Masters veterans know when wind is friend or foe
"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."
- Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues
Masters Tournament participants - especially the veterans - will be paying close attention to "which way the wind blows" before they tee off in today's opening round.
They're not concerned about the famous "Augu-sta wind" that can make life miserable around Amen Corner (Nos. 11-13). Those winds swirl through the pines and can change direction in an instant, turning club selection into guesswork.
No, veterans want to determine the prevailing wind direction as they stand on the first tee.
If it's in their face as they prepare to tee off, they know it's coming from the northwest. That's the wind that makes Augusta National Golf Club play its toughest.
The 96 players in the field will get a break today; the wind is expected to come out of the southwest. On Friday, however, a northwest wind is predicted.
The northwest wind makes the course play its toughest because "some of the harder holes play against the breeze like 1, 4, 13 and 15," said Stewart Cink, the reigning British Open champion.
A northwesterly wind makes Nos. 5 and 7 play downwind, but "they actually play more difficult," Cink said.
"Like No. 5, holding that green is almost impossible ...," he said. "And No. 7 is hard to hold. You get a little break on No. 2."
Though most of the field dreads a northwesterly wind, short- to medium-length hitters such as Jim Furyk welcome it.
"If you step up on No. 1 and the wind is in your face, I'm happy," he said. "For all us short hitters, we want to see the wind in your face at No. 1."
Even if it's going to make the course's tougher holes play even longer? Yes, because they are also longer for the big hitters.
"I have a theory about it. I think when No. 1 is into the wind, I think a lot of the power is - I won't say neutralized - but I think it gives the average- length hitter a good opportunity in that event. If you look back at the years the bombers won it, it seems like No. 1 is always downwind."
Furyk can't normally get to par-5s such as No. 13 and 15 in two shots - but neither can most of the long knockers when the northwesterly wind is blowing. That levels the playing field, Furyk believes.
And, he said, though Nos. 1, 13 and 15 play longer, the par-4 fifth, seventh, 14th and 17th are downwind.
"You've got some of the longer holes down breeze and you've also neutralized the par-5s on the back nine at 13 and 15," Furyk said.
The proof of his theory, Furyk believes, can be seen by the winners the tournament produced in 2003 (Mike Weir) and 2007 (Zach Johnson). Both are medium-length hitters who have trouble reaching the par-5s in two at Augusta National even under the most favorable wind conditions.
"I think if you look back the year Zach Johnson won, all the par-5s were in the wind," said Furyk, who tied for 13th that year (he was fourth in 2003 when Weir won).
Johnson never went for the par-5s in two, but he made birdie on 11 of his 16 opportunities.
"He couldn't reach any of the par-5s," Furyk said of Johnson in 2007. "The reason I know that is because he hits it my length and I couldn't reach any of them. It wasn't as much strategy as it is that is what we needed to do. It neutralizes the field a little bit and it gives us an advantage.