In its continuing moving toward world domination, or at least in hopes of passing Mossad, MI6, CIA, Russia and NFL scouting in global spy rankings, the Masters distributed new credentials to media members that are embedded with hidden radio-frequency identification chips (RFIDs).
These chips are commonly used to identify and track livestock and assorted farm animals, so the step down to sportswriters isn’t considered significant. Augusta’s green-jacketed secret service agency said the RFIDs are to more easily identify those asking (possibly irritating) questions in news conferences, but the technology must have malfunctioned during Big Brother Billy’s state of the Masters address Wednesday because at some point two writers asking questions were identified as, “The gentleman in the red shirt,” and, “The guy in the black hat.”
Both were later tased, tagged and released.
Alas, while the lords of the Masters have proved adept at plundering local housing, gobbling up real estate and vaporizing streets in the name of course and club expansion, they can’t control the weather. (Chairman Billy Payne will have another discussion with the Creator about this at the next board meeting.)
On Monday, rain forced the course to be closed twice and eventually evacuated. On Wednesday it happened again, this time cutting short the popular Par 3 tournament.
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Now it gets serious. It’s supposed to rain into at least the early-morning hours before Thursday’s opening round, and there are projected wind gusts of 30-to-40 mph Thursday and 25-to-30 on Friday.
This prompted U.S. amateur champion Curtis Luck, who will play in his first Masters, to say, “I’ve played in wind my whole life. Wind, I usually classify as my friend. But I would say this course might be a different beast with 30‑mile‑an‑hour wind.”
Speaking of beasts: By mid-afternoon Wednesday, the rain and dark skies suggested Augusta National was being prepped for the arrival of Gozer the Gozerian, not Jordan Spieth. Club members are not amused. There hasn’t been such a disturbance in the Force since Martha Burk.
The Masters embraces clear skies and warm sunshine and azaleas that bring Better Homes and Gardens to life. The blooming period seemingly takes place on Chairman Billy’s command.
But not this year. Amen Corner is not filled with endless splashes of color but rather a wall of green, dotted by the occasional lonely white or pink flower.
“Regrettably, the same weather that propelled our course and greens to near‑perfect condition caused our normally spectacular azaleas and other flowers to bloom three weeks early,” Payne said. “That premature bloom, combined with recent consecutive hard freezes, has diminished our otherwise beautiful and traditional coloring.”
Payne tried a news conference Hail Mary: “So this year, we have decided that our color of choice is green, Augusta green.” Fail.
(Payne thought bubble: Embed microchips into azaleas. Threaten those considering early blooming with mild electrical shocks or death by aphids.)
Like any outdoor event, the Masters has been messed with by the weather. In 2007, Zach Johnson shot middle rounds of 73 and 76, but won his first major with a 1-over 289. Strong winds and cold temperatures taunted and laughed at the world’s best golfers, inflating scores and leaving Johnson with a score equal to the highest of any winner in history (tying Sam Snead in 1954 and Jack Burke in 1956).
In 1983, heavy rains pushed back the second round to Saturday. The tournament didn’t end until Monday, with Seve Ballesteros, who sometimes plays like a human rain storm, just fine with that. He won his second Masters by four shots over Ben Crenshaw.
Rain-drenched fairways obviously favor long-hitters. But winds and cold favor nobody. The forecast calls for temperatures of 55 to 62 on Thursday, 43 to 62 on Friday.
Former pro, Georgia Tech alum and Golf Channel analyst David Duval said the weather is going to make the first round “a ridiculously hard day, and experience is going to be thrown out the window because everybody is going to be fighting those winds. How many times has Phil Mickelson gone around this golf course in 30 mile-per-hour winds? Once? Twice? Very rarely do you encounter that here. It will be almost new to everybody.”
Knowing the winds have been coming out of the West, Spieth took a compass onto the course Wednesday, charting where West was on each hole on the back nine. He said winds also could affect putts, not just when the ball is in the air.
“You don’t want to have 5‑footers from above the hole when the wind is blowing,” he said. “Because of the speed of the greens and the amount of slope there is, the wind affects the ball that much more. There’s so little friction on the greens that the wind can move putts from 5 feet, and it’s significant — more than half a cup sometimes.”
Even the best players and the leaders of Augusta’s empire understand there’s a limit to their power.