Thomas Boswell: The Time Has Come for the Masters to Soften a Very Hard Course

Angel Cabrera uses a third consecutive day with a round in the 60s -- a 69 -- to push into a first place tie with Kenny Perry at 11-under par heading into the Masters' final day.
By Thomas Boswell
Sunday, April 12, 2009

AUGUSTA, Ga. On Easter evening, will Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera, the co-leaders after three rounds of this Masters, look at the scoreboards in Amen Corner and get a chill down their spines? Will they think: Here comes Jim Furyk or Chad Campbell, or even Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods on a back-nine birdie binge?

Or, as has been the case in 16 of the past 17 Masters, will the winner come out of the last twosome? Will the roars and drama of yesteryear remain mostly a memory, an oddity, just tales for the oldest member to retell on the veranda?

Oh, the Masters has gotten the message. They want the thunder in the pines to come back. They know that, from Woods down to the lowest fan, that everybody in golf wants them to stop turning Augusta National into a torture chamber. Let somebody have a chance to become a golf legend on the final nine holes on Sunday. Reopen the possibility, even if it is mostly in our imaginations, that someone can shoot a 65 or 66 on Sunday to grab a green jacket.

This week, the Masters has gotten the weather it wanted, too -- sunny, balmy, breezy with one night of rain to soften the course, nothing like the frigid winds and rain of the past two years.

So now, perhaps, we'll find out. Has Bobby Jones's design masterpiece been toughened up too much to cope with modern equipment? Or, by playing from easier tees and with more forgiving pin placements, can the Masters once again be a perfect blend of risk and reward that has entranced generations?

We've got one U.S. Open, our annual June endurance contest. That's enough, thanks.

The most likely possibility is that we'll see a blend of both outcomes. There will be no over-par eyesore like Zach Johnson's winning 1-over-par in 2007.

Scoring has been healthy, but not excessive, with Cabrera (68-68-69) and Perry (68-67-70) in command of the course, not the other way around. As Cabrera pointed out, scoring conditions are usually hardest on Saturday in major championships. Sunday, the door is left ajar for greatness. Already this week, we've seen two 65s and two 66s. It's out there.

"The back nine, that's where it's all going to happen," said Perry, who held himself together on a day when he said he was "out of sorts and out of sync" early in the round.

Yet even Perry, who expects the last two hours to be a roller coaster, does not anticipate a truly low score from a challenger. That's part of the new Masters dogma. "It's hard to shoot a low score out there," Perry said. "You're just not going to do it."

Mostly, it's mythology that the Masters is won with great comebacks and a wash of birdies. But that scenario has played out often enough, and with players of sufficient stature, that it must remain a core part of the Masters narrative for this event to maintain its majesty. If nobody believes that a 64, 65, 66 is possible for a Sunday comeback, then much of what transpires here each spring is subtly diminished.

Whether Phil, Tiger or any other popular favorite causes a stir on Easter, the Masters very much needs to return to its roots. And soon. This sprawling celebration of tradition has gotten away from one of its richest rituals -- the dazzling comeback. Low scores, or at least the possibility of them, don't necessarily lead to upsets. But they help.

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