Augusta knew the answers and passed the test

By Associated PressApril 13, 2009, 4:00 pm
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AUGUSTA, Ga. ' Masters chairman Billy Payne called it an important test for Augusta National to regain its personality as a golf course where its as much fun to listen as it is to watch.
One can only suspect now that Payne was bluffing.
He knew the answer before Chad Campbell set a Masters record by opening the tournament with five straight birdies, before a record 17 eagles were recorded in the second round, and before a dozen players went to the back nine Sunday thinking they could win.
I think we have it about right, Payne said on the eve of the Masters.
The score required for the three-man playoff won by Angel Cabrera was 12-under 276. That was the lowest score since 2005, the last year before the final installment of changes (meaning extra length).
Not everyone went for the green on the 13th and 15th holes Sunday, but it sure seemed that way. Both holes played to an average of about 4.3, lower than some of the par 4s. But those two holes are what make the back nine special, the chance for someone to make up ground quickly.
The volume was cranked up. The pressure was ramped up.
Theres roars going up all over the place out there, and thats what its all about, really, Graeme McDowell said after his final round Sunday. Its supposed to be entertaining for the crowds. Thats what these people come to see.
Payne needed some help from Mother Nature, but not that much.
After three practice rounds of bone-dry conditions, the greens were surprisingly soft and receptive in the first round. Had officials kept them firm, there would not have been a record 19 rounds in the 60s.
On the scorecard, Augusta National was 10 yards shorter, with the only official change on the first hole. On the golf course, expanded tee boxes at Nos. 7 and 15, for example, allowed for the tee markers to be moved forward and the holes to be far less frightening.
Augusta National is more than a quarter-mile longer than when Tiger Woods won his first Masters, but the length was necessary. It only needed a few years for players to catch up to the changes and overcome their intimidation. It needed a week of good weather, and for a few small adjustments on the tees and greens.
That made everything about right.
It sounded perfect.
Even for those watching from home, it was hard it ignore the cheers. They could be heard from a nearby hole even as the camera was trained on a player standing over a putt.
One of the more fascinating scenes happened early in the final round, when Cabrera was playing his pitch to the par-5 second hole. Then came a ground-shaking roar as his ball was in flight. Just 40 yards away is the seventh green, where Phil Mickelson deposited an iron a foot away from the cup for another birdie.
It was like that all afternoon.
The Augusta Chronicle in Mondays edition devoted a half-page to a sequence of roars, and most of the entries were about five minutes apart. Mickelsons birdie at the seventh. Woods eagle at the eighth. Dustin Johnson making consecutive eagles, only the second player in Masters history to do that. Kenny Perry making his first birdie from 20 feet on No. 12.
The last three years, about the only excitement was paying $1.50 for a pimiento cheese sandwich.
Numbers alone dont do this Masters justice.
The lowest score of the final round was merely a 66 by Masters rookie John Merrick. Cabrera and Perry, the co-leaders after 54 holes, each closed with a 71. Campbell shot a 69 to join them in the playoff.
For all their fireworks, Mickelson only shot a 67, Woods a 68.
Mickelson might look back one day at this major as one he let slip away, although certainly not as dramatic as his double bogey on the 18th hole at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open. After a record-tying 30 on the front nine, he played back nine in 37 ' a 9-iron into the water on No. 12, and missed putts for eagle at No. 15 and birdie at No. 17, both from about 4 feet, neither even hitting the hole. He finished three behind.
The magic of the Masters, however, is not so much about the score as it is the opportunity.
Woods also had his chances, twice grazing the cup with eagle putts. Campbell had two good looks at eagle, and he gave himself a good shot at birdie on the 18th hole.
Oddly enough, Cabrera was about the only player who didnt give himself great chances. He missed the green to the right at No. 15 and had to scramble for birdie. The key putt might have been his 18-footer for birdie on the par-3 16th after Perry nearly made an ace.
Yes, the Masters allows for a charge. But it also requires a steady hand.
For those ready to jump on Perry for his bogey-bogey finish to slip into a playoff, remember that the great Tiger Woods did the same thing in 2005 after that famous chip-in on the 16th hole. The difference is that Woods made birdie on the first playoff hole.
There is so much to remember about this Masters ' the Woods-Mickelson pairing that no one wanted to see end, Perry going birdie-birdie-bogey-bogey, Cabreras par save from the trees in the playoffs.
Augusta National passed this important test with flying colors.
There is an Argentine in a green jacket.
And there are millions of fans who cant wait for next year.

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  • Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

    Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

    Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

    "He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

    The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

    Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

    "I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

    Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

    "From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

    "And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

    "There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

    Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

    "It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

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    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.