Masters Round 1: age before beauty

COLBY COSH: Tiger’s game remains exquisite, while Tom Watson says he’s too old to stay in contention at Augusta


In the spirit of Augusta National, maybe we should treat Tiger Woods as just another golfer today. Perhaps we all thought there was something unsavoury about Woods making his return in such a stifling totalitarian atmosphere, with the club refusing to bend its rules about television coverage and policing the galleries for the smallest demonstration of adverse sentiment. But you can’t deny it made for good viewing. The almost hysterical reserve of the broadcasters served to put the focus on Tiger’s golf, which remains exquisite despite his brief vacation.

(The one venue of protest was the sky—even Augusta National can’t control that—where planes hired by pranksters appeared trailing banners that read “TIGER—DID YOU MEAN BOOTYISM” and “SEX ADDICT? YEAH. RIGHT. SURE. ME TOO.” These struck me as disappointingly feeble wisecracks for someone to be spending that kind of money on.)

Woods’ 68 is his best-ever first round at the Masters, even though, unlike some players ahead of him on the leaderboard, his position in the next-to-last threesome on the course forced him deal with increasingly chaotic late-afternoon winds and even a smattering of rain during his time in Amen Corner. This didn’t stop him from making everyone else look helpless. Time and time again he’d swoop in on holes other golfers had all but vandalized and play approach shots that were the equivalent of declaring “THIS is how it’s done here, students.”

He posted two eagles, along with three bogeys that no one could reasonably regard as a sign of “rust”. I was most impressed with the birdie on the par-five 13th, where he played his second shot onto a geometrically perfect spot on the rising back surface of the green and watched it back up to within ten feet of the hole. He literally couldn’t have done that more elegantly if he had the ball on a string (not without teleporting so that he had a different angle on it after it landed, anyway). More often than anyone else, Tiger plays shots that are more impressive, even to a near-total golf ignoramus, than flukily putting the ball directly into the hole would be.

But I’m much more happy about the early tentative vindication for my thesis, developed after Tom Watson’s down-to-the-wire battle for the British Open last year, that there might be no such thing as an old golfer anymore. Why should there be? We have LASIK, a growing buffet of anti-inflammatories, and what amounts to cheap consumer bionics now. There’s probably a golf use for Botox, though I don’t know what it would be. (I’m no pharmacist but I suspect it would kill you if you took enough to keep your head still during your swing.) Watson’s Open run followed mere days after he received a double hip replacement. People joked about this, when he led at Turnberry after the first round, as if it were a liability. They’re bound to stop joking and start booking operating-room time any minute now.

Watson himself declared before the tournament that he is too old to stay in contention on a course as long as Augusta. Fans should be aware that it’s only 3% longer than the Ailsa Course he dominated at Turnberry. But maybe he should be taken at his word and expected to succumb to some upstart punk. Like clubhouse leader Fred Couples—who at 50 has the extremely rare distinction of having outlived two ex-wives—or 52-year-old Sandy Lyle, three strokes behind Couples and two behind Watson, whose game has been in the wilderness almost as long as Watson’s was.

Note, too, that Watson’s Open good-luck charm, British Amateur champ 16-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero, is playing at Augusta for the last time before going pro. Manassero shot 71 today, which leaves him T-22nd with Mike Weir and Ernie Els and on pace to make the cut easily. Maybe there’s no such thing as a young golfer either?


Masters Round 1: age before beauty

  1. Good read. The length issue, though, will be real for Watson. By his own admission, the tees were up on Thursday. That will change and the length will increase through the weekend. It might not seem that material on any given hole, but if you're hitting 5 irons in where you would have been hitting 6 or 7 irons, that will wear on anyone over 36 holes.

    Also, the 3% difference in length between Augusta and Turnberry is a bit deceiving (I'm not sure what yardages you use, but the 3% number seems plausible). Turnberry, all else being equal, will always play shorter than its yardage (as will all Open Championship courses) given the running fairways. It wasn't that long ago that Woods won an Open without using a driver (he may have hit one or two, but for all intents and purposes he was playing a 13 club bag).

  2. I thought the Bootyism line was reasonably funny, but it sounds like you think you could do better. I think you can, too. What's your best airplane banner line?

    • Maybe that'll be my Round 2 finger-exercise.


      • We have a winner!


  3. Comparing Turnberry and Augusta is a little misleading. The distances have relatively little to do with how the two courses are played. At Turnberry, you absolutely MUST hit fairways or you pay a heavy price. At Augusta, missing a fairway means very little. Turnberry played into Watson's hands because he's consistant. Augusta will be different because the "bombers" don't have to ensure they're ball is in the fairway. On the other hand, the greens at Augusta are the toughest out there, and that should bode well for Watson.

    But either way, Watson is a machine, and I really hope he can keep it up.

    • I meant to add – building on this point – that the "senior" golfer who could have a chance is Couples. I know that sounds obvious given that he is the leader, but as you rightly say Augusta doesn't penalize the player who is long, but a little erratic off the tee (e.g. Olazabal won twice there). Couples, even at age 50, can get it out there with the young guys. His issue, of course, will be consistently holing puts inside 10 feet for saves and birdies – an absolute must to win this tournament.

    • In general it seems like you can survive at Augusta with a wide variety of playing styles; the careful, crafty design (as opposed to the Scottish "dig 18 holes in a pretty neighbourhood" design ethos) turns golf into a chesslike battle of philosophies and character. Maybe being straight off the tee isn't so important, but staying out of the drink and knowing your limits couldn't be more so. If Watson shot 68 once he can do it again. But, yeah, obviously Turnberry was the Platonically perfect match of course and man (and probably weather conditions too).

  4. It's not inconceivable that a golfer get a Botox injection to help their golf game. Botox is used to treat certain mobility issues. My wife's sister has cerebral palsy and gets Botox injections to partially paralyze certain muscles in her leg so that she can walk better.

  5. Its to bad he came back this early to play. It takes away from the game and leaves everyone feeling somewhat dirt. Like he needs a good bath. Its a stain on the Masters to have someone who has put 15 women on the 'map' for sexual intercourse while married. I don't blame them, I blame them 'both' it takes two to tango. They are single and he is married. He pursued them. Its quite a sordid affair all around. Nike has their PIMP and don't want to lose that. He's nothing more than a shill doing info commericals to hawk t shirt's. Think of those in the sweat shops working for $2.00 a day. Then look at the shill and how really devoid he is of any humanity.