Do few birdies mean boring Majors?October, 2011 News & Tour
We ponder whether a Major championship needs low scoring to be exciting
YES says Mark Townsend, who insists birdies mean excitement
LET’S start with the year’s opening Major – name the dullest Masters in the past decade? It was so boring you could be excused for not even remembering it. Zach Johnson, it was 2007 by the way, might not be the sexiest golfer but part of the tedium was the lack of any excitement.
That was down to a) poor weather and b) a tough set-up. He was the first champion since 1956 to finish over par. Everybody moaned about the lack of roars and now, with, admittedly better weather, and a fairer test we have enjoyed three crackers in the last three years – Cabrera, Mickelson and Schwartzel all finishing 12 under or better.
Nobody looks back on any of those as putting contests on a course measuring 6,500 yards, but rather players repeatedly pulling off majestic shots to greens where you and I would three putt eight times out of 10. And on a course close to 7,500 yards.
And here’s some shocking news – putting is part of golf. So much so that something like 45 per cent of your shots are hit with the flat stick, even more if you can’t chip.
Once upon a time I used to ghost write a column in this magazine for a now Ryder Cup player. Every month without fail we would talk about how he had ‘struck the ball great but not holed enough putts’. I would try, pathetically, to enquire how this might change but his general logic was that ‘some weeks they drop, some weeks they don’t’. And, with that, we would leave it.
How many great putters have this sort of outlook? We all know that it’s bloody hard to get the ball in a hole 4 1/4 inches in diameter and, even more so, on Major greens where they might be ‘stimping’ at around 14, have ridiculous slopes or there are 40mph winds to contend with.
At the business end of things this is where the nerves can really show up. Sadly Rory McIlroy’s stroke wasn’t quite up to it on the final day whereas Schwartzel’s was. Four birdies to finish, a worthy champion and a fitting climax to another sensational Sunday.
I can’t recall any Major being set up for a putting contest.
It might happen in the Arizona desert where -28 sees off 12 players on -27, but it doesn’t in the big ones where vast courses, rapid greens and plenty enough hazards add up to great examinations for the greatest players. And if they can turn it on and finish 10 under so much the better.
“There are not really any roars any more. It’s hard to make eagles and birdies. I miss the guys being able to shoot 31 and win” – Tiger Woods on the revamped Augusta, 2009
We don’t need more birdies for more excitement – we need more drama and tension. NO says Dan Murphy, who likes a premium put on sub-par scores
LET’S call a spade a spade – we’re talking here about the US Open, the much-maligned US Open. Traditionally thought of as the dullest of the four Majors due to the USGA’s slavish devotion to par as a preferred winning score.
Let’s have a look at some recent winners – McDowell, Woods, Cabrera and Ogilvy. That’s all in the last five years. While Phil Mickelson usually finishes 2nd.
Boring? That’s not what I thought when McDowell was tip-toeing his way round Pebble Beach in a final round that featured only one birdie. Also in the top 10 were Els, Tiger, Phil, Kaymer and Dustin Johnson.
Or if that didn’t do it for you, how about Tiger on one leg defeating Rocco Mediate by a shot in their 18-hole play-off?
Or Cabrera holding off Tiger and Furyk at Oakmont. Or Ogilvy condemning Monty to a Major-less career at Winged Foot, when Mickelson double-bogeyed the last to miss out on a play-off by a shot?
At low-scoring events, it is almost impossible to propel yourself from one end of the field to the other. Play well and shoot 66, play badly and it’s a 72.
At the US Open, things can change very quickly. I always love looking at the leaderboard halfway through the first day – when any of the later starters who par the 1st immediately find themselves in the top 10. Or watching how an early starter who has posted, say, a 73 creeps up from being 95th at one stage when half the field are in the very early stages of their rounds and ends up in a respectable 25th.
People think that courses where runs of birdies can be made make for a volatile leaderboard – but that’s not how it works.
At a typical US Open, every player knows they are capable of shooting two under, and that such a round will move them through the field. Similarly, they could start the last nine in the lead and not even finish in the top 10.
Don’t confuse this with enjoying the best players in the world struggle, or relishing someone lumping a chip from juicy rough from one side of the green to the other. But I do like watching them being tested to the extreme. I like it when you have to do more than have the putting week of your life to win a Major. I like it when getting out of position is punished heavily.
We don’t need more birdies for more excitement – we need more drama and tension.
“It takes courage to win the US Open, more courage than it takes for any other tournament.” – Tom Watson, winner of eight Major titles