For the first time, some of the PGA Tour Champions golfers are making quite the adjustment this week.
Eight former Masters champions played at renowned Augusta National Golf Club last week, and now must transition from those conditions and facing the top players in the world of younger ages, to the Champions Tour at the Chubb Classic presented by SERVPRO.
Jose Maria Olazabal didn’t win a third Masters, but he arrived at Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort as a winner of sorts. The 55-year-old was the only one of the eight to make the cut, and finished tied for 50th.
“I was here (Tuesday) afternoon for a little while, and I think everybody was in a state of shock that I made the cut last week — me included,” Olazabal said.
Olazabal shot a 3-over 75 in the first round and followed that up with a 1-under 71 in Friday’s second round to make the cut. He shot a pair of 75s over the weekend.
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“It was a very nice surprise, I have to say,” Olazabal said. “It’s been, what, seven years I think the last time I made the cut. It was great. It was great to make the weekend, especially on the Friday that was — it would have been Seve (Ballesteros’) birthday. It was a bit emotional in that regard. Plus other things, but it was really nice. I felt proud.”
Mike Weir was second among the former champions who are in the field this week. But he missed the cut by two strokes at 5 over. Bernhard Langer missed the cut by four shots, followed by Ian Woosnam (+9), Sandy Lyle (+12), Couples (+13), Vijay Singh (+15) and Larry Mize (+19). Mark O’Meara, another former Masters champion, is in the Chubb field, but did not play last week.
“I played fairly well and shot college score shots like when I was 16 years old,” Couples said.
Olazabal attributed his scores to saving par, since he was hitting a lot of 5-woods and 7-woods into par-4s, for example.
Bernhard Langer tees off on hole 12 during day two of the Chubb Classic Pro Am at Tiburón Golf Club in North Naples (Alex Driehaus/Naples)
“To shoot those scores, it’s very hard,” Couples said. “(The course) was a rock hard — it was hard to get a ball close, but he’s got a great short game, and that week you needed to have a short game.”
“He’s always had tremendous short game,” Langer said. “That’s important at Augusta. If he can keep his driver in play he’s always one to reckon with. He knows the place.”
“That was great to see Jose come back and play so well,” Weir said. “That had to be a brutal golf course for him, very long. For him to make the cut there just shows how good his short game is. His short game is just phenomenal, world-class.”
Weir couldn’t quite make up enough ground to make the cut after an opening-round 78, but he did shoot a 1-under 71.
“I felt like my game was really ready to contend there,” he said. “I was kind of shocked that I had such a bad short game day Thursday. That’s what really set me back.”
Langer tied for 29th in the Masters in November when it moved from its usual April dates due to the coronavirus pandemic. He missed the cut by three after shooting 74-77 and didn’t have a birdie in the second round.
“I thought the course was playing almost the opposite from last November,” he said. “Very firm at first. The greens were actually firmer on Monday and Tuesday than they were on — in the tournament rounds.
“So I think they were close to maybe losing some of them so they put a little water on them then they had a little bit of rain here and there, but conditions were great. Weather was beautiful. I just didn’t play good enough.”
Couples shot 77-73 at the Masters in November. He’s nowhere near saying when his last Masters will be.
“The last year I had a 78; year before that 76. But the last two years I’ve come back and had two really, really good other rounds,” he said. “This year I did not. But, no, I mean, it wasn’t a length problem. To be honest with you, I didn’t putt very well in November and I couldn’t get the speed of the greens down and I actually played OK, and then this year was five months later was the complete opposite. I putted everything 10 feet past, chipped everything horribly.”
Jose Maria Olazabal lines up his putt on the second green during the third round of 2021 The Masters Tournament. (Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports)
Olazabal said adjusting to Tiburón’s Black Course will be more than just the undulating, lightning-quick greens Augusta is known for.
“It’s a completely different golf course,” he said. “Small greens, greens are firm and fast, that is true, but you have to position the ball here. Fairways at Augusta are much wider, and in that regard for me, that I’m not the best or the straightest driver in the world, well, that helps over there.
“But I know that here I need to be sharp off the tee in order to be able to compete for the event.”
Weir, who tied for 51st in the November Masters, agreed.
“A lot of my preparation going to Augusta was hitting a lot of long clubs because I knew I was going to have rescue clubs and 5-irons and 6-irons and 7-irons into a lot of the holes there at Augusta where here you’re hitting a lot more wedges, so it’s just putting in a little more time in on the wedge shots,” he said. “And we’re in some Bermudagrass around the greens, so that’s difficult pitching, probably more difficult than Augusta because of the grain.”
As Couples implied, though, going anywhere after Augusta National will be an adjustment.
“(It) is hard to play on a golf course like that when you never do it — once a year,” he said. “I mean, we play golf courses that are nice; sometimes they play hard.
“But when you just all of a sudden hop out of bed Thursday morning and go play a course like that, it’s a little freakish, even though I love it.”