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Strike while the iron's hot...

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Rob Hodgetts | 16:34 UK time, Thursday, 9 April 2009

Augusta allowed herself to be ravished under a bright blue sky on Thursday but the perpetrators are expecting payback over the next few days.

Stung by criticism that the Masters has lost its magic in recent years, after the lengthening and tightening of the course, allied to several bouts of poor weather, the Green Jackets responded with a layout set-up for low scoring, with shorter tees, receptive greens and generous pin positions.

A hot, sunny day with little breeze also helped, and Chad Campbell raced to within touching distance of equalling the course record of 63, only to bogey the last two holes.

But with the test likely to be stiffened up, perhaps as early as Friday, Campbell's seven-under score will ring alarm bells among those who failed to fill their boots. The good times, it seems, may have been and gone.

"I've a sneaky feeling they're going to toughen this thing up," said Paul Casey.

Padraig Harrington, aiming for a third straight major title, added: "I would expect to play a golf course that's very difficult because we are playing a major championship.

"At some stage you really expect to be tested right to the end of your limits."

Phil Mickelson did not make the most of the cnditions on day one

The likes of Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Sergio Garcia all failed to cash in on Thursday and go into cut day at least eight shots adrift.

Worryingly for them, the chop comes after the lowest 44 scores and ties, and includes anyone within 10 of the lead. A toughening up of the course could either bring the leaders back to them, or they could be spat out of the tournament as they fall further off the pace.

Mickelson, aiming for a third Masters in six years, is praying for another day of calm weather.

"I'll play in the afternoon and a lot of time the wind will kind of calm down around five o'clock, six o'clock, so there's a good chance I'll have good conditions on the back side because I'll most likely need it," he said.

The trouble is, the forecast is for showers and a few thunderstorms in the afternoon with winds gusting to 20 miles per hour. And ominously for the strugglers, Campbell, Jim Furyk and Larry Mize - to name just three of the leading pack - will play in the morning.

Harrington, nestled in the bunch at three under, can afford the luxury of singing a different tune to Mickelson and co, and as the winner of the last two majors, he knows the words better than most.

"Does it make any difference whether you're three, four, five under par the first day?" he said.

"The leader is [seven under], obviously putting pressure on themselves for the next three days.

"It all depends how you play the next three days, not necessarily what you've done OK the first day."

Justin Rose would concur, after enjoying a share of the first-round lead with Trevor Immelman last year, only to card 78, 73, 76 to slide to a tie for 36th.

And Woods?

His back-nine blitz on Thursday to get to three under after 15 faltered with a bogey at the last, but he hasn't won 14 majors by worrying about that sort of thing. In fact, he has never done better than 70 in the first round at Augusta.

"Yeah, that's how I won it four times," he said.

Woods and Harrington are truly able to decipher the big picture and are content just to bide their time until Sunday afternoon.

But for those who struggled with Augusta in a good mood, time might not be on their side if she turns bad. The axeman is lurking.

Augusta, the 12th green, Wednesday, about 1730 local - On the eve of the Masters, as the shadows lengthened in the late Georgia afternoon, I received another golden ticket, on top of the one that got me to Augusta in the first place.

I was invited to join a BBC TV film crew as they went deep behind the ropes - and over the Hogan Bridge - to film an item with Ken Brown on the 12th green.

The view back over Rae's Creek towards the tee of this treacherous par three is one few people get to witness in the flesh. And you can see what the commentators mean when they say it is one of the few moments of sanctity for the players, tucked away from the crowds over the water. Not that it is very peaceful trying to scrape a par at this potential deathtrap.


The first shot was to explain the strategy off the tee. Ken placed four red cups in the rough spots the flag would be in on each of the four days. "Is this some kind of drinking game?" asked Lee, our fixer from the Augusta National.

While cameraman Jon Fay sorted out his kit, producer Paul Davies buffed Ken's shoes and tucked in his shirt. Ken took a deep breath and then we were rolling.

"Here on the 12th at Augusta, you've got to be so sure of what club to take off the tee, but it's tricky with the wind swirling above the trees," he explained.

Ken talked through the implications of each flag position and the consequences of missing short or long.

"No matter where the flag is, you must aim over the bunker. That way, if you fall short you just catch the sand, you don't trickle back into the water."

Being the pro he is, they nailed the shot in one and we moved onto the fringe.

Ken had a practice putt and watched it race away across the green. "Cor, it's quick innit," he said. Paul, on his toes, scurried around to stop the ball sliding into the creek.

With the camera on, Ken explained how you had to make a decision between putting or chipping.

Ken Brown's explains the tactics on the 12th

"They mow the grass away from the green so there's a bit of a nap," he said. "Putting is tough. There's a danger of snagging up, then it releases down the green. It's fiendishly fast. Very tricky."

Switching to a wedge, Ken explained that it was probably the preferable choice to avoid the fringe grass, but sounded a warning.

"You've got to be pinpoint accurate with your strike or you'll dump it in front of you." He stared down the lens and held his pose for dramatic effect.

Next up was a bunker sequence. "You going to hit a shot?" asked Lee. "I'm going to thin a shot," said Ken, modestly. With Jon perched precariously on the bank, Ken went through the dilemma players are faced with - either being too cute and hitting the five-foot high lip, or playing the conservative option just to get out. He then produced a peach of a shot to show he's still got it. "And it had a little bit of check on it," Ken said proudly.

Spotting Soren Kjeldsen's caddie Kevin Woodward, who was out doing some last-minute surveillance work, Ken persuaded him to join in the filming. "How important is raking?" he asked.

"Very, because you don't want to get a $200 fine for not raking properly," said Woody, who was very keen on the Augusta model of rake.

"They tape the ends so you don't get drag marks," he said. "They're the best rakes."

Moving onto the putting surface, Ken, clearly enjoying himself, opened up with a funny: "Are these greens fast? It's like saying 'is Norfolk flat?'"

He stroked a couple of long putts to show how far the balls roll and then walked towards the camera to talk about the grass in close up. Producing his car keys, he poked them into the surface, Geoffrey Boycott style. We all winced, though I don't think Lee saw. (It's OK, it was right at the edge folks, and he repaired the miniscule hole he made!)

Then it was putts from inside six feet. "Do you want me to hole it or miss it?" cracked the impish Ken.

Turning to the camera he said that the dilemma players face is, "Do I trickle it in the side door with the break or do I boof it into the back of the cup?" As it was he lipped out, but it illustrated the point well.

In summing up, Ken said: "Those little putts can turn your 68 into a 75 and that's you going home for the weekend." Cue more dramatic gurning into the camera.

The BBC TV crew film on the 13th tee at Augusta

Before our time was up we nipped to the adjacent tee on the long 13th. If ever there was a shot worth learning a draw for, this is it.

Ken did a piece to camera about choosing the right line so that you don't run into the pine straw if you go too straight and don't cut off your second shot if you chop off too much of the corner.

"This is often the easiest hole on the course," said the maestro. "Get it right and you can get on for two and make an easy four, get it wrong and you can take eight."

With the shoot in the bag, we packed up. "Didn't you get three twos on the 12th when you played?" Paul asked Ken, who played in the Masters in 1988, the year of Sandy Lyle, finishing tied 36th.

"What was the other one, a seven?" said Ken's son Tom. I think he was still smarting that I nabbed his spot in the elite party allowed across the water. But he's OK, he's with Ken. He'll get another chance.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Rob,

    Can you tell me why Padraig Harrington always struggles at the Par 5 15th?

    Another bogey for him there today but a good round all the same.

    Thanks.

  • Comment number 2.

    Readers may not be aware that there have already been two British winners at Augusta this week. David Malcolm and Peter Crabtree were presented their USGA Book Award for their magnificent volume 'Tom Morris of St Andrews' about the life and times of the famous nineteenth century golf professional, who won The Open four times, and is still the oldest winner of the event. Rand Jerris, Director of the USGA Museum and Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History, praised the high quality of content and production values of the book, which 'set new standards of golf biography and historical scholarship'. Malcolm and Cabtree were presented with the award at the Golf Writers of America annual dinner, on Wednesday, the 8th of April.

  • Comment number 3.

    I cannot remember a day like that in a major for a long time . The scoring was incredible which leads me to think today will be toughened up incredibly . I see you have the afternoon weather rob but what is the morning supposed to be like ?

    Tano,As for Harrington it has obviously become a mental issue with that hole as he layed up before chipping over the green in 3 and then taking 3 from the back of the green .

  • Comment number 4.

    I was surprised to see sow many bogey's made on the 18th by the leading players. Was it fatigue?

    At a guess, was the 18th playing as one of the most difficult holes?

    With regard to the weather & with Tiger Woods out early, then beware, "The Tiger is loose".

  • Comment number 5.

    Great 1st day of golf, gonna get tougher though. Would be great to see 'Oly' make a score today...
    And please, please can somebody tell Ken Brown & Sam Torrance there is no British Open, it is The Open Championship, they should know better!!!

  • Comment number 6.

    Tiger to win quite comfortably, with harrington and furyk running him close. Mcilroy will have a good round today and finish top 20. Go on Rory

 

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