By: Fred Albers, PGA TOUR.COM Correspondent
In 2010, I watched Adam Scott struggle with his putting at the Shell Houston Open. He was so frustrated; at one point he putted while looking at the cup rather than the ball. Players use that technique as a drill during practice but rarely during tournament play. Scott finished 186th on TOUR in strokes gained-putting that year. A switch to the long putter revived his career and produced gradual improvement. Scott finished 143rd in strokes gained-putting in 2011, 145th in 2012 and is ranked 78th this season. His birdies on the 72nd hole and in the playoff are two of the great putts this year. Cheers, mate.
Thumbs up: Golf brings out sportsmanship you rarely see in other venues. In the heat of the playoff, Angel Cabrera applauded Adam Scott’s approach into the 10th green, with the Aussie then returning the thumbs-up gesture. In a day filled with great moments, that split- second of sportsmanship ranks with the best.
Happy feet: If you want a quick indicator as to the quality of Angel Cabrera’s shot, watch his feet. He struggles with his balance at times, shifting his feet as if performing an Argentine tango. When Cabrera remains grounded, his balance is good and he hits quality golf shots. He struggled with balance in Sunday’s final round but recovered, starting on the 16th tee. His balance was perfect on the approach into the 18th green, leading to birdie and the playoff.
Unlucky: Tiger Woods came into the Masters as the prohibitive favorite. A combination of bad luck and bad putting had him finishing fourth. Woods’ wedge into the 15th hole Friday might have been the tipping point. Woods was too accurate. The ball hit the flagstick and kicked into a water hazard. A quarter of an inch, either left or right, and Woods probably makes birdie instead of triple. That’s a four-shot swing. The subsequent ruling over an illegal drop affected Woods’ play on Saturday and he left too many makeable putts short in the final round. That wedge on Friday was terribly unlucky for Woods but golf repeatedly teaches us, it is not a fair game.
Green speed: Putts were consistently left short on Sunday. Some rain affected the speed but greens were not exceedingly fast for any round. There is so much undulation in Augusta National’s greens that downhill putts are very quick, but putts from level lies are not faster than any other week on the PGA TOUR. The putting surface also remained receptive to iron shots throughout the tournament. When the greens were comprised of bermuda, they were crunchy hard but when the tournament switched to bent grass years ago, the putting surfaces softened.
Sand man: Jason Day is ranked seventh on TOUR in sand saves this year. He gets up and down 66 percent of the time. Day demonstrated that touch when he holed out for eagle from the greenside bunker at the second. On the 13th hole, his bunker shot cozied up to within a couple feet, leading to a birdie. Day was 4-for-6 in sand saves for the week and 3-for-4 in the final round but rolled the dice one too many times when he was bunkered at the 17th hole and did not get up and down.
Preparation: A change in the PGA TOUR schedule dramatically affected players’ preparation for this year’s Masters. The Valero Texas Open immediately preceded this year’s tournament, instead of the Shell Houston Open. Players liked the Redstone Golf Club in Humble, Texas because it mimicked Augusta National’s greens and fairways. TPC San Antonio is a completely different course, playing in high winds with tight driving fairways. Phil Mickelson looked out of sorts all week and said he missed his usual tune-up in Houston. Rory McIlroy finished second at the Valero Texas Open but did not bring the same game to Augusta. The 2014 Shell Houston Open is expected to return to its normal slot in the TOUR schedule, immediately preceding the Masters.
Tough start: Alister MacKenzie liked his golf courses to begin with a gentle warm up, usually a short par four that allowed a player to ease his way into a round. You wonder if the Scotsman would recognize the first hole at Augusta National. “Tea Olive” has been lengthened to 445 yards and players averaged 4.292 strokes, making it the second hardest hole on the course. The opening hole gave up 25 birdies and 94 bogeys, plus nine double bogeys and one “other” this week.
The par-3, fourth hole was the hardest on the course. At 240 yards, it gave up just ten birdies this week with 103 bogeys, ten doubles and two “others,” playing to a stroke average of 3.389. When you have the same number of birdies as you do double bogeys, you have a tough golf hole
Pace of play: Masters Sunday is always a long day. The final tee time was 2:40. That’s a long wait for a pair of players like Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera. Both of them are high energy, quick tempo golfers. They are among the faster players on TOUR in pace of play. When you have two fast players paired together, it means long waits on the tee and fairway. You wonder if Brandt Snedeker became anxious from the waiting before and during in his final round.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.