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‘Margin for error is so slim.’ Weir predicts an exciting Masters, as golfers try to tame the fast course

‘Margin for error is so slim.’ Weir predicts an exciting Masters, as golfers try to tame the fast course
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Masters participants old and new are saying the same thing about Augusta National Golf Club this week — it’s going to play quick. Really quick.

Mike Weir, the 2003 champion, said Wednesday he can’t remember a recent Masters where the 7,400-yard Georgia layout played as fiery as it’s set to in 2021.

Weir said at the annual Champions Dinner on Tuesday night that Ben Crenshaw (the two-time winner acts as the host each year) alluded to the history of Augusta National, of which co-designer Bobby Jones wanted to be a second-shot golf course. You have to take risks with your approach shots.

“And that’s what you have to do out here, now, because the margin for error is so slim,” said Weir from Augusta. “I think it’s going to make for a really exciting Masters.

“For someone to get to double-digits (under par) I would think would be a very good score. If you get someone at 10- or 12-under (that score) would probably win this week.”

Weir played a practice round Tuesday with fellow Canadians Corey Conners and Mackenzie Hughes. The two younger Ontario natives (this is Conners’ fourth Masters and Hughes’ second) tapped into the major winner’s knowledge around the greens as the course is playing quite different from November’s tournament where Conners finished T10.

“I had to adjust some of my notes to play a lot more break on the greens and in certain spots around the green. Maybe there were some spots you had a chance in November . . . you don’t have much of a chance now,” said Conners.

“Everyone would agree that it’s like Saturday or Sunday conditions already which is pretty amazing,” Hughes added Tuesday. “The golf course is ready to go.”

Weir said when he first started playing the Masters in the early 2000s the course played very firm, and greens had a brown tinge to them. Putts, Weir said, “were just scary.” Augusta National hasn’t played that way, mostly due to inconsistent spring weather, for the last few years.

Fellow lefty Masters winner Phil Mickelson made headlines Tuesday, telling reporters he thought Augusta National’s greens were “in the top-25 per cent of the softest” played on the PGA Tour.

“With firm greens this golf course needs to be respected,” Mickelson said, “and I think it’s been a long time since it’s had to be respected.”

Derek Ingram, Conners’ coach (he also worked with Hughes for almost a decade and remains close friends), said the ball is running through the fairways much faster and the greens are firm — there’s an audible bounce to them.

“It’s been a dry enough spring that they’ve got it playing crispy,” said Ingram, with emphasis. “When it’s softer you don’t really have to use the slope and the terrain to work the ball closer to the hole and you can play with a lot less fear. You can be a lot more aggressive but now you really have to know the course and be smart about working the ball close to the hole and not away from the hole.”

Both Hughes and Weir preached creativity around Augusta National this year. The firmer the golf course gets, Weir said, the more imaginative golfers need to be not only with his approach shots — making sure the right spin is on the ball — but also with shots around the green.

“In November when it was soft you could just hit a basic chip and the ball would stop. Now, even a putt that’s 10 feet long with a foot of break in November might have three feet of break because of the speed,” said Weir.

Just as the youngsters enjoyed their game with the Masters winner (“He’s a hero to them,” said Ingram), Weir as well gained a lot from Tuesday’s practice session. Weir had a “pep in his step,” said Ingram.

Conners — who is ranked near the top of the PGA Tour in some key ball-striking stats and has become a popular long-shot pick to win the Green Jacket this week — has impressed Weir to this point, even with how much the course has changed from November when Conners notched his first top-10 at a major championship.

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With Augusta National already ripping, even before the ceremonial tee shots are struck, Ingram said the tournament is wide open to a number of different kinds of golfers, including Conners.

“A guy who has an unbelievable short game will have a great week, but a guy who is a good ball-striker will also have a good week. It’ll be opened up to a short hitter since they’ll get a little more run, but long hitters will have an advantage too,” said Ingram. “Different styles of players have a chance to win.”

Note: Weir has signed a multi-year agreement with Canadian golf retailer Golf Town and will have his logo on his bag at Augusta National. He’ll also make co-branded content to help Canadians — in Ontario when it’s safe to do so, and across the country — play better golf.
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