by Jeff Skinner
The rain that has softened Augusta National prompted three time champion Phil Mickelson to say that this week’s Masters could turn into a “birdie fest.” If the greens are soft and very receptive the Masters hopefuls will be able to shoot at every pin and play the type of “fearless” golf that Mickelson says wins Masters.
If the weather reports hold true there will be more rain to deal with on an already wet course. It is true that each green at Augusta is equipped with a million dollar Sub-Air System that is able to draw the moisture from the greens but they can only do so much. After all, you can’t fool Mother Nature.
The predictable thinking is that the long bombers will have a greater advantage over a soggy Augusta. Tiger, Phil and Rory, already favored by most, would immediately gain a few strokes over the shorter hitters.
But Augusta National has made many changes to try and protect the course from the ever longer drives that come with the latest technology. One of the more recent changes is the mowing of the fairways towards the tee box. This prevents a ball from rolling out much more than in earlier years so the perceived advantage of getting more roll already has been negated.
It is true that length is definitely an advantage but that does not preclude the shorter shooters from being heard over the hills of Augusta. In three of the last ten Masters the winners weren’t long bombers but short shooters that used their finesse game to slip into their green jacket. Mike Weir, Zack Johnson and Trevor Immelman, at best would be considered average off the tee. But they made their way around Augusta with passable drives and used their short game to make their mark.
We don’t have to look too far to find a short hitter with enough game to win here or anywhere for that matter. Luke Donald is the little driver that could. The world number one would get out driven by Yani Tseng half the time but he didn’t get to number one in the world by luck. Donald has a short game that all golfers envy. He’s first on tour in strokes gained putting, seventh in scoring average, second in scrambling and first in scrambling from the rough. Those are critical scoring skills for Augusta National and that will enable Donald to level the playing field and should keep him in the mix.
Donald will do well to take a lesson from Zack Johnson’s victory in 2007. He won the tournament on the par fives, yes seriously. A short shooter used the par fives to his advantage. Johnson never tried to hit a par five in two shots and laid up all week. He played the par fives at 11 under par that week and wedged and putted his way into a green jacket.
So no one should fear the weather at Augusta this week. The green jackets will work their magic and have the most admired course in the world ready for the best golfers in the world, long bombers and short shooters alike and they’ll all have a chance to win.