OK, so it lives up to the hype. Phew. People who know me would say I’m rather cynical and have a reputation for being under-whelmed by things that are supposed to be thrilling. I wanted to be wowed by Augusta National but had a terrible fear that I just wouldn’t be.
But, it’s pretty spectacular – the changes in elevation are even bigger than I’d expected (for instance standing on the 10th tee it’s hugely downhill to the fairway and on the par-5 8th it’s like climbing a small mountain from tee to green. The mown surfaces are absolutely pristine, the greens look fabulous and the azaleas, dogwoods, elms, towering pines etc. frame the fairways beautifully.
At the moment the grass on the fairways and some of the green surrounds is still a little longer than it will be when the tournament kicks off. Currently it looks like you would have a lie that even I could contemplate playing a decent pitch off. But, when they trim them for Thursday, chipping and pitching around the greens will become considerably more difficult.
Both Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood stressed the importance of the short game to success around this course in their press conferences today. Kaymer says he had, in previous visits, become hung up thinking that the course didn’t suit his fade but, actually, the principal reason he’d missed the cut in his last three outings was due to shots lost on or around the putting surfaces. We’ll see.
I decided to walk the course in its entirety from 1st tee to 18th green. I thought that the best way to get a true feeling for how the layout rises and falls across this superb golfing land that was once an indigo plantation.
There’s no question that the anticipation builds the closer you get to “Amen Corner.” There are some fabulous holes on the front nine, the two par-3s and the par-5 8th in particular. But, from the 10th tee, as the course drops down dramatically from the level of the clubhouse, the first tinges of excitement hit me because of what was coming up.
From the 10th green I crossed to halfway down the right side of the 11th and the copse of trees that so many errant tee shots end up in – it’s a favourite spot of Tiger’s. From there I caught my first glimpse of the distant 12th green and I experienced a feeling akin to déjà vu. I’d been here before hadn’t I?
Standing on the bank above the 12th tee, I felt like I’d crossed something off my golfing “must do” list. It didn’t matter that the only person I saw hitting a shot down there was Jason Bohn (a beautiful iron to within 8 feet of the pin on the par 3.)
By the way – Martin Kaymer has tipped Luke Donald as a potential winner this week. He says if the Englishman can replicate the short game performance he displayed in beating the German in the final of the WGC – Matchplay Championship then he’ll have a great chance. I’m inclined to agree.
Golf Monthly at the US Masters: