Augusta had no defence against Dustin Johnson in November… now it’s armed again, warns Phil Mickelson
PHIL MICKELSON says Augusta was defenceless when Dustin Johnson brought the course to its knees in November.
But the three-time Masters champion is convinced it will bite back this week and take a chunk out of some big reputations.
‘Lefty’ said the greens were so soft a record-winning score was always on the cards five months ago — and Johnson took advantage to finish 20 under par.
That was two shots better than the previous best, shared by Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth.
With the temperature in Georgia now heading towards the 30C mark, Mickelson reckons it will be a very different story — with the course playing firm and fast from today’s first round.
Mickelson, 50, said: “The golf course’s only defence is the greens.
“But I would say that, for the last decade, the greens here have been in the top 25 per cent of the softest we play on Tour.
“But when the greens are as firm as they are now, the precision, the course management, the angles, where the ball is left, all of this stuff becomes incredibly important in your ability to play this course effectively.
“When the greens are soft, it’s irrelevant because you can fly the ball over all the trouble. Angles don’t matter.
“I plugged a five iron in November into the second green — it plugged!
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“The guys are so precise in their ability to fly the ball the correct yardage with every club that if you have soft, receptive greens, it’s like having a military and then not giving them any weapons. It’s defenceless.
“So with firm greens, that’s the defence. There’s no US Open rough here. There are no tight fairways.
“And even though the course is made longer, the ability for all the best players to fly the ball a specific yardage — whether it’s with a five, six, seven, eight iron — if the ball stops on those sections, they are going to eat this course up.
“However, when the greens are this firm, those small sections are very hard to hit and you’ve got to really strategise on where you leave it.
“So if it stays firm, I think it’s going to be a real test.
“And that is how it should be. Major championships should challenge and test the best players.
“But it’s really a hard job to set a golf course up right, because you’re always trying to find a line and not cross it.
“I don’t know whether there will be a feeling that we don’t want to see 20 under again, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
“With these firm greens, this golf course needs to be respected. And it has been a long time since it’s had to be respected.”
Masters chairman Fred Ridley insisted officials had not planned a backlash because Johnson ripped up the record books — and that it was just a case of nature taking over.
He said: “We don’t have any prescribed score. The fact Dustin was 20 under was a combination of his spectacular play, and admittedly, the golf course was soft.
“This is probably the first year since Adam Scott won in 2013 that we actually came into the week with the course playing firm and fast.
“Our intention would be to maintain that throughout the week.”
World No 1 Johnson confirmed Augusta was playing a lot tougher.
The American, 36, said: “You’re going to need to do everything well this week.
“The course is in fantastic condition, a lot different to November, and a whole lot more difficult.
“But I feel ready. My game is in good shape — maybe not quite as good a shape as it was in November, but I feel like it’s coming together.
“I’m starting to hit a lot of the same shots and getting a lot more comfortable.
“You’ve got to hit your numbers, no matter if the ball is spinning back or staying in place or bouncing forward.
“But with the course being hard and fast like it is, you’re definitely going to have to be a little more careful about where you hit the ball.”