Tough Masters set-up not motivated by Johnson’s record win

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Augusta National didn’t create firm and quick conditions for this week’s Masters as top-ranked Dustin Johnson broke 20 below par to break the course record last year on a rain-softened setup .

But club president Fred Ridley isn’t complaining about the tough conditions set to welcome golfers when the first major championship of the year kicks off Thursday morning.

“We have the golf course where we want it. It plays firm and fast,” said Ridley. “Our goal is to keep it for the week.”

A world-class peloton of 88 golfers made final preparations on Wednesday on the eve of the 85th Masters, with the super-fast course being a very different test from the event delayed by Covid last November and dominated by Johnson.

“It really has nothing to do with the way the golf course is playing right now,” Ridley said.

“The course is in the best condition I have experienced in the 20 years that I have been a member.”

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Johnson will look to become the first winner since Tiger Woods in 2002 as four-time major champion Rory McIlroy seeks a win to end a Grand Slam career.

Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters winner, trained with 12th-placed McIlroy on Wednesday and both marveled at the speed of the greens on the par 72 track.

“Rory has said it five times – ‘Have you ever seen greens like this on Wednesday’ – and five times in a row I said no,” Couples said.

“If it stays that way, I mean, honestly, a 70 or a 71 will be a hell of a score.”

Players also worked on putts, chips and driving before the green jacket pursuit began.

“The faster greens have a little more pace,” said 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir of Canada. “You really have to think about it. Those landing zones get smaller as the greens get firmer like that and the accuracy of the shot is increased.”

Such shots will elicit roars from a limited number of spectators allowed under Covid-19 security protocols after last year’s Masters were played without fans due to the virus.

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“Bad shots are punished a bit more and good shots are rewarded because the areas on the green are so small,” said Australian Marc Leishman.

“The more you know the course, the more beneficial it is. When it’s like that, there are places where you have to put a big red X in your distance book and make sure you don’t reach it.”

Italy’s Francesco Molinari, the 54-hole leader in 2019 before losing to Woods, is in uncharted territory.

“Don’t think that I have seen it so quickly and firmly before,” Molinari said. “We’ll see. I’m as ready as possible.”

Lee Elder, the first black golfer to play in the Masters, will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as honorary starters this year, hitting the ceremonial tee shots to start the tournament on Thursday morning.

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– Even crazier? –

There is a risk of thunderstorms on Friday which could soften course conditions, a likely reason the course has been so firm so early.

“If the rain doesn’t come it will be really fun,” said sixth-placed Xander Sc Chaudele. “He has the potential to be even crazier.

“I think every guy who plays professional golf is a bit of a masochist so I’m here for the torture,” said ScHotele, “and my caddy and I will do our best if it gets really tough.”

Woods, a five-time Masters winner, sustained a serious leg injury in a car crash in February. California officials said on Wednesday the crash was caused by excessive speed.

“I was deeply saddened to learn of Tiger’s tragic car accident,” Ridley said. “Tiger Woods is one of the greatest competitors in the history of all sports.

“He has missed a lot this week and we continue to hope and pray for his recovery.”

js / bb

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