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Posted November 10, 2020, 7:27 pm
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Grass mixture sprouts new challenges for world's best at 2020 fall Masters

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    Erik van Rooyen chips onto the No. 2 green Tuesday. The course conditions this week will have players employing different strategies around the greens - including chipping on balls they would normally putt.[Andrew Davis Tucker/For The Augusta Chronicle]

Course conditions can change in a hurry at Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week. Veteran competitors understand that greens can shift from soft to firm once the tournament arrives and become slicker as the weekend unfolds.

“That's one of the neat things about trying to figure this tournament out,” defending champion Tiger Woods said. “Wednesday to Thursday, this golf course changes a lot.”

The Sub Air system under each green at Augusta National enables tournament officials to control the moisture on the surface. This year, because of the fall date, players face a unique challenge around the greens. The grass is a mixture of Bermuda, a warm weather grass, and the overseed, rye, which is the primary surface each spring.

The combination of competing grasses presents the same brilliant green turf Masters viewers have grown accustomed to seeing. It also creates delicate lies and interesting decisions around the greens.

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“Turning three shots into two is the secret to golf,” Bobby Jones said decades ago, and it remains a critical piece of solving the course he and Clifford Roberts co-founded.

“The ball doesn't sit nearly as well around the greens with, I think, both the Bermuda and the overseed coming in,” Justin Thomas said. “You’re going to have some sketchy lies around the greens, balls that are sitting down to where you're not going to be able to get the spin that you're used to getting, especially chipping up to the elevated greens or when you need to spin one, hold it against the slope or whatever it is.”

On the rye grass in April, players often choose their putter for shots from off the green, trusting the ball will roll smoothly through the consistent surface. Multiple players have said that’s not a viable choice this week, pointing to a hole like the par-5 13th where a miss long and left of the green might prompt them to putt, rather than chip, downhill to a hole location nestled near the tributary of Rae’s Creek.

They’ve spent the practice days exploring all their options.

“I've kind of tried everything,” Webb Simpson said. “I've tried the 3-iron hybrid, I've tried bumping it with a lob wedge, tried putting it. It kind of depends on the hole, kind of where you are. You know, I wouldn't say a ton different than in April.”

Players agree the course is soft, similar to last year when the field averaged a record 71.87 and 11 players finished double-digits under par, also a record.

It’s difficult to envision a scenario where the fairways become firm in the next five days. Tee shots are already landing and stopping after little roll on the uphill tee shots. The National Weather Service forecast calls for 1-2 inches of rain between Wednesday and Thursday evening. Isolated areas could receive more.

More rain means players will have to take to the air around the greens and take their chances controlling the spin. A key up-and-down on the second nine Sunday for a birdie on 13 or 15, or par anywhere else, can help a player maintain momentum and emerge from what’s likely to be a congested leaderboard.

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Even a five-time veteran like Woods has had to discard shots that have worked in the past.

“In general around the greens, we have the ability to play bump and runs or play more spinning golf shots,” Woods said. “That's going to be a little different this year. The ball is going to be popping up on us a little bit and rolling out.”

The pros will adapt. That’s what they do, from week to week and year to year. The ones who adapt the best will have a chance to win late Sunday.

“Everybody has to deal with it,” Thomas said. “Everyone is playing the exact same golf course, so you can't complain or make a fuss about it because everyone is teeing it up in the same spot on Thursday.”