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April 8, 2007
Your new Masters champion....
Okay, I admit it, I didn't think the kid could do it. Playing in only his third Masters, Zach Johnson showed the nerves of a grizzled veteran, especially down the stretch. It was an impressive performance on a wild final day at Augusta. Of the three Masters I covered, it was certainly the craziest, with all the lead changes and all the movement on the leaderboard.
It was really surprising to see so much action considering how tough the course played the first three days because of the harsh conditions. It was great to see the last day fireworks, just like I did predict this morning, and to see a new player emerge.
Tiger is a great champion but he didn't deserve to win today. Zach Johnson was the best player over the four rounds and he is a worthy champion. He comes from the same high school in Iowa as former Rams quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner. Masters champion and Super Bowl MVP, pretty interesting reunion huh?
He seems like a nice guy too. He got very emotional in the media room, talking about the win, his career and his family. He seems like a devoted family guy, and seems to genuinely love his wife and infant son. His son is a little older than my son Shaun was last year at this time when I came back to cover the tournament.
Speaking of my son, as fun as the tournament is, I look forward to getting home and giving the little guy a big hug. My wife tells me he keeps pointing at my photo and saying da-da.
There have been a lot of memorable moments this week. The tournament is simply the best event in sports. It's an honor to get a chance to be here in person and hopefully my excitement adds to your enjoyment as well.
Guess that's it from Augusta.
This golf blog is now a regular part of our web site so I hope you will check it out and give me some feedback
Posted by bbuttitta at 6:58 PM
Will Farrell in the house
Movie and television personality Will Ferrell just walked into the media center. He's being given a tour of our little work area and the rest of Augusta National by Greg McLaughlin, who heads up the Tiger Woods Foundation. The former Saturday Night Live star was the high bidder on a "Day at the Masters" package which the Foundation has up for bid during last year's Tiger Jam event, which is one of the major fundraisers for the Tiger Woods Foundation. Their other big event is of course the Target World Challenge which is held annually at Sherwood Country Club. I spoke with the star of "Elf," for just a second, seems nice enough. He's seems ever taller in person than he does on TV. He definitely needs to get a new hairstyle. He's walking around today with a mini-afro. I hope it's for a part he's playing. Not a good look.
Posted by bbuttitta at 8:21 AM
Who will emerge?
First off, Happy Easter to everyone.
We've reached the day we all look forward to, Sunday at the Masters. It always has a special feel to it and today is no exception. There is a lot of anticipation in the very cold air this morning. Unlike the last few years where Masters Sunday started with players finishing their third rounds, each player will only play 18 holes today. Most people expect that by day's end Tiger Woods will be slipping on his fifth green jacket. Tiger is certainly going to be a factor today, but I'm not sure he's going to run away with things. Augusta National has been the toughest competitor so far this week and it figures to remain that way for the final 18 holes. Also, Tiger has not been as sharp as normal through three rounds. He played his best round yesterday but let things slip at the end. If he does that today, there will be no fifth title.
There is no wind right now, but it's several hours before the leaders hit the course. The race appears to be wide open. It would surprise me if one of the Masters youngsters, Vaughn Taylor, Zack Johnson and Justin Rose win, but guys like Padraig Harrington, Retief Goosen and of course Phil Mickelson could certainly charge from behind for the victory. Let's hope the conditions allow for at least a little of that usual Masters Sunday magic.
Posted by bbuttitta at 7:58 AM
April 7, 2007
Pulliing for Tiger?
As Tiger Woods has been making his third round climb up the leaderboard, it's hard not to notice that the CBS broadcast team is obviously pulling for Woods to win. Several times one of the CBS crew said that it appears like Woods is destined ascend to the top of the leaderboard, perhaps by the end of the day. I realize that Woods drives ratings and having the world's greatest player in contention makes it fun for fans and media alike. But the TV folks need to stop rooting for good things to happen for Woods.
It is a little unfair to players like Stuart Appleby and Jerry Kelly who are both playing great golf.
Appleby in particular is playing very well. He's a very good player who has all the skills needed to win a major, he just hasn't done it before. But these conditions are to his liking and I will not be surprised if he finally holds on and becomes the first Australian to win the Masters title.
It's amazing to watch the greatest players in the world have to grind as hard as they have this week.
Seeing how tough the course is playing, I'm actually glad that I'm not in the running to play in the media tournament on Monday.
Posted by bbuttitta at 2:04 PM
This morning when I arrived at the National (that's what the locals call Augusta National) the temperature was a balmy 40 degrees. It's only supposed to get to a high of 58 and with the expcted winds, it's going to feel colder than that. But that apparently isn't going to stop folks from coming to see if Tiger and Phil can make a charge today. The lines to get into the golf course looked like the lines for Space Mountain on a really busy day in the summer. Large groups of people were inching their way toward the main gate. Thankfully there is a side entrance for those of us with badges, so I didn't have to wait. Good thing because I'm not prepared for the cold. The advanced weather forecast I saw before coming here predicted temperatures in the 80s so I only have some light sweaters to keep me warm. If it gets much colder perhaps I will have to go back to the souvenier stand and get a Masters sweatshirt.
Speaking of shopping, I've controlled myself pretty well this year. The only things I've purchased are matching Master shirts for me and my 1-year-old son Shaun, and a stuffed bunny for my wife. It's hard not to buy a lot of stuff because the Masters is just so cool. And for a major event the prices are very reasonable.
Saw something interesting at lunch yesterday. Amy Mickelson, Phil's wife, was sitting next to us in the dining room. When she got up to leave, one of the servers whispered something to her. What they told her was that any extra tip over 20 percent was not given to the wait staff. Not sure where the rest of such a tip ends up. After hearing that, Amy called her waitress over and placed $60 in her hand for a tip. From what I know about Amy, it was no surprise. She is one of the nicest people in the world and treats everyone wonderfully. In fact, when she saw me and my colleagues waiting for a table, she volunteered to give up one of the ones her group was using so we could sit down. The world needs more people like Amy Mickelson.
It will be interesting to see how the round unfolds. We should have a much clearer view of who might win after today.
Posted by bbuttitta at 8:14 AM
April 6, 2007
Maybe they weren't so bad
The 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team featured first time players Brett Wetterich, Vaughan Taylor, Zack Johnson and Lucas Glover. When the U.S. team got waxed by the European team, fans and journalists wondered where all the young golfing talent had gone in the United States.
Six months later, all four of those Ryder Cup rookies are making some noise through two rounds of the Masters. Wetterich is the co-leader, Taylor is a stroke back, Johnson is two back and Glover is three back.
Taylor thinks the pressure he and his fellow rookies experienced in the Ryder Cup is helping them this week. He also feels their showing is proof they belonged on the team and that the U.S. fortunes are in good hands. I tend to agree.
Off the course, there's been a funny story floating around that Fuzzy Zoeller and Craig Stadler have been telling. They say an Augusta security guard told them that a Japanese man arrived at the gates of Magnolia Lane on Monday with his clubs on a pull cart. When the guard said he couldn't enter, the man replied, "I play. I play," pointing to his "Practice Round" ticket. The guard had to explain the gentleman that the ticket entitled him to watch the practice rounds, not play.
With the tough conditions, it looks like it will be a wild weekend. I can't wait.
Posted by bbuttitta at 3:09 PM
The cold temperatures that have been predicted for days have finally arrived. How cold is it? The guard that scans our badges had a wool cap and thick gloves on. I've never seen that here. It will be interesting to see how the colder weather affects play. It was not this cold on Thursday and golfers were still saying they noticed a difference in how far the ball went. As usual, any time you have something which can affect play, we all tend to think that is an advantage for Tiger.
I wasn't able to blog much yesterday because the wireless connection here in the media center basically blew up. By day's end, the always prepared Masters staff had hooked up a bunch of ethernet connections for us to use to send our stories. And this morning, each work station has its own ethernet cord. They are a model of efficiency here. New Augusta National chairman Billy Payne was in the media center this morning making sure everything was working for us. It's nice having the guy at the top care ab out us lowly reporters.
While out following Phil Mickelson yesterday morning, I came across a spot on the golf course that I had never seen before. It is behind the fifth and 13th holes. It's a secondary entrance for patrons. It's a beautifully wooded area with nice walk ways and benches to sit on. It reminded me of the Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia. As you walk around you would never know there's a golf course just a few hundred feet away.
I've run into Simi Valley photographer Rob Brown a few times this week. Rob is an unbelievable talent. If you've ever seen or bought calendars, posters or other photos of Augusta National, there's a great chance at Rob took the photo. He is the official Augusta photographer. He told me the bloom was a little early this year, so he was very busy the week before the tournament shooting. If you love the beauty of Augusta National, you owe it to yourself to get some of Rob's work.
Assuming the connection stays up today, I'll write again later
Posted by bbuttitta at 7:02 AM
April 5, 2007
The King returns
Arnold Palmer was back on the first tee at Augusta National this morning, taking over as the ceremonial starter for the Masters. Palmer is the latest in a series of past champions who have served in this capacity, a group that includes Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson.
Because of his relationship with both the Masters and its partrons, Palmer is a perfect choice to fulfill this role. Arnie wowed the fans who came out early to see him. They gave him a long and warm ovation. His tee shot went left, landing short of the bunkers on the left side of the fairway. But it didn't matter, it was nice to have him back at Augusta after a several year absence.
At dinner last night, some of my golf writing colleagues and I were discussing whether Jack Nicklaus would ever serve as an honorary starter.
Most of us agreed that it will be a long, long, time before Nicklaus, one of the game's greatest competitiors, agrees to hit a golf shot that means absolutely nothing. Perhaps in 10 years, when Nicklaus is around 75, he will be willing to accept such a role.
During the same dinner time discussion we tossed around what will happen when Tiger and Phil reach this stage in their careers.
We all agreed that Phil, like Arnie, would be a great cerenmonial starter. He has said Augusta is one of the few golf courses where he gets excited to play every time he steps to the first tee. He too is beloved by the golf fans, so it would be a great way for Phil and his fans to reconnect after his competitive days are done.
Tiger will be like Jack, He is far too competitive to want anything to do with being a ceremonial starter. It might take even more time than it will for Nicklaus for Tiger to agree to hit a ceremonial shot.
Well, round one is under way and Tim Clark and Ben Crenshaw lead at 1 under, but both are early in their rounds. It's much cooler today but it's dry and conditions should be good.
Posted by bbuttitta at 6:49 AM
April 4, 2007
Taking a walk
For the first time since I arrived, I had a chance to get out and walk the golf course this afternoon. There was a prediction of rain, but it turned out to be a spectacular day.
As I walked down No. 10 toward Amen Corner, I flashed back to a year ago, when I had the good fortune of playing the golf course the Monday after the tournament. Even though it's been a year, each shot from that round remains clear in my memory, so I walked along recalling each shot. It sent shivers down my spine.
Since the weather is so nice today, I was able to spend my traditional time sitting in the media bleachers which face the 12th green. I love sitting there and taking in the quiet and the beauty. Despite putting my tee shot in Rae's Creek last year, I still love the 12th hole. It's my favorite spot on the golf course. I also walked along the 13th fairway and looked at the beautiful flowers and trees that line the fairway. It really is an amazing piece of land.
Prior to my walk, I went over and spent so time watching the annual Par 3 contest. It's a fun event and it's cool to see the players and their kids together. I was also taking photos for a Masters slide show that I will be putting together when I get back from Augusta. While over at the Par 3 Contest, I had the chance to watch Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player come through the seventh hole. It was awe inspiring to see the three legends of golf playing together. All three made par and got a huge ovation from the large crowd encircling the green.
The days leading up to the tournament are always fun, but I look forward to tomorrow's opening round and seeing how this year's tournament will unfold.
I'll write again tomorrow
Posted by bbuttitta at 12:38 PM
What a night
One of the unique perks about covering a major event like the Masters is getting invited to some of the various corporate parties that are thrown during the week. Mostly these parties are for clients, but we in the media get invited here and there. That's how my housemates and I ended up at the TaylorMade party on Tuesday night.
It was awesome!!!
As we walked through the front door of the house, we were nearly run over by Darren Clarke, wearing what looked like the "puffy" shirt from the old Seinfeld episode. Clarke was on his way out and knowing what we know about Clarke, I'm sure he wasn't headed home for the night.
As we wondered through the house, we saw other TaylorMade pros Scott Verplank, Retief Goosen, Fred Funk and Sergio Garcia.
The food was superb, deep fried turkey, which was unbelievable, and all the fixings. We made out way outside and sat poolside, where we were entertained by a local musician who played songs from some of my favorite artists such as Billy Joel and The Eagles.
Then came the highlight. John Daly joined the musician and proceeded to sing a collection of songs ranging from "Knocking on Heaven's Door," to Sinatra's "New York, New York." He did so while consuming a fair amount of his favorite adult beverages. It was an amazing scene and one will be talking about for years to come.
Posted by bbuttitta at 6:29 AM
April 3, 2007
Lunch on the Varanda
Following Tiger's press conference several of us decided to go over to the clubhouse and grab a bite to eat. We opted to sit outside on the varanda (balcony) which overlooks the first tee. Eating on the balcony is always a special treat because this is the only tournament where we, as media, are allowed to eat where the players dine. As we walked in, we passed former Masters champion Ben Crenshaw. Seeing greats like Crenshaw never gets old.
As we were leaving down the spiral staircase that leads to the bottom level and the clubhouse exit, we were nearly run over by another former Masters' champion, Gary Player, who hustled up the stairs and into the Champions locker room. I love his energy and am amazed he can do what he does at age 71.
We just had a media gathering with Arnold Palmer, who has agreed to take over as honorary starter.
It will be great to see Palmer hit the first shot on Thursday morning to open the tournament, even though it means getting up early.
My plan to walk down to Amen Corner this afternoon was foiled by Mother Nature. Rain is on the way so they are closing the course. Well, there's always tomorrow.
The rain is supposed to last through tomorrow, but past that the weather report looks good for the tournament. We all hope the rain stays away.
Reminder that I will be blogging all week from Augusta.
-- Bob Buttitta
Posted by bbuttitta at 2:28 PM
Back in Heaven
For anyone who has seen the Masters once in person and wondered if it's as exciting the second or third time around, I can attest that it is. I felt the same heart-pounding rush as I walked through the big green gates this morning to begin my third Masters week as I did when I experienced it for the first time in 2005.
I'm back in my now usual seat, E-21, a perfect spot in the middle of the media center. I am directly in front of the large scoreboard and the four, giant television screens that will broadcast the action.
Today is interview day, so a long list of players will parade into the media center, highlighted by Tiger and Phil making their appearances. My hope is to sneak out late in the day and make my now annual trek down to Amen Corner late in the afternoon.
Amen Corner is an amazingly tranquil place no matter when you see it, but in the twilight of the day it's almost too beautiful to desribe.
After having the rare privelege of playing the golf course last year, I can't wait to get out on the course and relive in my mind many of the shots I hit that day, even my eight on No. 12.
Throughout the week I will be passing along some observations and notes from my experiences here, with the hope of trying to give all of you back home a little extra flavor of Masters week.
Chat with you later
Posted by bbuttitta at 7:13 AM