The storms that battered Augusta National Golf Club the past few nights and forced an early halt to Wednesday’s Par 3 contest did minor damage to the course, but could dramatically affect play in Thursday’s curtain-raiser.
With thunderstorms in the forecast for Wednesday night and Thursday, and showers predicted on Friday, it appears there won’t be much sun to bake the greens into anything resembling their normally treacherous, “bikini wax”-like speed. Augusta National’s SubAir system should help dry them somewhat, but club chair Billy Payne said Wednesday that officials may reluctantly implement the lift, clean and place rule for the first time ever, after some two inches of rain on Monday and Tuesday nights uprooted trees, flooded portions of Rae’s Creek and washed out several bunkers.
“We surely would not want to have to [play the golf balls up],” Payne told reporters during his annual pre-tourney press conference. “That would be a decision [that's] very difficult to make. However, we are also bright enough to know that weather conditions can have an impact on that, and possibly cause us to change our minds on that issue.”
The soggy conditions did not concern Tiger Woods, who said Tuesday that the greens were “pretty soft and ... receptive,” but quick enough. Phil Mickelson, on the other hand, worried that his painstaking preparations and 20 years of local knowledge could go for nought, as he predicted a slew of low numbers for big hitters unafraid of attacking the flags.
“As soft as the golf course is, you can fire at a lot of the pins,” Mickelson said Tuesday. “I don’t want to say [the greens] are slow, but it’s just not the same Augusta. ... Unless something changes ... it’s going to be a ‘birdie-fest.’”
Recalling how Rory McIlroy lapped the field at a cushiony, defenseless Congressional Country Club in 2011, Mickelson said the 22-year-old was one of the big hitters who could take greatest advantage of the pliable greens.
“He plays without fear, which is a great way to play,” Mickelson said. “When you get soft conditions like at [last year’s] U.S. Open, he’s going to light it up.”