Geno and Ivan's rainy day Masters chat
While heavy rains pelted Augusta National on Saturday, delaying the third round of The Masters by more than four hours, Ivan Maisel and Gene Wojciechowski were left with nothing to do but discuss the tournament so far, ponder Sunday's final round and, of course, trash-talk. Here's your chance to eavesdrop on the exchange.
GENO: Raindrops the size of canned hams continue to fall here at Augusta National. The only prayers being said at Amen Corner have to do with clear skies for Sunday. With that in mind, I'm predicting a Big Five -- Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen -- romp during Sunday's play.
Even with Augusta National's state-of-the-art drainage pump system, the fairways are still going to be a bit soft. That means the longer hitters will have an advantage. Four of the Big Five -- Mickelson, Singh, Els and Tiger -- are ranked in the top 18 in driving distance after the first two rounds. And in PGA Tour play this season, Tiger is averaging 302.9 yards, while the other four are all averaging more than 292 yards per drive. That will come in handy Sunday.
IVAN: OK, stat boy. Way to inch out on that limb. One of the Big Five to win The Masters? Who'da thunk? First of all, a moment of mourning for who won't win it. The water will take the roll out of the course, which means goodbye to Ben Crenshaw hanging around, and probably Rocco Mediate, too. So much of the fun of The Masters is the old guys using their wiles to whip up on the whippersnappers.
Second, I'm a little surprised you left out a dark horse, say, like Mark Hensby (67 on Friday).
GENO: It's Mr. Stat Boy, to you. And I'll get to my green jacket winner later on. I simply said the Big Five is going to overpower the leaderboard Sunday. And, yeah, wave farewell to two of the more interesting storylines of the first two rounds: Gentle Ben and Mediate, a reporter notebook's best friend. As for Hensby, no way. You remember the Friday 67. I remember the Thursday 80.
IVAN: What stinks about this storm is the first two rounds justified the changes that Augusta National made in the last 12 months. That's right. Let's give it up for Hootie. The course is tighter, yes, and it's lost that part of its personality. But the greens remain as diabolical as they ever were, and the players are hitting the clubs into those greens that the last generation hit back in the days of persimmon woods.
One thing nobody talks about with the changes is how much more difficult it is to watch this tournament from the gallery now that the fairways have been pinched in and trees have been planted on No. 11, No. 15 and No. 17. The back nine is terribly crowded. Of course, as I write this, I imagine the readers saying, "Shut up. I'd give my right arm to be crowded on the back nine." So I will do that. Shut up. Which leaves me wide open to a retort from you. Have at it.
GENO: This is like slow-pitch softball. Here comes the Shut Up line ... and the whiff. I'm taking a pass because, scarily enough, I agree with you about the course changes. Golf courses are meant to evolve, and the latest changes were part of Augusta National's evolution. Yes, the course lost one part of its personality, but gained another. I can live with that, and I think the players can, too. And if they can't, well, Mediate had the right idea: then don't play in the tournament.
Meanwhile, the rest of America wants your press badge so they can "suffer" through the crowds of patrons. Still, I'll take The Masters over the U.S. Open for gallery viewing.
IVAN: Yeah, I'm sorry I brought that up, because I knew you media types would turn it around. I will say this: The Masters is the only tournament I cover where the stands are filled at 10 a.m. on Thursday, which is another reason that this is one of the great sporting events.
OK, let's go to Verne at 17. In other words, back to golf. I love Chad Campbell. I would give your right arm to have his swing and his even keel. And I know he's been around the block a couple of times. I'm just not convinced that he can hold the lead through two rounds Sunday with All Those Guys chasing him.
Sentimentally, I'd like to see someone win it who hasn't won it before, like Els or Goosen, simply because it would mean more than a green jacket. It would make each of them 1-up on history. In Ernie's case, you get three-quarters of the way to a career slam, you're in pretty slick company. In Goosen's case, adding a Masters to two Open titles would prove he's more than a horse for a USGA course.
GENO: Where does the anger come from, Ivan?
By the way, the stands aren't just filled on Thursday. Try finding a seat during those practice rounds. These folks understand and appreciate golf. I'm not sure I've heard a, "You da man!" here in years. And they don't clap unless you hit a truly good shot. Listen to the greenside patrons. You can hit it to 20 feet of the pin, but if you're on the wrong side of the hole, they won't applaud much.
(In hushed tones) To Verne at 17 ... I'm not anti-Campbell (Sports Illustrated did a poll a few years ago where the players said he was the next big thing), but I'm not sure he's tracking toward a major this weekend. That said, he made a point Friday to mention that he is much more comfortable here than he was in 2003 and 2004. He did finish tied for 17th last season. And let's remember he beat Tiger in the Match Play earlier this year before losing in the quarterfinals. But that 70th place finish in The Players Championship gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Els is a good call. In the previous six Masters (I'm starting to sound like Digger Phelps here with the stats, aren't I?), the Easy has finished 2nd, T-6, T-5, T-6, 2nd, and 47th. He's rested, and he knows how to play this course with a patient attitude. But, as Hawk Harrelson might say, he's not my pick to click.
IVAN: First of all, what is it with the stats? I feel like I'm doing a chat with Rain Man. Second of all, is there anyone under 40 and/or outside of Chicago who knows who Hawk Harrelson is?
Before we get to your -- gawd -- "pick to click," what do you make of Tiger? I know he's money not to break 70 here on Thursday. I know he has turned it on with a flick of the switch here before, as recently as last year. I know the wet course plays right into his sweet spot. And I know the minute anyone doubts him, it's like putting rocket fuel in his tank. But he just seems like he spent the first two days fighting himself, or his putter, or something.
GENO: I'm an excellent driver. Excellent.
And you're aware that people under 40 are allowed to hear Hawk do White Sox games, right?
Now then ... Tiger. Remember last summer's British Open? Tiger looked like he wanted to snap his club shafts in two during his Saturday round at the Old Course. Then he about lapped the field on Sunday and won going away. And don't underestimate the need to win one for his old man, Earl, who is battling prostate cancer, among other ailments, and will be watching back in California.
OK, give me your real medium-sized longshot pick (no Hensby allowed), and your short-odds choice. Please include your reasoning, however flawed by your Stanford education.
IVAN: My first long-odds choice is that we're getting in any golf at all today, or make that, tonight. When the thunder was right overhead a couple of hours ago, I never would have believed it. And I know that Tim Clark is tied for fifth, which hardly means he's 10 furlongs back (I'm going to the Kentucky Derby next month, Geno, so I'm practicing my track lingo). But he's a relative unknown with a lot of game in the majors. He keeps the ball in play, and even though the course just got a lot longer, he nearly won the PGA Championship at Oak Hill and the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Yes, Geno, I looked it up.
My short-odds choice is Two-Driver Phil. Anyone who comes in here winning on this tour by 13, and putts the way he has the last two days and is still on the leaderboard, I like him. Because you know Phil will get his putter straightened out. That means I'm turning my back on the Stanford guy. I must say, though, that Vol-Orange shirt you're wearing today is looking good. So that's what you're doing with that ironing board in your bathroom.
GENO: Never, ever mock Rocky Top orange, or my ironing skills. As you know, chicks dig the creased shirts.
Anyway, golf will be played. And when it does, I'm putting my imaginary longshot money on ... ta-da, the other Clark, except this one has an e at the end of his name: Darren Clarke. Clarke is in the exact same position as your man, in fifth place and not expected to be a Sunday factor. The carefree Northern Irishman is paired with Mickelson for round three, and if anyone can handle the crowds that swell around Mickelson, it will be Clarke. If nothing else, I'll root for his wardrobe, which is more nutty than your gold pants-with-Nehru jacket ensemble. Clarke has done OK here, including a T-17 last year. And he has the perfect attitude for this place: he doesn't take it too seriously.
Two-Driver Phil, eh? He's all yours. Big difference between the BellSouth and Augusta National. He shoots 65 here Sunday, I'll wax and buff your Vega.
I'm going with El Tigre. You see a guy fighting his swing; I see a guy who played just OK and still only trails by five strokes with two rounds to play. Five strokes to us is like two strokes to Tiger. So I'm going with the guy who already has four green jackets. And by the way, I won't tell Tiger that a Stanford alum (you) is picking against him.
OK, buddy, bring us home.
IVAN: First of all, only my wife Meg touches my Vega. Second, Clarke is a great choice, if only for Kleenex reasons. He's a good guy, and his wife is battling breast cancer, and if he wins, there won't be a dry eye on two golfing continents.
The one thing I like about your Tiger pick -- other than its ridiculous obviousness -- is that playing 30-plus holes at Augusta National on Sunday will be an extreme test of mental and physical will, and Woods continually proves that he's stronger on both accounts than everyone else out here.
So let's get ready for Breakfast at Amen Corner -- Huevos with Hootie -- and what should be a long, fascinating Sunday.
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