This year featured my first visit to the grounds of Augusta National, for Monday's practice round (thanks Rumhead!). I don't get up early for many things, but Monday called for a 4:30 wakeup for the 2 hour drive to Augusta, Ga. Most events of this size require a lot of sitting in traffic, standing in lines and riding on shuttle buses, but we pulled into town and parked across the bloody street from the club. Best $15 I've ever spent. Getting there early probably helped, too.
It's impossible to express how difficult the course looks in person. Golf may not require the greatest physical conditioning of all sports (ahem!) but I'd challenge anyone to walk those hills for four hours and not be tired. So it's no marathon, but runners don't have to putt on those freakin' greens. Putting in the bathtub is an apt analogy.
Some quick notes to wrap up on the visit: it's more impressive a place in person than on tv; the security and staff are much friendlier than I'd been warned; the nicest guy on tour is Fred Funk and I don't think there's a single player under the age of 40 who has the personality to make fans feel welcome the way he and guys like Lee Trevino, Chi Chi Rodriguez and Fuzzy Zoeller did during their career, which is sad; David Duval is either such a jerk or so embaarrased by his play that he doesn't come near the gallery (I think it's the latter because I've seen him behave the exact opposite at other tournaments - he's got to be sick of going through the motions when he knows he can't compete anymore); $1.50 is the best price you'll see for a barbecue sandwich at any sporting event; I'd pay more if they'd give me more than about an ounce of meat on the bun.
The hubbub in the media is that nobody that can't drive the ball 320 yards plus has a chance of winning, favoring Tiger, Phil, Vijay and the like. That's certainly true, but since they're the best in the game I suppose every course favors them. If the weather holds, the course will play hard and fast allowing some of the shorter hitters into the mix, so guys like Luke Donald, David Toms, Jose Marie Olazabal and Aaron Oberholser could be a factor. And, Fred Couples is a lock to make the cut, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him near the top until late Saturday, when he'll probably fade due to fatigue.
Should be a fun week no matter what. I'll post more as the tournament develops.
Midday Update: I'm looking pretty smart with the leaderboard being a goodmix of bomber and shot makers. Currently Vijay, Couples, Toms, and Oberholser are among those at Even or better. Also, interesting to see Stuart Appleby's name up there, as he's a guy I've always thought should be a contender in majors. He's certainly among those with the distance to contend if that's really what it's going to take.
End of day update: For the record, David Duval finished the day with an 84, beating only Charles Coody, the 69 year old Masters champion from 1971 and is one of the last holdouts taking advantage of his lifetime exemption for reasons unknown. I mean, damnit David, Gary Player smoked you. He's 70. And I'm not helping my "Golf is too a sport" argument, except that Gary Player's probably in better shape than Lance Armstrong.
The leaderboard looks about as I expected, with a mix of stars and unknowns, vets and newbies. I think there are a lot of names at Even par that look like good picks, even with Vijay going pretty low today. They include guys like Tiger and Toms, Phil and Ernie (as of 5:30ish). Tomorrow will be fun.