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Transcript of Masters on ESPN Media Conference Call

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To listen to a recording of the call, click HERE

ESPN golf analysts Andy North and Curtis Strange and host Mike Tirico participated in a media conference call today to discuss next week’s Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. ESPN will have live telecasts of the first two rounds at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday, April 7-8, as well as extensive coverage on SportsCenter, ESPN.com and other ESPN platforms.

A transcript of the conference call follows:

MIKE TIRICO:  This is our ninth year at ESPN covering Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and early round coverage of the Masters.  It’s a thrill.  It gets better every year.  I had a chance to be at Augusta National earlier this year, and so excited to get back for Masters week.

And I think for all of us who are involved in the golf project at ESPN, this being our one shot at golf, it’s a great one shot to have.  So we’re looking forward to a great week, get the week started with SportsCenter coverage, and all the way through our coverage on Friday, and then SportsCenter through the weekend as we’ve done for many years.

CURTIS STRANGE:  I’m looking forward to Rory, Jordan, and Jason, quite honestly.  We had the three last year, but Jordan was not quite on the scene as the other two were.  It’s going to be a lot of fun to see if Rory can complete the Grand Slam; can Jordan repeat; can Jason continue this stretch.

I think it’s fantastic.  But besides that, it’s always nice to go back, as we all know and we all continue to say, and it’s not blowing smoke.  Every time I go back and every time any player or anybody goes back to the tournament or even the club, it never disappoints, honestly.  The older I get, the more emotional I get about it, because it’s a wonderful place.  It’s a hell of a tournament.  But more so than that, it’s the history, the tradition, the people, as I like to say, the ghosts of the Hogans and Nelsons and Sneads and all the rest.  To be able to see Arnold again and Jack and Gary and all the old timers running into them before they go to the dinner, it’s a joy for me to see some guys I really don’t see anymore, and I miss them, and it’s always a great week to see a lot of those in the industry that we don’t get to see very often, so I always look forward to it.

ANDY NORTH:  Well, to echo what Curtis is saying, it’s a great    really the official start of the golf season, even though they’ve played 15 tournaments or whatever they’ve played.  It’s a right of spring, particularly for those of us up here in the Midwest and the Northeast.  This is where your golf season really gets started.  So it’s a privilege to be involved.

I’d also like to add that    let’s look at Adam Scott, add him to this group of players, and Bubba Watson and a handful of other guys who have been playing exceptionally well.  I think it’s always exciting to come into the first major of the year where you have your big guns all playing pretty well, and I think right now, we’ve got a bunch of those guys playing well, which will be exciting.

I’m doing a story on some of the less recognized holes like some of the stands on the front nine. We didn’t see the front nine for years, and now we see it, but there’s still a couple holes that I think people don’t quite grasp, and I’m looking at 3, 4 and 5. Curtis and Andy, can you guys kind of go through those holes just briefly, thoughts on what their challenges are? Obviously you have the tough tee shot at 4 and the crazy green at 5.

ANDY NORTH:  Well, I always thought that 3, 4 and 5 were the most important holes of the front nine.  To me that was a key, particularly fairly early in the round of golf.  You had three distinctly different types of holes.  You had a short par 4 and par 3 that gives the players a lot of different options on how they want to play their tee shot to set up their approach shot.

I thought it was as dangerous of a short hole as you ever played, and I personally had a ridiculous amount of trouble with that hole.  I unfortunately had spun it off that front way too many times, and the people at home don’t understand, once you come off the front part of that green, you’ve not got a really good chance of making any kind of score.  You can stay down there for half an hour hitting pitch shots up that bank and they keep coming down at you, but it’s a dangerous, dangerous short hole which I think is a wonderful design.

The par 3 is just a bear of a par 3.  Everybody talks about the wind swirling back at the 12th hole.  It does the same thing at 4, and a player can look really silly hitting what they think is a pretty good tee shot and coming up short of that front bunker even.  The wind will affect the tee shots 15 or 20 yards there, and that’s a much more difficult green than most people think.

And then 5, what a great tee shot that hole is.  The huge bunkers on the left sort of suck you into going further left than you’d like to.  You almost have to aim it up the right hand rough line, and even if the ball is in the fairway, you’re still left with an amazing second shot.  These guys are hitting it long enough now that they’re able to hit some 6 , 7 , 8 irons into this hole, which you can take the ball in the air and carry it back into the back hole location area, where if you’re into the wind or you’re not a very long hitter and you’re back there hitting a 3 , 4 , 5 iron, a lot of times you’ll have to play the ball on the ground and bounce it up that slope, which that’s not very easy to control.

All in all, I think it’s an amazing three holes in a row.

CURTIS STRANGE:  Yeah, if I could just add, a completely agree.  It’s a heck of a stroke.  Always felt like you had to be under par.  Birdieing the second hole was paramount to attack the next three holes or four holes.  But it goes to show you the second shot which can be so short from 100 yards, 120 yards, depending on where you lay up off the third hole, it’s just such a demanding short shot, and 4 and 5 in our day were, and still are, long holes, but I think more so than anything else, you had to look at where you wanted to miss it if you weren’t comfortable with your club.  The front right bunker at 4 was not a difficult bunker shot, better than long or left, and then the back bunker at – if you’re coming in with a long iron into 5, you wanted to miss long if you missed, because that was a very simple bunker shot versus if you tried to get it close to the hole with a long iron at 5 and you just couldn’t get it up and down from short of the slope.

A lot of little mental battles you play to keep from making mental mistakes around Augusta National around the entire golf course, especially on the front side.

Curtis, one more thing on 5 green; those mounds there are just so pronounced. What was it like putting on those? 

CURTIS STRANGE:  Well, you know, first of all, I always thought 4 was an underrated, tough, tough two putt if you didn’t put it close to the hole.  But 5, if you’re short, you know, that’s what the practice is for, but they’re so steep, and then the ball does run away from you when it hits the top plateau.  It’s just very difficult to get the speed and to get it close to the hole.  You always knew you were going to have a five  to eight footer if you left it short.  Some choose to possibly chip, pitch it.  I always liked the putter if you could.  But just demanding, very demanding.  You know if you come up short    you know when your second shot in the fairway when the ball comes back down the slope, you’ve got a lot of work to do, much like 14 green.  You’ve got a lot of hard work to do to salvage par.

MIKE TIRICO:  I was just going to give you a little anecdote for your story.  Obviously nothing about the hole specifically, but now having gone there on and off for the last 20 years, you always get people who say, I’m going to my first Masters, where should I go as a patron, and of course you tell them you want to see the scene at the first tee, the elevation change coming up to 9 green, Amen Corner, but I always tell folks you should spend some time and park yourself in the area where the players hit their second shot to the right of 2 because to watch those second shots at 2 and then to see the area where players are playing their second into 3 and then the tee shot at 4, a little walk, about a 30 yard walk in that area, from the right of the second hole, you get to see three holes, like you said, not as well known to the viewers because they are not seen as much as the second nine, but those are just awesome shots to watch the best players in the world hit.  That second to the par 5, Andy talked about that second into the third, and that par 3 for amateurs or players who have never been there, when they see that scene from that tee and into that green, that’s when you walk away with such an appreciation for how great the course is and how great these players are.

Curtis, I’m curious, when you made a hole in one on the 12th hole in 1988 if you realized it had been 29 years since someone had made an ace, and are you at all surprised that it’s now been 26 years since it has been repeated?

ANDY NORTH:  Can I answer that one?  I’d love to answer this one.  First of all, you don’t ever aim it at the hole at 12, so that’s why there haven’t been a whole lot of aces there, so Curtis obviously pushed or pulled the shot to make it.

CURTIS STRANGE:  I have always admitted that I aimed    the pin was back right, and I’ve always admitted that I aimed properly, and I pushed, and she went right in, pal, okay?  Now, I do have the greatest story of all time which I won’t bore everyone with is Claude Harmon.

5 iron on that, Curtis?

CURTIS STRANGE:  I hit a 7 iron, and she went right in the hole.  That’s all I’m going to tell you.

But you know, I didn’t know, and of course you’re never quite sure, and hole in ones in tournaments really mean nothing other than they help your score a couple of shots, but it was fun to relive that over the years.  And there’s only been one on No. 4 by Jeff Sluman.

I’d be curious what both of you think about Adam Scott saying that he has seriously considering laying up on the fourth hole and taking his chances from short of the green. 

ANDY NORTH:  Well, that’s not a very easy pitch from short of the green.  I think you’ve got to take your chances, a player of that caliber is going to hit that green a lot. He’s going to make more pars hitting at that hole than he is by laying up, I suspect.

CURTIS STRANGE:  Yeah, and the toughest hole location there to me, Andy, is front left.  I mean, you have virtually    I mean, it’s such a small area to be hitting    well, depends on where the tee markers are, but if you’re back there at 230 hitting into an area that’s probably eight steps wide, your aimer better be on.  That’s all I can tell you.

I had another one for Mike, and I’m just assuming because I never watch it, the par 3, how it’s changed. In the years you guys have been doing it, it’s a fun little thing they did on Wednesday, but it almost seems like it’s picked up somewhat of a celebrity component with who people bring as their caddies. 

MIKE TIRICO:  That’s right, a little celebrity component, a little family component or significant family component with all the kids out there.  I think it’s opened up a couple of avenues.  One, it has shown people how beautiful that course is.  There’s not a finer par 3 course, I can’t imagine, anywhere in the world, and people get to see it and talk about it after hearing about the par 3 contest and maybe seeing a highlight or two over the years.

But I think the other part is it has shown a very different side of the tournament and of the players with no disrespect to any one of the other majors.  This is the one everyone points to, from the last putt at the PGA on through the first full week of April.  Everyone is pointing their schedule to the Masters.

This is the day you’ve prepared, not just your whole career, but eight months for, the start of the Masters on that Thursday, and here you are some 18 hours before with the all time exhale, the all time deep breath before you get out there and compete in this huge event, and I think people seeing this other side of the players before the intense competition on Thursday and before the serenity of the tournament on the big course I think has added to the Masters experience.

I can honestly tell you, and Curtis and I were just talking about this on the phone earlier this morning the number of people who during the year you’ll run into who say, I love the par 3 contest; I can’t wait to watch it.  It’s not necessarily because they’re going to see the best golf of the year.  They just like the unique setting and the unique experience.

Curtis, just as a quick follow up, did you ever play the par 3 and did people ever see the other side of you?

CURTIS STRANGE:  I played the par 3 many times.  I sense your humor here.  But I played the par 3 a lot.  I enjoyed it.  But when I started playing to where I thought I had a chance to really play well in the big tournament, I didn’t play for three or four years there because I was tired, and the par 3 does take some energy as far as you’ve already played 18.  See, the guys nowadays play nine, nine and nine, a lot of them.  I played 18 holes every day.  What else was I going to do?  And then to play another nine holes    and there was pressure and anxiety to play and do well and make a few putts on the par 3 in front of all the people, so I chose not to for three or four years.

But we had fun.  Are you kidding?  We didn’t have the kids caddie in the day.  That started later on, and I did have my sons caddie for me once or twice at the end of my career.

But it was always great fun and people had fun, and it was    there was a time there when it was bentgrass and it was Bermuda on the big course, so it was a little bit different to go play Wednesday afternoon.  People forget that, to go play bentgrass greens and then go play Bermudagrass greens Thursday morning.  That didn’t sit well with a lot of players, either.

What do you think is the state of Jordan Spieth’s game right now, and is it possible that he did a little too much traveling and didn’t say no enough in preparation this year?

CURTIS STRANGE:  I’ve said, you know, publicly that I think it was good that he did this in his career because he learned from it.  You know, it’s always easy for Andy and I and those who have gone through it to second guess somebody’s scheduling or why they played here or there.  You know, he’s doing what he thinks is right.  For somebody who did travel and burn out a little bit from the travel overseas, I think he did do a little bit too much, but as I just said, I think it was good that he did it this early in his career because he learned from it.  He learned that it does wear you out, and the most important thing to be ready for is the official calendar year of tournament golf.

I think he’s probably a little tired, but as the year progresses    there’s nothing wrong with his game.  I sense he’s just not making the putts that he made last year.  Let’s not forget, last year was a phenomenal year for any player, much less a 22 year old.  So it could turn out 20 years from now that that could be his absolutely best stretch of his life.

I don’t think so.  I hope not, but it very well could be.

So anything    if he holds himself to that standard that he played for four or five months last year, it’s going to be difficult to repeat day in and day out, and you have to be patient with yourself, and right now he’s going through that time.  There’s nothing wrong with his game.  He’s probably a little bit impatient.  The putts aren’t going in.

But I think he’s fine.  He’s going to be defending at Augusta next week.  He’ll get fired up.  I just can’t ever forget the putts he made last year.  I mean, let’s not forget he shot 18 under par, tied Tiger’s record.  He was the only guy to get to 19 under par ever.  You don’t do that with your long game.  You do that with your short game.  I think he’s fine.  He’s just going through a little stretch right now.

ANDY NORTH:  I think it’s interesting that the bar gets set so high for these guys because of one Tiger Woods that you have a year where that’s a once in a career year that he had last year, to go win five times.  On Tour if a player can win once a year throughout his career, he’s an unbelievably great player.

I think he’s already won a tournament this year.  He’s played some really good golf.  He’s played some scratchy golf, which he is a human being.  I think he’s    and I would suspect that looking forward to defending at Augusta, when you have eight months in there to do it, it would be real easy as you get closer to start thinking about Augusta, thinking about the shots you have to hit, and maybe you aren’t    you think you’re completely invested in what you’re doing at that point in another tournament, but if you’re distracted just a little bit by trying to    how do I go about defending, and he’s had to ask those questions now for the last three or four months, and that’s not easy to do.

CURTIS STRANGE:  I completely agree with what Andy just said.  He was right on.  You know, your mind tends to wander at something down the road, which is Augusta.

I also    it’s just hard    it’s a lot of moving parts.  It’s hard to play at that standard every day, and he’s a young man and he’s going to be just fine.  But let’s not forget that defending any tournament, especially Augusta or a major championship, is not easy.  The spotlight is on you, so let’s not expect too much out of him next week.

I think he’ll do well.  Will he win?  It’s only been done a couple of times, so let’s not forget that.

Mike, how has he seemed to you if you’ve been able to spend any time with him?

MIKE TIRICO:  I have not seen Jordan in between then and now, so I wouldn’t be anything but the observer like all of you guys have been, all those who watch on TV I should say.  But just to add to what the guys said, when you go back to Thursday and Friday to what he did last year, the number of putts were incredible, and that was the story for the whole year, right through the U.S. Open and the British.

But this conversation happens all the time when people burst onto the scene in terms of major championships, and how much is too much and balancing that title before your first name going forward.

I think like all the anticipation around him before he won at Augusta last year that Jordan will handle this just fine, and I think for the most part he is.  He looked pretty good during the Match Play as I watched last week.

When you look at the best players and the fact that most of the guys at the top of the World Rankings have won here over the last couple of months going in, Jordan you have to go back to Kapalua January, I think we’re just set up for as good a lead up to the Masters as you can have, because there’s a lot of anticipation around every one of these players, and it’s not going to be easy for Jordan to rattle off a whole bunch because those other guys who have been mentioned are sitting there and playing if not at the top of their game, close to it, so good for the game.  Great for the game.

Given how well the top guys are playing, and you mentioned all the names, and you can probably add Phil Mickelson to the mix, I’m curious if you would say the chances or the odds of a surprise winner are even more remote than usual at Augusta this year, and also maybe give us the name of someone who one is talking about who you suspect could contend. Thank you. 

ANDY NORTH:  I think it’s interesting that when you get all the guys playing well, obviously you wouldn’t think that there’s a lot of chance for somebody else.  But you know, you go back 10 or 12 years or whatever when Vijay was playing great and Tiger was playing great and Phil was playing great and Goosen and Ernie, that group of guys.  Pretty much that’s when Tiger was winning all the time.  So you had a situation to where it was hard for someone that wasn’t in that group to win.

I think there’s a little of that right now, but there’s really a group of young players that are really starting to figure it out.  If you’re talking long shots, there’s a ton of these young guys.  It’s going to be fun to see how the younger players handle getting in position like Jordan did a couple of years ago and stumbled and then ended up coming back last year and was so terrific.

It’s always fun to watch these guys and see how they handle it.

You know, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if a Snedeker had a great week next week.  He’s played some really good golf.  I know he’s going through so much stretches where he’s starting to putt the ball like he did there for years, and he totally loves Augusta, and he’s played there a million times.

I think you never can downplay the feeling that certain players have for this event.  I mean, Phil is a perfect example.  He drives down Magnolia Lane, and all of a sudden his “A” game is there.  It’s a perfect golf course for him.

To see one of these guys play well would be fun, and it’s not totally out of the realm of happening.

CURTIS STRANGE:  You know, the one thing that is a negative for a young kid coming in there and playing well against all these established stars who have played August many, many times is the local knowledge, and especially on the greens.  You can do it, as we saw Jordan do just that last year, but you really have to know the golf course and know how to play it.  If you’re playing perfect golf, you can do it, but it’s where the mis hits go.  It’s where you can or cannot get it up and down.  It’s where you need to put it on the green, and that’s what hurts and fights against a young player really coming in and doing well there.

Andy and Curtis, we’re coming up on the 30th anniversary of Jack’s win there at the Masters, and I’m wondering if the record for him being the oldest winner there has stood this long; how much longer do you think it might stand, and who, I guess Phil being cheap among them, might challenge that record one day?

CURTIS STRANGE:  You know, the guys are playing so well into their 50s or at 50, and we saw an incredible run a couple years ago with Jiménez and Freddie and Bernhard I believe all finishing top 10.  I believe that’s true.  That’s astonishing to me as long as that golf course has gotten.  But two of the players continue to hit it a long ways, Jiménez had a nice run there.

But I am never surprised anymore.  The Champions Tour has kept these guys into the game, kept them fit, competitively sharp.  But the only players who really can do this into their late 40s are those who have won Augusta before because they are able to come back every year and play and play and play.  They might miss a few cuts in their 40s, but it doesn’t mean they can’t hit a stretch, hit lightning in a bottle at 46, 47, 48, 49, maybe 50, and have a good stretch.  Can they finish it off and win down the stretch?  There’s a lot of pressure.  We haven’t seen it since Jack, and then Raymond had a chance, I believe, when he was older than Jack, but he didn’t quite finish it.

But the odds are against them, but it wouldn’t surprise me, but it’s got to be a former champion to do that, I think.

ANDY NORTH:  You’re bringing up Phil.  Phil has played some of the best golf so far this year that we’ve seen Phil play in the last two or three years, and he gets so energized when he gets at Augusta.  I would not be a bit surprised if he wouldn’t have a chance over the next two or three years.  He still has length.  His short game is not going to leave him any time soon.  He’s able to do some things around these greens that is absolutely amazing, and you know, the fact that you’ve won there, as Curtis is saying, he’s going to get chances, and he knows he can do it there.  And I think right now he’s got more confidence in his game than he’s had in the last two years.

Andy, you have such a long standing relationship with Tom Watson. I’m wondering if you could provide some insight on what the Masters has meant to him and if you have an anecdote perhaps about his prep or his plans for his last trip around Augusta. 

ANDY NORTH:  Well, he is so tied to the Open Championship because he’s won it so many times, and the run he had there at 59 years old was amazing.  But I think if you were to ask him some of the most important things he’s ever accomplished were at Augusta National.  He loves the golf course, and the golf course fit his game so well for so many years.

You go back and look at his run in the middle of his prime.  He finished in the top 10 almost every single year he played there over about a 10 year period of time, had an amazing record there, and he still really enjoys going there.

It’s more difficult for him now because he’s convinced he can’t hit it far enough.  The one year that he played exceptionally well three or four years ago there where he shot some good rounds and was in contention, marginally in contention, it was really dry and fast.  He needs to have the golf course playing like that to feel like he can compete there.

One thing about Watson is he’s stubborn enough that if he gets playing well enough, he will compete his tail off there.  But the golf course has gotten just so long for him, as it has for most of the older guys.

As far as this year, I think it’s always difficult for these great players to be playing their last event at a particular event because it’s meant so much for them.  I do know that they’ve got a whole bunch of houses and a ton of friends, and it’s going to be a difficult week for them emotionally, but I think he will look back and see so many of the wonderful things that have happened to him there, that there will also be a lot of joy this week.

Curtis, what’s your take on Rory’s decision to switch to cross handed putting basically about a month before the Masters?

CURTIS STRANGE:  Well, apparently he wasn’t putting up to standard the regular way, up to his standard.  You know, as golfers, we will try anything if we think it’s going to help.  It doesn’t matter when or where.  He was probably frustrated enough to try this.  He made a lot of putts the first three days in Doral when he did that. But anyway, players will do whatever needs to be done.  It seems like any little trick of the trade works for a while, but when you go against your basics that you’ve done forever, you eventually go back to it.

I don’t really think he’ll be cross handed forever, but right now, hey, try it.  On the sidelines, everything is pointing toward next week, everything.  That’s why we’re on this phone call.  But the players are doing what they think every day that’s going to help    they’re doing whatever they can to help themselves.  Yes, Augusta is on their mind, but they’re trying to play well.  They’re tinkering with their swings every day.  They’re trying new little techniques, and it’s a never ending battle, and for him to go cross handed doesn’t surprise me, but once again, I don’t expect him to stay that way forever.

Curtis, I wanted to ask you about Jason Day and the streak he’s on. Only two guys, Tiger and Jack, have won their last two starts before winning the Masters.  He’s on a streak; can he keep it up? 

CURTIS STRANGE:  Absolutely I think he can do it.  I think it’s a great position to be in.  You wonder how long it will last.  He’s not thinking like that.  He’s doing everything he can possibly do to keep this going through next week, and I’d much rather be in a position where people are saying, can it last, versus trying to find something.  I’d rather be in Jason Day’s position than Jordan Spieth’s position right now.

But Jason is long.  He’s incredibly streaky.  We saw that last year.  But really it’s a streak continuing from last year to this year.  He seems to have figured it out.

Remember, we wondered when we first saw Jason about five years ago at Augusta, and then he didn’t quite play to what we thought he might the next couple of years, due to injuries and whatnot.  He’s doing now what I’ve always thought he would be able to do.  He’s an incredible swinger of the golf club, a free swinger, which means he’s going to play some streaky golf, up and down a little bit, much like Rory.  And as Andy said earlier, when a standard has been set by Tiger playing well every single week, sometimes it’s a bit unfair to hold all these guys to that.  But Jason is having a streak of his own, and it’s good stuff, and I don’t see any reason why he won’t be playing well next week.

ANDY NORTH:  He took a lot of time off the fall that early in the year when he wasn’t playing great, everybody was criticizing him.  Now he’s got it going.  He drives the ball so well, which that’s to me the one shot you have to be able to do at Augusta.  That is a huge advantage, that if you can drive the ball really well and straight, and the better he plays and the harder he swings at it, the straighter the thing goes.

But I think the biggest change in Jason over the last three or four months is his short game is incredible.  He went from a player that had an average short game that could really strike the ball to where now you’re seeing him play some rounds where he goes out and hits nine or ten or 11 greens and shoots 2 , 3, 4 under par.  He’s getting it done with his short game, and I think that just adds another bullet to his gun, and he’s been able to show us a whole new side of him with his short game and this great ability to recover after poor shots.

You guys were fortunate to cover Zach Johnson’s big win at St. Andrews this past summer. Knowing he’s a former Masters winner, he’s going to come in, as you know, defending Open Champion.  We’ve talked about past winners.  Of course having chances, playing well, Phil Mickelson, into their 40s, Zach Johnson is 40 now, you guys’ opinion on Zach as he approaches this Masters coming up? 

CURTIS STRANGE:  You know, Zach is a special type of player.  When you’re giving up yards off the tee like he is every day and you have the mental capacity to compete with these guys and to win big golf tournaments, that’s a special individual.  And for him to do well    you know, St. Andrews not so much as Augusta National, but Augusta is such a long golf course now, he has to be so sharp.  It doesn’t mean he can’t win.  It doesn’t mean he can’t play.  But he has to be sharper than the rest.  He has to be sharper than Phil Mickelson at Augusta.  He has to be in the fairway every hole because it sets up the second shot which is so long to be able to control the ball, to put it where he wants to around the hole.  He has to be precise on all the par 5s from 100 yards because he’s not going to be able to go at the green like all the big hitters, and I admire so much a guy like that.  I was like that a little bit.  I wasn’t as long as some because we didn’t have the difference in driving distance that we have now, but for Zach to compete and win against these guys, Dustin Johnson and Jason and Rory and Phil and Tiger, I mean, it’s good stuff.  I admire the hell out of him.

As far as I’m concerned, he always has a chance, but let’s just remember, he has to be very, very good to beat these guys.

ANDY NORTH:  If you go back and look at how he won, when he did win the Masters, he played the par 5s incredibly well and laid up on all of them.  He has the grit to get it done.  I think that’s the most important thing for Zach is that he’s such a tough competitor that he will figure out a way to be able to shoot some scores.

I know he’s struggled a little bit finding a driver he’s really comfortable with.  He broke his driver, and he’s been struggling that way, and that’s such an important part of his game.  He has to drive the ball in the fairway.  If he does that, he always has a chance.

MIKE TIRICO:  He did shoot a pair of 68s Saturday and Sunday last year, so you know he’s still got the ability.  Andy talked about the driver, which is such a good point.  A good show at Bay Hill I think it was and getting to the Match Play here towards the weekend or the quarters of that event, at least he’s coming in and playing halfway decent.  Encouraging signs, and as we said before, conditions will be such a factor because if he’s in play, we know that he’s got the confidence and the memory of playing the par 5s as three shotters but not feeling like it’s a disadvantage because he’s succeeded doing it, and that’s the way he knows he has to play there.

As Andy always talks about, and Andy has schooled us on this for the 20 years I’ve been going there with him covering the Masters, if you have local knowledge there with confidence and with great memories of how you did it, it is such an advantage over the field, perhaps more of an advantage that at any other event all year, so you’re playing to somebody who’s going to come in with that advantage.  He’s one of those guys where you don’t come in saying he’s a favorite to win, but you know he’s going to be around if he’s having a halfway decent start to his week.

 

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Media Contact: Andy Hall, [email protected]