At The Masters
Amateur Casey Watabu, of Kauai, watched his approach shot on the opening hole of yesterday's first round of the Masters..
A tough course to master
Watabu is in danger of missing the cut after an opening-round 87
AUGUSTA, Ga. » Standing on the 17th tee, caddie John Cassidy turned to Casey Watabu and gave him the best advice he had all day.
"I've got a goal for you," Cassidy said as he handed Watabu a golf ball. "Break 90."
The levity was just what the recent graduate from the University of Nevada needed. Watabu had just finished knocking one of his last few golf balls into the water at the 16th to fashion a 9 over on the four par 3s and was in need of something to break the Masters spell cast on the Kauai resident in yesterday's opening round.
"I didn't really know I was that close, and then I realized, yeah, I'm pretty close. I'd better get it together coming in," said Watabu, who parred the final two holes to post a 15-over 87, the worst round of the day. "I'll just forget about it. I won't even remember I shot 87 by tomorrow."
Watabu returns to the playing field today at 6:35 a.m. Hawaii time with no chance of making the cut, and that may be a good thing. After spending the past three weeks in Georgia preparing for the biggest tournament of his life, Watabu just needs to grip it and rip it, and quit worrying about the consequences.
"It's like John said, 'You're really not like that. You don't practice that much.' I just hit balls when I want to," Watabu said. "I think I was just out of my zone. I was doing something that wasn't me. I'm just going to go back to the house tonight and have fun."
Fellow local boy Dean Wilson can't take as cavalier an attitude. While Watabu did something Wilson did not -- make a birdie -- the Kaneohe native still has something to shoot for entering his 5:40 a.m. tee time. Currently tied for 28th after shooting a 3-over 75, Wilson has a good shot at making the cut and playing through to the weekend.
The Masters cut line is either top 44 and ties or anyone within 10 shots of the lead. Wilson begins his round today only six shots off the pace of 3-under 69 set by Justin Rose and Brett Wetterich. He is tied with the likes of Chris DiMarco, Tom Watson, Stuart Appleby and old college roommate Mike Weir.
And while Wilson didn't manage a birdie, he noticed something during his round he never expected -- the quiet.
"I was happy with shooting par through Amen Corner (Nos. 11-13)," Wilson said. "It's funny, you come out here and the course that I always remember when I first came here and watched the tournament, you hear all the roars everywhere and you just don't hear any roars today. It's really tough and no one's making any birdies. So, it just seems a little different.
"Oh yeah, the greens are hard and fast. They're so slopey, not only is it hard to figure out where to hit it or try to, then just seeing if it does what you think. That's the tough part about these greens. I would have liked to have got a birdie, you know. For me, it was tough to make birdies out there."
Not that Wilson didn't have any opportunities. He did. At the par-5 second, he lipped out a birdie try from 8 feet, had a good opportunity from about 12 feet at the par-4 ninth that swung just by the cup and had another 15-footer from above the hole at the par-4 10th. That putt might have gotten a speeding ticket on the H-3.
"I had that 15-footer straight downhill at 10," Wilson said. "It was scary. I had a 5-footer coming back for par. When I look up and notice no one else is making birdie, it gives me a boost. We're not hearing any of the roars that Augusta is so famous for."
Watabu heard mostly groans from a supportive crowd. Playing with Watson, who has won a green jacket twice, and 2007 Turtle Bay champ Fred Funk, the two 50-somethings did their best to keep it light for the youngster, especially early on.
"I had fun today playing with Tom Watson and Fred Funk," Watabu said. "Playing with these two guys, especially in the beginning, I was a bit nervous. They were like, 'Take a deep breath, just have fun and enjoy it.' It kind of calmed me down after a few holes. I was feeling good at the turn."
But it was a false sense of security for Watabu, who played the back nine in 11-over 47. He took a snowman on the famed par-3 12th, hitting it in the water twice, and found water again at the par-3 16th to shoot a double-bogey 5.
As for Wilson, he avoided the big numbers, but needed several huge par saves to make that claim. He knows he can't do that again today and survive. He also knows that getting 18 holes on the scorecard was big for him.
"You don't know what it's like to play a tournament round until you do it," Wilson said. "It's a little nerve-racking. You know, getting up there, watching a tournament your whole life, and then being a part of it. Just staying calm and not getting too nervous or defensive.
"You've got to go out there, choose your spots and make good, aggressive swings at the targets. You can practice all you want. In the practice round, who cares where you hit it? Hit it in the water, it doesn't matter, just drop another one and play through.
"For me, I've got to drive the ball a little better. I hit some poor drives that put me in trouble. If I can just keep the ball in the fairway and maybe hit some good approach shots and two-putt, try to make a birdie or two, maybe I'll have a better result."
Sports Editor Paul Arnett
has been covering sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1990. Reach him at email@example.com