A Major Mistake

April 16, 2000

I must be getting old.

I can remember when the Masters was exciting. I can remember
when the back nine on Sunday meant guys making epic eagles.
Meant you'd hear roars that would make your spleen do a double
Salchow. Meant legends would shoot 30 on the back side to come
from five behind and put something in your eye.

Now the back nine at Augusta is the world's only library with a
creek running through it. Great place for a nap. Or a flute
concerto.

Do you realize the best players in the world made only one eagle
at Augusta on Sunday? One! By Colin Montgomerie, two hours
before CBS started broadcasting the final round. Come to think
of it, there was only one eagle on Saturday, too. Two eagles for
the entire weekend!

In 1997 there were 11 eagles on the weekend. In 1991, 11. This
year, two. Hell, Bruce Crampton made four in one week!

Wow! Two eagles! Yeee-hah! Bartender, No-Doz for everybody!

Yeah, the guys at Augusta really Tiger-proofed the place all
right. They introduced rough, planted trees, shaved banks, moved
tee boxes and stuck pins on cliffs. They made it doubly hard to
bend your drive around the dogleg at 13. They made the 15th
fairway narrower than Penny Lane and the green there harder than
the hood of the new Beetle. And it has worked. Since Tiger won
going away three years ago, he's broken 70 at Augusta twice.
Yeah, they Tiger-proofed it. And fun-proofed it. And
thrill-proofed it.

Hey, thank god we got rid of that Tiger kid. Welcome to the
Vijay Singh Era!

A black-market Masters badge was going for as much as $10,000
early last week. Wasn't it worth it? Almost as exciting as
Yahtzee Night with Steve Melnyk.

Every year the folks at Augusta give out a pair of crystal
goblets for each eagle. In 1992 they gave out 34 sets. In 1983
they gave out 26. This year they gave out 14. You could have fit
all the crystal goblets they gave out on Sunday in a
decent-sized fanny pouch.

Hey, maybe it was a budget-cut thing. Save on the crystal, pass
the savings on to the membership. Masters chairman Hootie
Johnson: "Gentlemen, I have an announcement: We finally saved up
enough for the halfpipe!"

But what's insane isn't just how they've turned the back nine
into the Augusta city morgue. It's how they're also trying to
turn the Masters into the Buick Open.

This tournament used to be unique, remember? Win a PGA Tour
event, and you were automatically in the Masters. (Not anymore.)
Players went off in twosomes, never threesomes. (Not anymore.)
There used to be new pairings every day. (Not anymore.) The
course was known for its gorgeous, unfettered expanses of
rolling football-field fairways without a speck of rough. (Not
anymore.) It had the look and feel and joy of a place found
nowhere else on earth. (Not anymore.)

I guess it's progress, but I don't go to Augusta for progress. I
go to see young Sergio Garcia roam the same course young Gene
Sarazen roamed. I go to see greenkeepers pruning history. I go
to Augusta to stop time, not to worry about keeping up with it.
They say it's progress. Well, hey, why stop there? Let's put
railroad ties on 12. A Starbucks on the veranda. Why not gobble
up some land across town, build us a TPC at Augusta Springs and
move the Masters there?

"Do they do things here that I wouldn't do? Yes," Jack Nicklaus
said last Saturday night. "Is this the Augusta we played? No. Is
this the Augusta we won on? No, not even close. Does it take
away the flavor of Augusta? Yes. Is it what Bobby Jones had in
his mind? No way. Not even close. But does it matter what I
think? No, it doesn't."

Actually, I think it matters a whole lot what a man who has
played 41 Masters thinks. I also think it matters a whole lot
what the fans think, and from what I could hear, they were
either bored to a flat line or had their larynxes removed at the
gate. I also think it matters a whole lot what kind of winners
the new Augusta has bred since the Tiger-proofing. Good
players--Jose Maria Olazabal, Vijay Singh--but legends? No, not
even close.

That's the thing to be worried about. Augusta used to give us
legends. Augusta used to give us thrills. Augusta used to give
us unforgettable Sundays. (Not anymore.)

Yeah, well, you know what they say. The Masters ends on the back
nine on Sunday.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

They Tiger-proofed Augusta all right. And fun-proofed it. And
thrill-proofed it. Welcome to the Vijay Singh Era!

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)