Longer Course Greets Masters Golf Field

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The Masters Golf Tournament is under way in Augusta, Ga. Steve Inskeep talks with commentator John Feinstein about what to expect from defending champion Tiger Woods, and changes to this year's course.


This is the day that many golf fans know it's really spring. The Masters Golf Tournament begins today in Augusta, Georgia. The defending champion is Tiger Woods, and commentator John Feinstein will be watching. John, good morning?

Mr. JOHN FEINSTEIN (Sports Author, Commentator): Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Of course, a lot of this is a very familiar scene year after year. You see trees, the flowers, the immaculately manicured lawns of Augusta National. That's what's going to be the same. What's going to be different about the course this year?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, once again, they've lengthened it. It seems like the men who run the Masters want to create the world's first 10,000 yard golf course someday. It used to be just about 7,000 yards, now it's closer to 7,500, which is a big change. And this dates back to 1997 when Tiger Woods won the Masters for the first time by 12 shots, and they went into a panic, the Green Jackets did, that this guy is going to out and just destroy this golf course.

So they started lengthening it and then made it long and longer, and now it is the longest championship golf course, probably in the world.

INSKEEP: Does that effect, on the back nine, there's a couple of very famous par 5's that the golfers can go for in two shots, very dramatic, does that affect those holes?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Yes, it does; 13 and 15 are the two holes you're talking about. In particular, it's affected 15 the last couple of years. And probably for the good, Steve, because that hole is a par 5, as you said, and it will become like driver and a short iron for many of the players, playing almost like a par 4.

And now the second shot, at least, they have to make a decision whether to hit a longer club over the water; there are also trees up on the right which make it more difficult to just fly your drive down the right-hand side and get a good angle into the green. So on that particular hole I think it's a change for the good. But you're right; it has changed the character of the back nine, because there aren't nearly as many eagles made at those two holes as there used to be.

INSKEEP: Somehow I imagine Tiger Woods, the defending champion, is still going to be going for those holes in two?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Oh yeah, and he won't be alone. But Tiger, when he wants to, can still hit it as long as anybody in the game. You know, he's ancient now, Steve; he's turned 30. But this is going to be a very challenging week for Tiger, not only because he's trying to win his fifth Masters and his eleventh major title, but his dad Earl is very ill; he flew home to Los Angeles in the middle of the Player's Championship week two weeks ago. As far back as a year ago, he mentioned his father and how sick he was in his acceptance speech here. So it will be all eyes, as usual, will be on Tiger.

INSKEEP: How do you think that his father's health will affect his play?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Knowing him as I do as a competitor, I can't claim to know him well as a person, I'm not sure any of us do. But the kind of competitor Tiger is, I'm sure what he will say to himself is, if this is going to be the last time my dad sees me play in a major championship, I want to win. And if anything, I think it will give him more motivation than he usually has, not as if he needs anymore.

INSKEEP: Now, of course, there have already been a number of PGA tournaments this year, which is a chance for pro golfers to show who's in good form and who's not, who's looking good?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, Tiger has played very well. He has already won twice in the United States and once overseas. The guy who was sort of sleeping for a long time was Phil Mickelson, and then he put on a record breaking performance in Atlanta last week. So on the one hand you say, well, Mickelson who won here two years ago is in very good form coming in. On the other hand, Steve, it's been 18 years since Sandy Lyle in 1988 that the player who won tournament the week before a major championship went on to win the major. So based on that, Phil might be in a little bit of trouble.

INSKEEP: This has got to be one of the most romantic spots for a lot of the pro golfers to stop?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, it is, Steve. I mean, it's the first major of the year. As you said, it feels like spring; the weather is usually warm; it's such a beautiful place. They spend millions every year to make it look beautiful. For the players there are the same traditions. They stay in the same houses every year. They know they're going to hear the corny music on CBS. And somebody on Sunday night, with the sun setting over the Augusta pines, is going to get a Green Jacket, and that's one of the great traditions in sports.

INSKEEP: John, thanks.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: The comments of John Feinstein. His latest book is Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four. This is NPR News.

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