Augusta diary - Sunday

The Masters defines the city of Augusta and the city fathers will do anything to protect the image of the world’s most famous golf tournament.

A player hoping to take short cut to the golf course to avoid a traffic snarl up was told by a local deputy to check with his superior at the main gate. 

But when he got there, the local sheriff told him: “Well sir, if the Tournament Committee says it okay, that’s fine. You’d better check with them.”

Now the conspiracy theorists are wondering whether Augusta National had anything to do with the grounding of the Cessna that flew banners making fun of Tiger Woods during Thursday’s opening round.

Messages reading, “Tiger: Did you mean Bootyism?” and the “Sex addict? Yeah, right. Sure. Me too!”, did not go down well with the green jackets.

Guess what? The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) interviewed the pilot and grounded the plane for having “over a worn-out tag on the seat belts.”

Was this the equivalent of the archetypal southern sheriff kicking in one of your tail lights and then fining you? The FAA said it was purely an internal investigation with no pressure exerted by the powers at Augusta.

According to the gossip site, the third banner was supposed to read “You knew, Stevie…You knew” - referring to Woods’ caddie Steve Williams. 

A fourth was to refer to one of Tiger’s alleged mistresses: “Tiger - Still on for the foursome? - Jesse James.”  

Ernie’s Augusta pain

The chances of seeing Ernie Els pull on a green jacket are becoming more and more remote.

Not counting this year, only five players have won the Masters in their 40s - Jimmy Demaret (1950), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1978), Jack Nicklaus (1986) and Mark O’Meara (1998). Els turned 40 last October and he has yet to find the magic on all four days.

In nine of his 16 appearances at the Masters, Els has been in the top 10 after three rounds at Augusta but never found the magic on Sunday.

His best chances came in 2000 and 2004, losing to Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson respectively and he admits he has not been the same since.

“This place just does it to me,” Els said as he went into the final round 14 shots behind Lee Westwood. “I prepared and prepared, and I think about it. It’s killing me.”

A Kinnings plan

In front of the clubhouse here at Augusta stands a majestic, live oak tree which is reckoned to be between 150 and 200 years old.  Under its huge branches, stretched like welcoming arms, some very serious business was done last week, affecting golf world-wide.    

“Being early in the season, it’s the first time people come together, so you need to be around to meet them,” said Guy Kinnings, mananging director of golf with the International Management Group, overseeing Europe, Africa and the Middle-East. “You’ll see tournament promoters, equipment people, among others. You’ll set deals in motion which may not be finalised until later in the year.”

But what would Augusta’s patron saint, Bobby Jones, make of all this mixing of golf and mammon?  “I think he would acknowledge that the game moves on,” said Kinnings. “And where better than a flawless place like this, to capture the right mood for the future of golf?”  Indeed. 

New look Augusta

Sitting in the front row of the media centre, you get to hear every word of the guided tours that Augusta members give their guests.

Before the final round, it was obvious that the green jacketed gentlemen were vastly pleased with the quality of the leaderboard with the world’s No 4 and No 2 chased by the world No 1 Tiger Woods.

After several grey Sundays, it has been their goal to bring back to the Sunday roars and course set up has a lot to do with that.

This year, players said they have noticed a change in the slopes leading into water hazards, particularly around the 12th, 13th and 15th holes. They say that the grass appearans to be denser and less likely to run down into a water hazard.

“It’s nice they don’t shave it completely,” said Jerry Kelly, a man with ancestors from Cork. “You can have great shots that will end up in the water.”

Tom Watson nearly hit into the hazard on No. 12 during the first round, but his ball held up on the bank and he chipped and putted for his par.

“I pulled a Fred Couples,” Watson said, referring to the final round of the 1992 Masters, when Couples’ ball miraculous clung on and he made par on his way to winning the green jacket.

“Short of 15 green is a lot softer,” Steve Flesch said. “A lot more than years past … The thickness of the grass seems more dense. I don’t see balls running over the back of 15 and short of 15 like in years past.

“It seems like they’ve softened that all out, maybe to make guys play more aggressively.”

Real pain for Sergio

Sergio Garcia’s quest for his first major goes on. So does the pain inflicted by his beloved Real Madrid.

At 30, Garcia is still winless after 46 major starts. Real Madrid could be about to go two season’s without winning a trophy.

On Saturday, Garcia had little to say as he shot a 76 to trail Lee Westwood by 16 shots.

“I’m off to watch the game,” he said, referring to the “Clásico” between Real and Barcelona.  Barca won 0-2 and now top La Liga by three points from Manuel Pellegrini’s €300m squad.

To add insult to injury, Garcia dropped the three shots in his first four holes of the final round.