The number 80. It’s a dubious figure in golf, at least if you’re a touring professional. Not since Kenny Knox with a third-round 80 at the 1986 Honda Classic has any tournament winner carded that aggregate or higher. It’s never happened at Augusta National Golf Club where, with 77s, Sam Snead (third round, 1952) and Nick Faldo (third round, 1989) share the highest score en route to victory. Snead still won by four; Faldo needed a playoff. However, it’s a round number that will be embraced this week because the Masters is in its 80th edition.
While parts of the North have reason to disagree, winter officially ends when golf fans from that latitude settle in to watch the first major of the year. Those on site will have been smart to wear comfortable shoes on a piece of property where a flat lie is but a rumor. Yes, ANGC is exponentially hillier than what’s perceived on a two-dimensional monitor, but it’s still as advertised as arguably the most iconic golf course on the planet.
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Augusta National’s familiarity is the reason why there’s a learning curve to claim the green jacket. The world’s best return every year with their experience in pursuit of a career-defining accomplishment. And it’s not about splitting fairways and hitting greens that matters. It’s about where to target tee balls on forgiving landing areas and where to avoid missing on approach. Those objectives build the foundation for a run at the title. Putting is the eternal equalizer as long as the first two missions are accomplished, at least to some degree. There is too much prior knowledge in play and in a tournament where the cut is a competitor-friendly low 50 and ties. Everyone within 10 strokes of the 36-hole lead also plays on.
Not that defending champion Jordan Spieth cares much for trends. After sharing second place in his debut in 2014, he cruised to victory in wire-to-wire fashion last year, becoming the most recent since Charl Schwartzel in 2011 to win in just his second appearance. Only three golfers have won in their debuts, the last being Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 otherwise known as the answer to the most common Masters trivia question, but it’s often overlooked that Tiger Woods’ win in 1997 occurred in his first appearance as a professional. His previous two were as an amateur.
After ranking as the hardest par 72 in 2013 and 2014, Augusta National played to a tame 72.536 last year, slotting it way down at seventh-hardest among all par 72s in 2014-15 alone. The par 3s and par 4s are traditionally among the toughest sets on the PGA TOUR, so taking advantages of the par 5s on the 7,435-yard test is a must. Spieth blew away the entire track, ranking T2 in both par-3 and par-4 scoring and finishing T4 in par-5 scoring. He equaled the tournament record of 18-under 270 (Woods, 1997) on the shoulders of 28 birdies, most ever in a single edition.
Spieth’s record is safe for at least one year as moderate-to-high winds are forecast for at least the first three rounds. Augusta National is sheltered by mature trees, but they can do only so much to diminish the influence of the breezes. After the threat for inclement weather ends midday on Thursday, sunny and dry conditions will take over, but it’s going to be cool the rest of the way. Daytime highs probably won’t touch 70 degrees.
POWER RANKINGS: Masters Tournament
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 1 Rickie Fowler 2 Jason Day 3 Adam Scott 4 Rory McIlroy 5 Jordan Spieth 6 Phil Mickelson 7 Bubba Watson 8 Justin Rose 9 Henrik Stenson 10 Dustin Johnson 11 Hideki Matsuyama 12 Patrick Reed 13 Louis Oosthuizen 14 Charl Schwartzel 15 Bill Haas 16 Sergio Garcia 17 Ryan Moore 18 Matt Kuchar 19 Paul Casey 20 Zach Johnson