Heartache Among the Azaleas

By Associated PressApril 5, 2008, 4:00 pm
Sometimes they can see the Masters being taken away from them:
 
Tom Weiskopf was on the 16th tee late Sunday afternoon in 1975, staring across the pond at Jack Nicklaus crouched over a 40-foot putt. The ball disappeared, Nicklaus ran to his right and leaped so high that he left bear tracks on the green. Weiskopf became a runner-up for the fourth time and never again contended.
 
Sometimes they can hear the Masters elude them:
 
Ernie Els closed with a 67 in 2004, then retreated to the practice green to prepare for a playoff. First came the warm applause as Phil Mickelson, tied for the lead, ambled up to the 18th green. Els nervously rapped a few putts and munched on an apple, waiting and listening. His dream was shattered by delirium that rocked Augusta National.
 
'I just heard the roar,' Els said. 'I couldn't see that it was Phil, but after hearing the people's applause, I knew it was Phil.'
 
And there are times when there is not much to say:
 
'Don't let the bastards get you down,' Nick Faldo whispered into the ear of Greg Norman after coming from six shots behind to win by five in 1996. Norman's collapse was the greatest in Masters history and one that made him an indelible image of agony at Augusta National.
 
Every major championship seems to hold a hex over some of golf's best players.
 
Sam Snead's record 82 victories does not include a single U.S. Open, the only major keeping him from the career Grand Slam. Phil Mickelson already has tied his record with four second-place finishes at the U.S. Open. Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson never won a PGA Championship, the major keeping them from the career Grand Slam.
 
But the Masters has the longest list of heartache.
 
No other tournament with so much tradition shows so little compassion.
 
'It bothered me,' Johnny Miller said of his three runner-up finishes, but never a green jacket. 'You get some Masters baggage in your brain. The more times you come close and don't get it, the more it builds up in your head.'
 
David Duval came close four straight years, the first time in 1998 when he closed with a 67. He was in Jones Cabin with chairman Jack Stephens as they watched Mark O'Meara measure a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole. Duval figured he was headed for a playoff.
 
'Don't worry, David,' Stephens told him. 'Nobody ever makes that putt.'
 
O'Meara made the putt.
 
'Hey, good tournament,' was all Stephens could say to a shocked Duval. 'We'll look forward to seeing you next year.'
 
There was always next year, right?
 
But it never came for Ken Venturi, who was poised to win the Masters three times in six years, once as an amateur.
 
Not many suffered quite like Weiskopf, a runner-up four times in a seven-year stretch. Even after Nicklaus dropped in that shocking putt in 1975, Weiskopf had an 8-foot birdie to tie, and it somehow stayed out.
 
'One of these days, the putt is going in and I'll win a Masters,' he said that day.
 
He never did.
 
Tom Kite was a three-time runner-up, and that doesn't include the one time he held the 54-hole lead, when he shot 75 in the final round of 1984 and tied for sixth. Duval had it as tough as anyone. He played Augusta National in 31-under par during his four straight years in contention.
 
'I played as well as anyone, including those who won,' Duval said.
 
Of the seven players who have suffered the most at the Masters, Els is the only one who still returns for more punishment. He was runner-up in 2000 when he couldn't get a putt to fall over the final three holes. He was closing in on Tiger Woods in 2002 until taking an 8 on the 13th hole of the final round. And then there was 2004, the most devastating of all.
 
'I'll get over this,' Els said. 'I'll have another shot. I'm sure of that.'
 
That's what Weiskopf said in 1975. That's how Venturi felt in 1960 when Arnold Palmer birdied the last two holes to win by one. Kite for years could not fathom how his 12-foot birdie putt to tie Nicklaus in 1986 stayed out. Asked recently why there was so little evidence of payback at the Masters, Kite bristled at what he called a 'stupid premise' and stormed off.
 
'You just look at the things that happen at that tournament,' Venturi said. 'There's always something.'
 
Els backed away and held up his hands when presented with that question two weeks ago, almost as if it would harm his chances.
 
'No, no. Don't say that,' he said.
 
But there are questions whether he fully recovered from his brush with being a Masters champion, and even now the 38-year-old South African tries to make sure he is not consumed with Augusta National as the tournament nears.
 
'I think in the past, I drove myself so much, especially after 2004, the way it happened,' he said. 'After that, I haven't played too well. This year, for some reason, I feel different. I feel very comfortable. Many years I have felt good there. I know the course. You've just got to play the shots. If you have a bit of doubt at Augusta, you've got to step away.'
 
Duval missed the Masters for the first time last year when his five-year exemption from winning the British Open expired. He is in a mystifying slump, and the Masters no longer means as much to him as when he came so close from 1998 through 2001. Even now, he can point to a shot on the back nine, a break that went against him.
 
Vijay Singh, after getting a fortuitous drop from the pond on the 11th to escape with bogey, hit a tee shot on No. 12 that tumbled out of the jasmine bushes and into a bunker in 2000. A year later, when Woods won his fourth consecutive major, Duval had birdie putts from 12 feet and 5 feet on the last two holes that for whatever reason did not go in.
 
'I would imagine among non-winners, my lack of good fortune stacks up with anyone,' Duval said.
 
There are no answers. And there are no green jackets.
 
If there is a mystique about the Masters, it's not always favorable. Returning to the same course every year since 1934 invariably stirs bad memories that must be overcome.
 
'If you have a few close calls in the U.S. Open, you're always doing it somewhere else,' Geoff Ogilvy said. 'If you have demons at Augusta, which everybody does, guys will remember. You have demons before you even play there.'
 
Els remains hopeful that this year will bring him a coveted title. But history shows that if golf ever decides it owes someone, Augusta National is the last place for payback.
 
'The 1975 Masters, that was the end of me,' Weiskopf told Golf Digest in an interview 20 years later. 'It was just so disheartening.'
 
As for Norman?
 
He last qualified for the Masters in 2001, two decades after his debut at Augusta National, and reality began to take root.
 
'It's hard to sit here and think you'll never get another chance,' Norman said that year. 'This place may finally have done me in. I would have loved to have won here, but it's not the be all and the end all. It's just when you've been involved for a long time in the history of the tournament, you want the good side, too -- the green jacket.
 
'Not for the jacket itself, but for what it means.'
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - The Masters
  • Getty Images

    McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

    By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

    One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

    McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

    It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

    McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

    Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

    Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

    Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

    The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

    The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

    Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

    The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

    A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

    Getty Images

    Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

    Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

    Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

    South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

    Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

    The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

     

     

    Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

    By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

    It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

    Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

    Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

    "We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."


    Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout


    Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

    Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.