Apr
3
2014
Andy North, Curtis Strange and Paul Azinger preview the Masters
By Stephanie Wei under The Masters
Countdown to the Masters...

Countdown to the Masters…

ESPN golf analysts Andy North, Curtis Strange and Paul Azinger participated in a media conference call today to discuss next week’s Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. They talked about Tiger Woods and his back surgery, the rising stars on the PGA Tour, their favorites for the year’s first major and much more. 

Here’s the transcript of the call:

Q.  All three of you, I looked at your records the first time you played Augusta, Zinger at T‑17 and Andy with a beautiful 66 followed by an 81 in the second round and Curtis as an amateur missed the cut.  Why is it so hard the first time around and are you surprised that it’s been so long since a first‑timer won?

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  I’ll start this.  The reason it was hard for me, because they paired me with Jack Nicklaus and I couldn’t breathe for about four and a half hours, so that was my excuse.

 

PAUL AZINGER:  Probably the most sophisticated and most complicated set of greens in 18 holes ever put together.  I mean, every hole right out of the gate, starting with No. 1, and it takes a long time to understand the greens.

There is this invisible pull or whatever towards Rae’s Creek and then you have a lot of uphill shots and downhill shots there which also complicate matters at Augusta National and then you factor in the history and the ‑‑ there’s nobody going there naïve.  Everybody who has qualified, if you’re referring to a Jordan Spieth‑type, he’s probably watched the Masters a dozen times or more.  So they all know and feel the pressure but the golf course is just plain hard.

 

ANDY NORTH:  To expand on what Paul was saying, my situation where I shot 66 the first day, and then 81 the second day, this is going to sound really stupid saying this, but I didn’t play much differently either day.  The first day, I had it below the hole every single hole.  You couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

And then you’ve got to see Augusta from the wrong side every hole the next day, and that’s pretty much what happened.  Balls that ‑‑ at a five‑par stayed on the green trickled off the green on 15 into the water, that kind of stuff which Augusta can do to you so quickly.

Yeah, you watch it on television but it’s a whole different animal when you get there and it’s a totally different golf course than you imagine in your head because of the elevation changes.

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  Let me expand on what Paul and Andy both said.  There’s not a level lie out there, maybe one or two.  That, as you know on TV, TV doesn’t do that justice and it’s so tough.  It is really a hard golf course now, and you’re off balance the entire day I think.

 

Q.  On that topic, I have to wonder if the fact that players could start bringing their own caddies in ’83, might have anything to do with this.  You’ve lost some of that local knowledge from ’83 onward, for a first‑timer.

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  Could be.  The guys are so professional now, learning the courses.  Could be a little bit for a first timer but I don’t think a whole lot.

 

ANDY NORTH:  In the past there have been only a few players and caddies who have actually hired a local to go out and be with them when they saw the golf course the first couple of times, which isn’t a bad idea.

 

Q.  This is a question for all of you.  Who do you see as the favorite?

 

PAUL AZINGER:  The favorite here?  I think probably would look at Adam Scott who is actually playing well.  He’s dealt with a little bit of heartache there at Bay Hill but letting that tournament get away.  Rory McIlroy who plays a natural draw, which is ‑‑ the fact that he’s so powerful is big for him.

You know, I don’t know if you want to go off Vegas odds like who is the favorite, but if I’m going to pick a dark horse to play well at Augusta, I’m not even sure you could call him a dark horse but I think people feel Sergio García is done as far as majors are concerned; that it’s in his head and he can’t do it, but I really feel for some reason, he led The European Tour in putting last year, he’s played well at Augusta before and there’s probably not five guys that hit it better tee‑to‑green that have the length and the finesse around the green.  It’s just on the green where he struggles, and he had a great putting year last year.  So he’d be my dark horse pick.

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  Yeah, I like Rory McIlroy.  He didn’t play well last year for whatever reason.  This year he’s playing better.  He hasn’t won.  I think he could be hungry.  He looks like he’s getting plenty of confidence back and this could be the adrenaline rush that he needs.  We certainly know that he has plenty of the length and he has all the game in the world, and I like him.

 

ANDY NORTH:  It one might be one of the most open Masters we’ve had where there are so many different guys that could win, and I just think that you look at Phil, he’s been a mess lately, he’s hurt a little bit, but he was there practicing the last couple of days.  He drives down Azalea Lane and the switch goes on, and there’s no better place for him to play than there.  And if his back is doing well, I think he’s going to be a threat there before the week is up.

 

Q.  Curtis, as someone with sons, can you imagine what it’s like to be Craig Stadler next week and be perhaps even paired with your son in this historic place?

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  I think Jay Haas, I talked to Jay Haas, and I actually talked to Craig a couple weeks ago at the Senior Tour event about that.  He was excited.  It’s something that’s never been done before, and you know, I just think that they will relish the practice rounds together and hanging out together, and God, I hope they don’t put them together, but I just think it’s an experience that ‑‑ well, they have only experienced and I think it’s something they should always treasure, because it’s got to be something special for them?

 

Q.  Why do you hope they are not paired together?

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  I think it would be horrible (laughing).  No, I just think they need to go their own way.  Kevin is playing well.  Can he win here?  I don’t know.  But his experience, his first time at the Masters, he should have his own life and his own story to tell and separate it from his dad, because his dad is a past champion and kind of just enjoying the moment being there with his son.

 

PAUL AZINGER:  Can I add to that, if they are paired together, my eyes are getting bad enough that from a distance, I might not tell them apart, because it looks like Craig just spit out that boy.  He looks ‑‑ I mean, their mannerisms and everything, it’s really fantastic (laughter).

 

Q.  A clean.  Circling back to what Fergie was alluding to in the young guys, a whole slew of guys in the field this year under age 25, some of them for the first time, Spieth, Reed, English, Dubuisson. I’m wondering, A, whether you can see any reason ‑‑ I know that’s kind of an organic question for this large group of guys winning so early and so often.  It’s a jump‑ball for any of you three.  And secondly, why there seems to be no fear factor with these guys because I can imagine what you guys must have been like back in the day playing in a tournament of this magnitude, probably not quite this young.

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  It’s just part of the evolution of the game that the younger players ‑‑ there’s periods where you just have young guys winning and then the next year it’s guys in their 40s winning and everybody wants to know the answer as to why that is and there is no real answer.  Just give the young guys their due.  Usually it takes a few years on TOUR before a player can win, but that seems to be less and less the case.  These guys come out more ready.

 

Q.  Why do you suppose they are more ready?  Just instruction video, TV?

 

PAUL AZINGER:  Who knows.  I’m not even sure that guys hit it better now than they did back in the day.  Generationally, sometimes the more knowledge you have, the worse you are.  I always go back to the Byron Nelson quote, there’s two kinds of players:  Those that need to know a little and those that need to know it all, which one do you think is easier.

It’s pretty evident that sometimes you can know too much.  So there was always the idea that you need to be just dumb enough to be great.  So it’s hard to, there’s no answer for that, really.

But the fear factor, I think may be some of these guys ‑‑ there’s less to fear when Tiger’s not playing as well, I can tell you that.  The idea that the idea that somehow Tiger raised the bar and players are catching up, in my opinion is just not true.  There’s no records are falling that he set.  He’s fallen.  So that’s the difference.

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  I agree completely with what you just said, Paul.  I don’t think they are any better.  I think he’s not playing as well.

Fear factor might be a little bit of a strong statement but I do think that the Patrick Reeds and the Jimmy Walkers and the young kids there, they have played well, and everyone that has played well and is in the Masters is confident.  But it is a different animal as you know there at Augusta.

You might be calm, cool and collected and comfortable until you get to the weekend and if you are playing well, it’s a completely different animal there, and I experienced it at my first time to try to win there and everybody did.  It is amped up, on steroids, everything how you can describe it on the back side on the weekend.

We’ll see who the men really are come Saturday and Sunday on the back side.  It doesn’t mean they can’t win but I think everything has to go their way, much like what Andy was saying earlier, 66 to 81; I can relate to that.  Everybody can.  There’s not that big a difference sometimes.  You have a bad hole, you have a couple bad breaks, you short‑side yourself, you 3‑putt and it adds up to 81.

I think they are prepared more than they were, they are more knowledgeable than we were but still the Masters brings on a lot of anxiety.

 

PAUL AZINGER:  They say golf is a game of degrees and inches.  Normally that has to do with your swing plane or your clubface at impact, but it’s really degrees and inches at Augusta.  On the wrong side of the hole, the grade up the slope that he has to deal with is different.

An inch here or there at Augusta, like on 15, your ball stays on the precipice there and you have to putt for eagle or else it rolls back in the lake and you’re on the other side of the lake.  More so than ever, degrees and inches play a big part at Augusta National, simply because of the golf course.

 

ANDY NORTH:  Can one of these young players win ‑‑ I think they can, because you look at this group of Harris English and Patrick Reed and some of the other guys who are coming there for the first time, they all hit it a mile.  Augusta National is a golf course that if you figure it out a little bit and you can drive the ball really long, you can carry over a lot of the hills.

Harris English just absolutely murders it.  You give a guy, you go back to Tiger Woods in ’97, he drove it in places where he was hitting wedges and stuff to the greens.  They have changed it since then obviously, but if you’re hitting three clubs less to a lot of those greens than the rest of the field, what an advantage that is, because it’s so hard to put your ball in the right position.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if one of these young guys has a chance at the end.  Is he going to win?  Who knows, but as Curtis says, you get to the last nine holes of this event, and you’d better have it all together because it’s a lot of pressure.

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  Just one other thing, what Paul said, too, and I can’t believe we haven’t talked about it yet, is degree of inches.  How about Tiger Woods at 15 last year, okay. Flagstick.

 

Q.  What do you make of what’s going on with Tiger’s body and now that he’s got the dreaded back issue, what’s the future going to hold?  Is he ever going to be healthy again to mount his assault on Jack?

 

ANDY NORTH:  Let’s just start with the operation.  I think the fact that he had it done is very positive for his future.  The worst thing you can do as a player is to keep fighting these injuries as he’s done in the past and then you end up making it much worse.  I went through a back issue ‑‑ we have all gone through back issues.  I had surgery.

The surgery he had, basically just trim the disk to take the pressure off that nerve.  It should heal in four to six weeks, it should be pretty decent, he should be able to start hitting some shots.

It could take two months; it could take four months before he’s tournament ready, who knows. Everybody’s bodies are a little bit different but I think this gives him a chance to be more successful the next ten years by having the surgery than if he wouldn’t have had it.  I think that’s very important.  I think we will see a different Tiger Woods when he comes back this fall.  He has not been right for almost a year.  So, you know, looking forward to that and hopefully we’ll get the guy back that we all think that he can be.

Obviously the 39‑year‑old version is not going to be the same as the 29‑year‑old version or the 19‑year‑old version, but it doesn’t mean he still haven’t be great.  Look at what Vijay Singh and Steve Stricker did in their 40s.  Some incredible golf they did.  Doesn’t mean that Tiger can’t be dominant again.

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  I think the odds are, I guess to get to where we always ask, can he break Jack’s record.  I think with all this being said, and I agree with Andy, it’s all speculation and I think he will come back stronger.  You know, being off for a couple months, three months, the rest of his body will get healthy, as well.

But the odds are against him breaking Jack’s record simply because it is a health issue.  That’s the one thing that can bring any athlete down.  Will he do it?  We don’t know.  There’s only two players that ever won five majors after the age of 38, and that’s Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan.  He’s certainly in their class.  But there’s only two of them have ever done that, so keep that in mind.

You know, I think so much is going to be his motivation.  You know, how badly he wants this.  And will he modify his work out regime; will he modify his practice regime, because of the body.  Everybody has to modify as we get older.  And you know, the swing changes, has that put more pressure on back and joints?  Who knows.  It’s all speculation, but the fact of the matter is, he is breaking down.  You know, is there a next problem?  Who knows.

But we’ll just have to wait and see.  I think he will come back pretty strong, I really do, because this back procedure was not that big of a deal, it wasn’t that major.  Of course, I can say that; it wasn’t my back.  But I expect still good things out of Tiger Woods.

 

PAUL AZINGER:  I’ll just add to that.  I shared this the other day, but the real irony here is that he’s arguably the most fit golfer who has ever played the game, and now he’s kind of at the mercy of an unfit body.  Maybe not an unfit body but a body that’s breaking down.

But Tiger has ‑‑ I think he has ‑‑ his issues are going to be as much emotional as they are physical, and let’s face it, he’s had some physical issues, whether it just be his health or his body but he has not hit the ball very well and sometimes because you don’t feel well, you don’t hit the ball well.  There’s probably not one player that would have said, going into the Masters, I wish I hit it like Tiger Woods.

But he’s still the favorite to win the tournament, because he’s still the best player.  I guarantee you, at age 38, there’s still plenty of people that wished they hit it like Jack Nicklaus and there’s a big difference in where they are at age 38 in any opinion health‑wise and ball‑striking‑wise, and that’s a big difference.

I got sick when I was in the prime of my career, and Tiger is a little bit past his prime.  I was out for six months or so, and I tell you what, I lost my edge, and it was nice to be at home.  I was the kind of guy, I played with a chip on my shoulder.  Tiger plays with a chip on his shoulder a little bit for whatever reason, and as Curtis said, his challenge will be, how self‑motivated is he going to be.

You know, his dad said, when Tiger was an amateur, Tiger Woods will win 14 majors.  Well, you know, he’s won 14 majors.  I don’t know why Earl didn’t say 19, but he said 14.  Who knows, maybe that’s something that’s ‑‑ well, I did what my dad said.  I’m just saying, there’s a lot going on here beyond just the physical.  And as Curtis said, it’s going to come from within, but he wasn’t exactly hitting it great going out, either.  So we’ll see what happens.

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  He has not hit it well in years, Paul, you know that.  So elaborate on what Paul is saying, it’s so true, we have all gone through this.  Every male in America goes through this.  When you’re 38 years old, your kids are getting older, he’s a single dad, trying to be a good dad.  When they look at you and say, “Don’t leave, Daddy,” let me tell you something, that pulls at your heart.  And you’re on the road, you want to be home; you’re home, you want to be on the road.  It’s an issue for everyone, and he’s at that age and his kids are at that age, that it’s tough to keep your focus and keep that drive and keep that self‑centered attitude that you need to have.

And you know, everybody goes through it.  Nicklaus admitted it, all of them.  And that’s why it gets tougher as you get close to 40.

 

Q.  Since everybody else has talked about different subjects for the most part, let’s finally get the Tiger not going to be there during the broadcast this week.  How different will it be trying to present a Masters for the first time in a couple decades without Tiger as part of the main story come Sunday?

 

PAUL AZINGER:  It’s a huge disappointment I feel for us in the business of TV.  You as media, I think it makes it ‑‑ it takes away an obvious easy story to write about Tiger and one that you know people are going to be interested in.  But it’s still the Masters and it’s still this epic event.  It’s the great Masters Tournament with the great ‑‑ all the history and the familiarity and all that.  There’s going to be a day when Tiger is just not around anymore, period.  The shock, disappointment and the reason he’s not here, I think it will present a little bit of a challenge possibly at first, but once that tournament gets going, the Masters carries its own weight and everybody will be fine.

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  You know, he will be some of the story leading up to Thursday because of all of ourSportsCenter hits, and he is somewhat part of the story early in the week.  From my perspective, I still do the same job, and from Paul’s perspective, he still does the same job.  It’s disappointing for us because it’s certainly not going to be as big of an audience.  It’s disappointing for the fans because certainly he’s the No. 1 draw.  But we still do our same job.  We prepare the same.  We talk the same.  And quite frankly, I didn’t think he was going to be a big part of the picture anyway come the weekend, so I was already preparing for that.

It is a difference because the interest level is not quite the same but we still do our same jobs.

 

ANDY NORTH:  Probably affects the viewer more than anybody else.  I’ve had multiple people come up to me the last couple days and say, gee, for sure, I would be watching if Tiger is there, but I probably still will be.  If there’s not something I really care about, maybe I won’t.  I mean, those are the kind of things that it will affect ratings.  It always does.  He’s the one player that does move the needle, so we will all miss him.

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  Don’t you think that if there’s a tournament, more so than the U.S. Open or The Open Championship, if there’s a tournament that will carry it better without him than any other tournament, I think it’s the Masters, and I don’t say that because we are talking about the Masters.  But the Masters, because the golf course, because of Bobby Jones, because of Clifford Roberts and because of Arnold Palmer.  That’s a story within itself.

 

ANDY NORTH:  I agree with you.  The Midwest is coming out of the worst winters in the world and they are just looking for something pretty and warm on television.  The Masters is the first ‑‑ we all in the Midwest, when we finally get to Masters week, it’s like, okay, spring is officially here.  We can start living again.

So I agree that this will have the least effect but I still think at the end, it will affect the numbers.

 

PAUL AZINGER:  It’s arguable, but there’s probably not another player in the history of sports, I say arguable, but has had as big an impact on his sport as Tiger as far as viewership and ratings and money, maybe Muhammad Ali in boxing.  I just can’t think of anybody that when he’s not here, the void is any greater in any sport.

 

Q.  From a competitor’s standpoint, when you have Tiger not in the picture and you have Phil not playing up to his usual standards so far this year, do you have to guard against trying to attack so much, thinking, wow, this is a great opportunity for me to win this Masters, and maybe getting too pumped up to try to think that this is too big a moment for you?

 

ANDY NORTH:  No, I don’t think so at all.  If you’re out there on the golf course thinking about, gee, I’ve got to do this or that because Tiger, Phil or whoever is not playing well, you’ve got no chance.  That course will eat you up.  So you’d better be worrying about what you’re doing.

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  That will have no impact at all.  Obviously if Tiger was in the hunt Sunday afternoon and you were playing head‑to‑head against him, it would be a little different, but early in the week and as the week progresses, that won’t affect the way somebody plays or their strategy, anything like that.

 

Q.  Paul, you had mentioned Adam Scott being among the favorites and that would put him in very elite company as a repeat champion.  What about his game and where he’s at with his game right now would recommend him to that sort of status?

 

PAUL AZINGER:  Well, there’s horses for courses and Adam Scott had a couple of chances to win at Augusta prior to winning last year and it just seems to suit him and his style, his power, and the way he flights the ball.

I think his confidence took a little bit of a hit there at Bay Hill, but it will all be, you know, water under the bridge once that bell rings, and if he’s solid tee‑to‑green like he has been; and then of course the mystery now is how does he do on the greens.  His putter failed him big time at Bay Hill but it was his putter that made the difference when he won the tournament, the 25‑footer that he made on 9, and then the putt he made in the playoff to win, those were two of the greatest putts you’ll ever see under pressure.  It’s not his strength, but he has a real good chance of being a repeat winner.  There are horses for courses and generally a lot of times these power guys at Augusta contend year in and year out.

 

Q.  An abstract, aesthetic question, I was thinking when the Eisenhower tree went down, just wondering if there’s only one spot on that course that you could visit, where would it be?  What is your favorite place on that course or is there a landmark that you would ‑‑ if you had to have one last view of Augusta National, you would want to see?

 

PAUL AZINGER:  For me personally, I would just like to walk behind the clubhouse and stand under that tree and take the whole thing in.  Some say go down to Amen Corner and look at the azaleas on 13, but just put me behind that clubhouse.

CURTIS STRANGE:  You know, standing out in the middle of the 13th fairway, looking at your second shot, and I don’t say this because I screwed up, but there’s no prettier, more dynamic shot, that you can play, I don’t think anywhere in the world.  You know, the club selection, the strategy, the options you have, the options of where to hit it around the green.  I think it’s the best par 5 in the world, and maybe not so much now because they hit it so bloody long. But back in the day there was so many options on the tee, on the second shot, where you play your second shot, I think it’s a second shot, that just everything about it is fantastic.

ANDY NORTH:  For people that have never been there, the most important thing or one of the coolest things you can do is get there very first in the morning and go down and walk 10,11, 12 and 13 before the people get there.  Particularly 11, 12 and 13, it’s down through those trees.  It’s so quiet back in there, people go to the redwoods and talk about experiencing a religious experience.  Well, it’s a little bit that way walking down through those holes when no one is around and to see it later in the day when people are making birdies and explosions of noise come out of those same areas, it’s incredible.

 

Q.  I’ve got my annual Steve Stricker question.  Steve has played five competitive rounds of golf this year and we both know his heart is probably more in Dallas with the Badgers than it is in Houston.  Considering how little he’s played, how realistic is it to expect him to play well next week?

 

ANDY NORTH:  I think you have to throw out everything that he’s done so far this year, because of his brother’s situation.  He was literally had divorced himself completely from the game for two or three months there.  His brother is doing better.

I actually played some golf with Steve last week in L.A., and he’s hitting it very, very well.  He’s putting it much better than he did his two early starts and he’s really excited about playing.  As we all know, if you’re not 100 percent invested emotionally, you’re not going to play very well.  I think he is there.  I think he is excited about playing in Houston and then is obviously looking forward to Augusta and he’s planning on coming down here (Dallas for Final Four) Saturday night.  Even if he was leading the tournament, he was going to be here Saturday night to see the Badgers.

So the big question mark is if they play Monday, then do you blow off going there another day.  So he’s excited about playing.  He’s even talked about maybe adding another tournament after Augusta between Augusta and the U.S. Open and THE PLAYERS, in there someplace.  I think he’s really excited about playing and he’s finally able to think about golf and not worry so much about his brother.

 

Q.  There’s another young player from Wisconsin, Mequon’s Jordan Niebrugge, what have you heard about him?  Is there any buzz about him at all?

 

ANDY NORTH:  I had a chance to meet him last fall, and he’s really accomplished an awful lot.  It will be interesting to see how he handles it.  It’s going to be a great experience.  And I didn’t get a chance to play here as an amateur, Curtis did, but I can’t imagine how much fun that would have been.  It’s going to be a great experience.  You want to enjoy and play well but at the same time you have to take in everything and enjoy it to its fullest.

 

Q.  Sunday is the final of the very first Drive, Chip & Putt Championship and Augusta National has created the Asian Amateur and now the Latin amateur, and now letting kids watch free with ticket holders and a state‑of‑the‑art website.  Curious how you think of the new ‑‑ under Billy Payne’s out reach that Augusta National has made in recent years.

 

ANDY NORTH:  I think it’s unbelievable.  I think it’s awesome what they are trying to do, growing the game, exposing the game to so many different countries.  I believe that we are in 53 or 54 countries this year ESPN‑wise, which is great for the fan and the golfer and the person that wants to learn about playing this game; I salute Billy Payne and his ability to think outside the box.  It’s going to be great for our game.

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  They are one of the very few ‑‑ we talk about growing the game and bringing the game to the Masters, and you know, I guess growing the game worldwide, and they are one of the few that are actually doing it, okay.  They really are doing it.

PAUL AZINGER:  I was going to say, what better platform than Augusta National.  They are really almost leaders in the industry in growing the game believe it or not.  They back up their talk with their walk when it comes to what they have done here to expand the ability for people actually even on site to come watch the event.  It’s just fantastic.

 

Q.  Henrik Stenson won that double last year and is up to No. 3 in the World Rankings, and people say they still have to get their minds around him being No. 3 in the world; what do you think his chances are coming up this week or even winning a major this year.  His game seems to be coming around again finally.

 

PAUL AZINGER:  Personally I feel he has the most simple, uncomplicated golf swing that there is.  He can be volatile emotionally and Augusta National will test that.  And you know, his putter is maybe not his strength but tee‑to‑green, I just think he’s as good as there is, and I actually forgot to mention Henrik Stenson earlier as one of the favorites.  But I’ve been thinking about Henrik Stenson here for a long time.  I really admire his skills.

 

CURTIS STRANGE:  I agree with Paul.  I think he’s had a down first part of the year and that’s certainly understandable with the energy and all that good play and the adrenaline that went through his body the entire year last year.  It was an incredible year he had.

It’s human nature to have a down period but if there’s anything that can get you going, it’s a big tournament, obviously, the Masters is the next step.  And it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him really play well.  I think more than anything else, he probably has been emotionally exhausted and you know, a couple months or a month off ‑‑ hell, he didn’t have much of a year off at all I guess in the off‑season.

But I think that it’s human nature and it wouldn’t surprise me at all for him to play well here at the Masters.  I think this is probably what he needs to get the blood going a little bit.

ANDY NORTH:  I think if you look at the fact, also, that here is the No. 3 player in the world and no one talks about him.  He can go out and play practice rounds at Augusta National and no one bothers him.  What a wonderful position to be in; he’s so under the radar that that’s got to take some pressure off of him, and I think that’s the one thing that could possibly change this week with Tiger not around.  Some of these other players are going to be in the spotlight and we’ll see how they handle it.

 

Q.  As a pro from Virginia beach, what do you think of Marc Leishman?

CURTIS STRANGE:  I do know something about him.  I do know he lives at the beach.  He has not played as well I guess the last year or so ‑‑ it his rookie season he played so well.

You know, when you talk about a guy like Marc Leishman, and there’s many players in the field like this, incredibly talented, it wouldn’t surprise some in the know of the game, players that know ‑‑ you know, the guys that really know the players are the players themselves, because they are out there every single day with them on the practice tee playing with them, just 30 weeks a year.

But he’s the type of guy, and again, there’s a lot of them in the field, that it wouldn’t shock us, it might shock the world, that they do well and they are there Sunday afternoon, and as you said, he finished fourth there last year, or even won.

But, you know, it’s just I go back to what we talked about earlier, that guys that borderline talented to win a major, okay, and I’m not saying he’s borderline.  But if you get in that position, especially Sunday afternoon, it’s a feeling unlike anything you’ll ever go through before.  Not taking anything away from Bay Hill or Honda or Doral or L.A. or wherever it might be on TOUR.  It’s no feeling; it’s nothing like what you’re going to go through on the weekend, especially Sunday afternoon at the Masters.

So you’ve got to have everything together and the stars have to be aligned if you’re not a superstar, and you’ve got to be able to control your emotions, and it’s tough, because everybody that’s ever played this game, knows what it looks like, they know the ghosts going through the pine trees, they know the stories, they know the victories and the defeats on the last nine holes, and so that’s hard to put out of your mind, and if you can do that and you can control everything then you can come through.  It doesn’t happen very often at Augusta, though.

As we talked about, it’s a hard golf course, the greens, the pressure, the whole thing.  But you know, what there’s no reason why he couldn’t, though.  Hit it in the fairway, put it on the green and make a few putts.  It really doesn’t get much more complicated than that.

 

Q.  Could you talk about the strategy of the 15th hole and if the competition may have changed over the years, as well.

PAUL AZINGER:  The 15th hole has changed dramatically through the years.  They have added a bunch of pine trees on the right‑hand side that have actually made it a very tight tee shot.  It’s been lengthened, probably as far as it could ever be lengthened.  The tee bumps up to the 10th green now almost.  It’s a dramatically downhill second shot.  If you lay up, I say the third shot to that par 5 is the most difficult shot on the golf course off the downslope to that green.  It’s kind of unforgiving.  I always think about 1986 when Jack made eagle there, and then you’ve had scenarios where balls have rolled back in the water.  I think its place and the close of Augusta National, the Masters Tournament, the close on that hole is every bit as significant as it’s ever been; overlooked maybe if there’s not making eagles.

And you factor in what Curtis said earlier, Tiger hit the flag there.  I mean, it is a scary, scary hole.  That second shot is not easy, and then if you are forced to lay up, you know, you’ve got to hit a great drive now.  Used to be just bombs away down the right side, but it has really become a more difficult hole.

ANDY NORTH:  I think the fact that you know when you’re standing on the tee, if you hit a great drive, you have an opportunity to knock it on the green in two, and there’s nothing more frustrating that when you know that you probably shouldn’t go for it.  So now do you want to lay up or do you go ahead and take that chance, that maybe one in five chance of putting it on the green versus laying up, and there’s quite often the player will take that chance because if you lay it up down the fairway, the 70‑ and 80‑yard shot is as difficult as the 225‑yard shot into that green.

I think it’s the scariest wedge shot you have to ever play because if you over‑spin it, you can spin it back in the water.  If you goose it a little bit, you knock it over that green and make a bogey that way as easily.  It’s just a beautifully‑designed, tactical hole that you can make a 3 or you can make a 7 and you almost won’t see the difference in the shots you hit.  It’s a terrific par 5 and it comes at a really nice place on the back nine.

CURTIS STRANGE:  It’s your last chance.  You always figure at Augusta that you have to play the par 5s well.  You have to if you’re going to win and that’s your last chance.  But don’t think they are easy by any stretch.

PAUL AZINGER:  I’ll just add real quick, the committee has really figured out, we keep talking about how hard it is and the pressure, and you’ve got to deal with that and blah, blah, but man, they have somehow, they have really figured out how to make it so exciting on Sunday.  You see birdies flying right and left, and you see this great, I don’t know, just these great performances when the pressure is on.  Adam Scott’s finish; Schwartzel finishing with four straight birdies.  They know where to put the flags on Sunday to create drama, and it’s the greatest stage in golf.

 

Q.  Looking at the field, it’s surprising how many young guys that we know could compete, the Jordan Spieths, Russell Henleys, Harris English, who are some guys that could be in contention on Sunday.

ANDY NORTH:  I really like Harris English’s game.  I think he is a true star in the making.  Hits it really long.  He’s made himself into a good putter.  Patrick Reed has had an unbelievable start and is a very, very confident player.  He actually bombs it and he’s got a terrific putting stroke.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if either one of those guys are in the hunt come Sunday afternoon.

CURTIS STRANGE:  Patrick Reed, it’s hard to pass him without mentioning his name, three wins in the last ten or 11 months.  You know, I like his attitude.  Not so sure you say all those things sometimes because it backs you into a corner but I like the attitude and I like the way he believes in himself and that’s a huge part of playing the PGA TOUR in big events.  It wouldn’t surprise anyone I don’t think right now, because he and Jimmy Walker have been playing better than anyone.

PAUL AZINGER:  My favorite guy to watch is Jordan Spieth.  I love his golf swing.  I love the way ‑‑ the look in his eyes, and I think he’s going to be a real breakthrough player.  I think all of the above, when you ask any of those guys that can get in contention, it’s one of those, all of the above.  They could all surprise or actually meet expectation.

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