secret when asked how he makes so many clutch putts at crucial times, as he did a few weeks ago when he drained a 15-footer to win at Bay Hill in only his third event back.

"I was just trying to get the speed and the line right," he explained. Genius. Armed with that I must just become a major champion myself.

Our fascination with what makes Woods tick is in direct proportion to his bemusement that we just don't get it.

WEATHER, OR NOT

There's an undercurrent of feeling here this week that the old roars and birdie blitzes of days gone by have disappeared.

One reason cited is the changes to the course that have been made in recent years, with the extra yardage and tightening of the fairways with rough and newly planted trees making it that much more difficult. (They've actually shortened it this year - by reducing the 1st by 10 yards).

But another explanation is the poor weather that has plagued the past two Masters.

"The golf course is so much longer and so much more difficult. You don't have the same amount of birdie opportunities," said Woods. "It's just not the same. The scores reflect it, especially with the conditions we have had in the last two years. If it calms down, I'm sure you can probably shoot one of those good numbers, but there's going to be a different way of doing it."

Monday and Tuesday at Augusta have been hit by strong winds and cool temperatures - patrons hats were blowing off and marshalls were sporting ski gloves and earmuffs - and host of players have curtailed their practice rounds.

Woods, for instance, only played from the 10th to the 14th before finishing up at 18 on Monday and isn't bothering with a practice round on Tuesday.

"I'm not really going to learn a whole lot, they're conditions we're not going to face all week," he said.

The forecast for the weekend is sunny and warm on Thursday, cloudy with possible showers and thunderstorms on Friday, sunny by Saturday afternoon and sunny and warm on Sunday, with only moderate wind for the rest of the week.

Woods said that on the infamous short 12th on Monday evening he swung from hitting a five iron to an eight iron to a six iron in the space of a few seconds.

"You get any kind of wind around this place, it's amazing," he said.

Defending champion Trevor Immelman added: "On your second shots you only really have three, four, five yards to work with to where you have to land your ball.

"So when you get a gusting 30 mile-per-hour wind with 60ft pine trees, that four-yard gap shrinks and you obviously see scores shoot up."

But Immelman thinks the lack of excitement angle is being overdone.

"The forecast for this weekend is supposed to be good so I would expect guys to start really start firing at some pins and making some nice putts, and we'll hear those roars come back," he said.

"I think there's been a little too much made of it."

Woods as ever, simplified it in his own way.

"The lowest score will still win."

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

He's not selling himself short but defending champion Trevor Immelman reckons tonight's Champions Dinner is going to be the highlight of his week.

Sounds like he's already written off his chances of a back-to-back win, but he's 1-0 up on me in the Green Jacket stakes so I'll go with it.

"To be in the presence of so many great champions who I've idolised growing up is going to be such an honour for me," he said.

The shindig for all the past Masters champions is where last year's winner chooses the menu, traditionally dishes from his home country.

For instance, Sandy Lyle had haggis, Ian Woosnam requested Welsh lamb and Nick Faldo served up tomato soup and fish and chips.

Immelman said he put a lot of thought into it and wanted something authentically South African, but wanted to keep it simple. "I could have gone for a lot of wild game meat, but I didn't want to get it all here and then have them all eat filets. I want them to try everything," he said.

So instead they will be tucking into a starter of spinach salad, followed by babotie, a spicey minced meat dish served with yellow rice, or sosaties, which are grilled chicken and vegetables on skewers.

For dessert they will feast on melkteert, an Afrikaans milk tart, which according to Trev has the consistency of pumpkin pie. Whatever that is. Washing it all down will be wines from his native Cape Town.

Immelman's brother, Mark, couldn't contain his envy at his little bro' mixing with the golfing gods.

"You guys are like the coolest fraternity in the world. I can only imagine going to that dinner," he said.

That's all we can do as well, sadly.

IN THE GREEN CORNER

"What's all this about the Paddy Slam? Are you taking up wrestling?"

England's Lee Westwood demonstrated that famous Worksop sense of humour when teasing Padraig Harrington about his pursuit of a third straight major.

When Tiger Woods held all four majors at once it was dubbed the "Tiger Slam" - as opposed to the real Grand Slam of winning all four majors in the same year, or the career Grand Slam of winning all four during a career.

Naturally, some media wag named Harrington's quest the Paddy Slam, and it's stuck.

Harrington himself, though, brushes off the hype and the media focus on his rivalry with Woods and insists he was unfazed that only a dozen people chose to watch his practice round on Monday.

"It was five o'clock and it was cold," he laughed, adding, "I can go home to Ireland and get Tiger Woods-esque attention.

"Tiger is top dog and deserves all the attention, and coming back from injury, it's a fantastic story.

"Does that make him play better golf on Thursday morning? Or me? No.

"But I have to say, I don't belive in focusing on one individual, because in the end I'm always fighting with myself."

GREEN, GREEN GRASS

Leaving the course on Monday night after practice had finished for the day I spotted an eight-strong squad of greensstaff sprinkling tiny pinches of "stuff" on to the 9th green.

I wasn't able to get close enough to enquire what it was they were applying, but I did notice they were doing it very carefully and very meticulously, before haring off in carts, presumably to visit every green on the course.

It was fortunate then, that I popped into a bar called Somewhere in Augusta on my way home, for research purposes you understand. Oliver Wilson told me it was his favourite bar during his college days so I had to check it out.

I got talking to a chap called Sam, who works for a golf course construction company, who just happened to have helped sculpt some of Augusta's greens. They'd also done the Ocean course at Kiawah Island and Pinehurst No.2.

Anyway, Sam told me that the stuff the greenkeepers were using would have been green coloured sand to repair ball marks and scuff marks. By the way, Sam is convinced Tiger will win. "No-one can touch him when it comes o putting," he said.

Talking of greenkeeping, we're unlikely to get a stimp-metre reading this week (the device for measuring the speed) but for the stats buffs out there I can confirm that the fairways are being mowed at 3/8 inch, the second cut at 1 3/8 inch, the tees at 5/16 inch and the greens at 1/8 inch.

As always I welcome your feedback and feel free to fire me any questions you may have about Augusta or the Masters, or if there's something you'd like me to look into.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I'm sure every past champion will be glad to get a nice slice of milk tart, mmmm, milk tart...

    Nice article Robin, isn't it stimp-METER though? And surely everyone who's watched the masters knows about their green sand or "stuff" as you call it, even Gary Linker knows that and from the inane questions he asks each year, it seems he knows little about golf beyond what it's like to play a round with Darren Clarke. Bring back Steve Ryder, all is forgiven!

    And Oliver Wilsons favourite bar in college was in Augusta, I'm sre he took his studies very seriously indeed.

    http://pgatourist.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 2.

    Good write up again mate.

    I have a feeling for Andres Romero for some reason this week and his odds are great at 140/1 for small stakes.
    I also like Watney, Imada and McDowell all at big odds!
    Karlsson for a top 10 finish. All covered with a nice bet on Tiger of course!

    I seen some pictures of the course today - its just unreal. How do they keep it looking like that? You are one lucky git!

    Enjoy your time there and keep us informed with any inside info!

    DD.

  • Comment number 3.

    I was lucky enough to get 2 tickets for Masters practice a few years ago in the ballot so was able to see some of the stuff you talk about. The weirdest one for me was when they sprayed the 6th green with silica to try and dry it out - having sprayed on this kind of foam they then hoovered it up to literally suck the moisture out of the wet greens.
    Do they still dig up the greens every year after the championship because they effectively kill them by mowing too short?

  • Comment number 4.

    Romero? not sure if he has the patience for the Masters, it will be between Tiger, Goosen and my outside tip is Justin Leonard each way at about 100/1

  • Comment number 5.

    Amazing that you mention Linekers lack of golfing knowledge, I was at a dinner with Peter Aylis a few months ago and he said Lineker hates the job, but the bbc want him to front it, Steve Ryder was ok, but not the best, at least it isnt that dafty on Sky David Livinstone.

  • Comment number 6.

    We have a sweepstake at work as to how far into the opening 18 Sandy Lyle will get before he walks.

  • Comment number 7.

    Interesting that no-one's said anything about missing Monty this year. Funny that. Anyway, at the next press conference with any one of Fuzzy Zoeller/Craig Stadler/Sandy Lyle/Ian Woosnam/Gary Player (ok maybe not the last one as at least he's retiring) - ask them if they feel at all guilty somewhere in the back of their minds teeing it up knowing full well they have no chance of winning, and are blocking the chance of a promising younger player from breaking through.
    I don't blame them as they are entitled to it via past heroic deeds, and I'd take any opportunity to play Augusta over listening to Gary Lineker present it droningly on tv, but as they're members and can play any time, I wonder?!??

  • Comment number 8.

    #7 - We in the states have never missed Monty ( we respect his performance in a couple of US Opens and his Euro tour record but as a whole ..has never been competetive in the states on the PGA Tour ). #3 - They don't "dig' up the turf unless redesigning, recontouring, or putting in a new AirJet irrigation system ( I believe 11 of the 18 greens have them ).

  • Comment number 9.

    NedtheStableboy:

    Past champions aren't blocking anyone. Any player who qualifies is invited to participate - no qualification, no invitation. For example, this year Davis Love didn't qualify so he isn't playing; Danny Lee, 18 year old amateur, qualified and was invited. (As the Masters is run by a private club rather than the PGA or the PGA Tour, the tournament committee, who set the qualification rules, could invite non-qualified players. In general they don't, but exceptions are made - this year Ryo Ishikawa, a 17 year old japanese golfer, has been invited.)

  • Comment number 10.

    Forgot to say: Rob, great article. Hard to believe you and Iain Carter work for the same people. Perhaps you could give him a few pointers?

 

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