The Big Numbers not so Hot
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Golf is most definitely a numbers game. In fact, 18 of them each day for those who, as the expression goes, ply their trade for fame and fortune, or maybe just Footjoys and food. The activity then translates into more numbers, a thing called the Official World Golf Ranking, or the ungainly initials, OWGR.
in Masters Number Game
The ranking starts at No. 1, of course. That’s the position of greatest ego gratification, not to mention of nourishing the wallet. But more of that in a moment.
The ranking, for the week of April 14 – this week – goes all the way down to 1,346th in the world, which position is held, to put it gracefully, by one, Hilmi Abd Rahman, of Mys, which three letters seem to offer the shelter of the word, “mystery.” But back to the numbers game.
Numbers, as a game, was not an easy one to play here in the first round of the Masters Thursday, despite the gentle weather. Take, for example Germany’s Martin Kaymer (in golf jargon, more familiarly given as World No. 1 Martin Kaymer). He opened with a 78. That’s 6 over par, almost certainly good for a quick ticket home, considering that Northern Ireland whiz kid Rory McIlroy, nearing his 22nd birthday and playing in his third Masters, shot a 7-under 65. McIlroy, despite his youth, is No. 9.
South Korea’s Y.E. Yang, conqueror of Tiger Woods in the 2009 PGA, was about to tie for the lead. But Yang (33rd) bogeyed the last two holes for a 67 share for low Korean honors with K.J. Choi (43rd).
Then there’s Logo Lee Westwood, World No. 2, who scratched out a pedestrian par-72. And No. 5, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, 2010 U.S. Open champ and a big reason why Tiger Woods is no longer World No. 1, making a 74.
All this, by the way, took place on a day when Augusta National basked under a soft and sunny Georgia sky, and when there was hardly enough breeze to waft the fragrance of the azaleas into the next fairway. The leaderboard was jammed with names one is not likely to hear at the water cooler – names such as Barnes, Schwartzel, Quiros and Fisher.
This was, in short, a day when Tiger Woods should have shot, oh, at least 65. Maybe 64 or 63, without straining the synapses. The other Tiger Woods, that is. “I’m only six back,” Woods said.
Phil Mickelson, No. 3 in the world and No. 1 in the hearts of the odds-makers – he’s the defending champ, too – posted a lukewarm 70, five off the lead. Three birdies, then a bogey at the 18th. “It’s OK, just OK,” Mickelson said. “I didn’t shoot myself out of it, but I didn’t make up ground on the field, so I’ve got to go do it tomorrow.”
Kaymer was tops in Europe with four wins last year, and rose to World No. 1 in February after finishing second in the Accenture Match Play and winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. He’d been rather comfortable with the designation till Thursday, when Augusta National, something of a pussycat for most, turned into that thing locked in the closet for him. Augusta continues to bedevil him. In his three Masters over the past three years, he was “MC” all three times – Missed Cut.
“Every day that I played here was a tough day so far,” Kaymer said. He was already stumbling when he got to the par-4 10th, a downhill test of 495 yards. Post mortem: “I over-hooked it a little bit and it took a terrible bounce, way left into the trees. I was able to hit it out of there, but I couldn’t reach the green with my third shot. Fortunately, I could maybe get up-and-down from the bunker for double bogey.” Follow that up with three more bogeys going home, and there’s your 78, his highest Masters outing yet. He missed the cut in his first three Masters. He’s odds-on to go 4-for-4. Kaymer said he might check with Bernhard Langer, the first German golfer of note, for some tips on how to play Augusta National. “There’s some courses that suit you,” he said, “and some that don’t.”
Westwood, runner-up to Phil Mickelson in the 2010 Masters, took the No. 1 title from Tiger Woods last November but never seemed all that comfortable or convincing with it. Before long, it was gone. And that was an unconvincing 72 he shot Thursday – two birdies and two bogeys on the front nine, same on the back. He over-hooked his second shot at the uphill, par-5 8th and bogeyed. He bogeyed the par-3 12th out of the bunker. “A good shot, pitched in the face of the trap,” he said, leaving it to others to define a bad shot. Said Westwood: “It’s not my game, is it, at the moment? If you can’t hole it out from four feet, you’re going to struggle, aren’t you?”
Like others, McDowell went facedown at the 10th. He missed the fairway to the right, hit it to the front left, pitched six feet long, rammed his putt six feet past, and two-putted from there for his double bogey-6, on his way to a 74. “Pace was my problem today,” he said. “The first nine, I could barely get a putt to the hole. And then I started blasting everything on the back nine.”
Not to dabble in puns, but it would seem that the Masters did a number on the big numbers.
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