Masters: With no wind, Augusta National has been rendered defenseless

AUGUSTA, Ga. — For a moment Saturday afternoon, as the final threesome of leaders walked toward the second green, the wind blew through Augusta National Golf Club. It whistled downhill from the clubhouse, rustled the pine needles above and tickled the tips of the trees surrounding the fairways below.

The flag, one of the most exposed on the course, rippled to full staff. A Masters different in every way from the 83 before it drifted toward a familiar feeling.

Then, just as quickly as the breeze arrived, it abated.

So goes the 2020 Masters. Swirling and gusting wind, a tournament staple, has not played its usual role in the story.

Although the weather has changed through three tournament rounds, conditions have remained docile, ripe for low scoring. Hard rain fell Thursday morning. Friday was sunny and warm. Saturday morning brought the coolest temperatures of the week — 57 degrees when competitors resumed the second round at 7:30 a.m — and another postcard afternoon.

MASTERS: Sunday tee times | Leaderboard | How to watch

The wind has been merely a zephyr, hardly a factor.

At times, it’s blown strong enough to grab the players’ attention. They never miss a breath, anyway. Attention to detail serves a pro well. Yet rarely has the wind blown with enough force to make club selection tricky or have an adverse effect on score.

The softer than usual Augusta National greens have also minimized the impact from any breeze that blows. Golf balls continue to hit the green and come to rest close to where they land, creating a wider margin for error on approach shots. The players have little fear of a ball slipping down the slopes on some of golf’s most treacherous surfaces and funneling away from the hole location to three-putt range, or off the green altogether.

Give the best golfers in the world these conditions anywhere for any prize, and low scoring is certain to follow. It has. Even par was the lowest 36-hole cut in Masters history. The 72-hole tournament scoring record (18-under) is in jeopardy. Abraham Ancer and Cam Smith start Sunday with a chance to do something that’s never been done in this tournament: shoot four rounds in the 60s.

The patrons, a dense, colorful crowd, are absent in Amen Corner. So are certain scenes. Players have rarely backed off shots, gazed toward the sky and peered at the flags and treetops, trying to get an accurate read on the direction and velocity of the wind in the exact space and time.

Tiger Woods walked to the 12th tee Monday in a practice round expecting the shot to play downwind. But the wind was blowing from the opposite direction when it was time to strike his shot, so he watched and waited until it returned and settled. Another member of the group that day, Justin Thomas, said he almost hit an 8-iron to the par-3 green at one point in the pondering but ended up using a pitching wedge. Those decisions — and the resulting indecision — are an integral part of Masters lore.

Thomas felt a shift in direction while his ball was in flight there Saturday, sending a well-struck shot soaring over the green. But that was a rare case. Most of the week, the wind has remained as quiet as the galleries.

Sunday could play a different tune. The forecast calls for a southwesterly wind, reaching 20 miles per hour at times. A breeze of that nature can make a difference and wreak havoc as the pressure mounts on the second nine. The challengers pursuing Dustin Johnson hope to hear a gale.

Carnage came calling on the last Masters Sunday. In that final round 19 months ago, with a storm and cold front approaching, the wind bristled. A quartet of contenders dunked their tee shots on the 12th, misjudging the breeze or mis-hitting shots, either way spoiling their championship dreams.

The way Johnson decimated Augusta National again Saturday, a strong wind might not be felt on the final leaderboard, but it sure would make a strange Masters feel more like the ones witnessed before.

Comments are closed.