Maybe ‘Tiger-Proofing’ has worked?

April 12, 2008 | Drew Forrester

No one else will say it, so I will.

I watched The Golf Channel yesterday and Steve Sands, Brian Hewitt or that woman (Olga?  I honestly don’t know her name but she’s not very good) who has no idea what she’s talking about won’t say it.

Scott Van Pelt and everyone else at ESPN don’t have the guts to say it. 

And, as far as I can see, no one else is writing it, either.

Maybe after this weekend when Tiger fails to rally in the final two rounds at Augusta, everyone will catch on.

“Tiger-proofing” the course at Augusta National has worked.

When he shot that amazing 18-under-par score in 1997, the “good old boys” down in Georgia gathered in the meeting room afterwards and said, “now THAT can’t EVER happen again.”

So, they took to making sure it didn’t happen.

They didn’t make ALL the changes at once, mind you.  It took the better part of 5 years or so for everything to settle into place and for “Tiger-proofing” to take hold.  Longer holes, conveniently placed pine trees and reconfiguring a couple of the greens and the areas around them has made Augusta a place that you just can’t shoot -18 anymore.

Yes, it’s safe to say it has all worked.  Or, at the very least, it has helped even the playing field, if nothing else.

Sure, Tiger’s 10-handicap chunk-lob- wedge from 80 yards on the 2nd hole yesterday had nothing to do with “Tiger-proofing”.  His inability to draw the ball toward the hole on #11 yesterday after a perfect drive isn’t the course’s fault.  And his wayward drive on #18 (a hole, for once, that played relatively easy yesterday because of an accessible pin location) that clattered around in the pine trees and forced him to sweat out a par isn’t related to “Tiger-proofing” either.

Woods has some swing issues he’s dealing with, obviously.  How else can you explain the handful of loose shots he hit in the first two rounds?  He’s played eight par 5’s in the tournament this week (3 of them are reachable in two shots) and here’s his scorecard on them: #2 ~ par, bogey — #8 ~ par, birdie — #13 ~ bogey, birdie — #15 ~ eagle, par.  You can’t play Augusta and have a chance to win if you are -2 on the par 5’s after two rounds.  So that stat has little to do with “Tiger-proofing” the course and has more to do with Tiger not making good golf swings. 

Tiger defenders will also point to the fact that he got the “bad end of the draw” in the first two rounds and they would be right.  That’s something casual observers of the tournament don’t quite understand, but it’s a HUGE part of who wins and who doesn’t and who makes the cut and who doesn’t.  Woods played early on Thursday (11:45 am) when it was damp and breezy.  The majority of players in the afternoon took advantage of easier conditions and lighter winds and scoring went down in the groups that teed off in the 1-3pm time slots.  Yesterday, Woods got the late time (1:52pm) and it was right around then that the winds picked up and drove scores up at the same time.  A look at the leaderboard shows that nearly every guy “on the first page” who played early on Friday had scores in the 60’s…the rest of the gang battled to shoot par while they dealt with those tricky Augusta winds.

OK, so part of Tiger’s Thursday-Friday downfall CAN be attributed to luck — if you want to call “the tee-time draw” luck, that is. 

But, there have been plenty of events where he’s been on the good side of the draw and the weather and elements have HELPED Woods and HURT others.

In this Masters, and in the ones he’s failed to win over the last few years, something is starting to surface that few people are talking about.

Woods is having a tough time playing Augusta.  That’s just a fact.  And the numbers support that claim. 

He’s only won one green jacket in the last five years (2005) and, even then, he made bogey at #17 and #18 to squander a late lead before beating Chris DiMarco in a playoff.

Phil Mickelson hinted yesterday after his round that the longer, tougher Augusta isn’t as fun as it used to be.  Gingerly choosing his words because you never want to rankle those old dudes with a lot of money who run the place, Mickelson talked about the course’s length and the overall difficulty and said, “Look, it’s still fun to play in this tournament and I love coming here, but they’ve made it so hard that we’re not really thinking about making birdies much when we’re out there.  We’re playing more defensively here than we’ve had to in the past.”

Well, so far, it’s not been that hard for Trevor Immelman or Brandt Snedeker.

But, Mickelson is right.  And Woods, I’m sure, would agree that Phil is on the mark.

The golf course is SO difficult and the greens are so incredibly perplexing that stretching the course out to 7,500 yards has merely served to reward the half-dozen or so guys who are “spot-on” with their games and the rest of the field, even at 90% effectiveness, can’t contend. 

Immelman, Snedeker, Flesch, Mickelson, Ames…those guys are apparently hitting on all cylinders and might be able to play representative golf this weekend.  The rest of the field…good luck.

And that means Tiger as well.

News flash:  Tiger’s not coming back from this deficit and winning. 

Sure, I could be eating my words on Sunday night when Zach Johnson slips that coat around Woods’ shoulders, but I don’t see it happening.  He’s not playing well, he’s not hitting the shots he needs to hit and, more than anything, he’s just not making enough birdies to contend.

And, since no one else will say it, I will:

I think Augusta might like it that way.