Italy sends record 3 players to the Masters

By Associated PressMarch 26, 2010, 4:51 pm

ROME – While the return of Tiger Woods will be the focus of the Masters, Italian fans will have a different storyline to follow.

For the first time, three Italians have qualified to play at Augusta National next month. Edoardo and Francesco Molinari will become the first brothers to participate in the same Masters since Jumbo and Joe Ozaki in 2000. Also, 16-year-old Matteo Manassero – the British Amateur champion – will become the youngest golfer ever at the Masters.

“Having two professionals plus an amateur is really something historic,” Francesco Molinari said in a recent phone interview from his home in London. “Not that long ago something like this happening was unthinkable.

“There will certainly be more people watching the Masters on TV in Italy, maybe even people who don’t play golf, or are just starting to play. We’re hoping more people become passionate about the sport and start playing golf.”

Golf is a minor and still mostly exclusive sport in Italy, which only last year crossed the threshold of 100,000 players. The only real champion the country has produced is Costantino Rocca, who lost a British Open playoff to John Daly at St. Andrews in 1995 and beat Tiger Woods in a singles match at the 1997 Ryder Cup.

“It’s great to see three Italians playing in a major, especially the Masters,” Rocca told The Associated Press. “It fills me with pride.”

The Molinaris recall watching Rocca play in the final pairing with Woods at the 1997 Masters, which Woods won by 12 shots.

Then the brothers got a firsthand look at Woods when Edoardo played in his first Masters in 2006 as the U.S. Amateur champion, who is traditionally paired with the previous year’s winner for the opening two rounds.

“I have a lot of great memories from that week. The only thing I would have liked to change was my score,” Edoardo – who failed to make the cut – said in an e-mail to the AP. “I’m hoping to do better this year.

“In 2006 I was still an amateur and my game certainly wasn’t at the level it’s at now. It’s really tough to play well the first time there because the course is so difficult and there are some very particular holes that require a lot of experience.”

Francesco caddied for his brother at Augusta in 2006 but has never played Augusta.

“I remember a lot of my brother’s shots from 2006, which could be helpful,” he said.

Francesco also remembers some of Woods’ shots from four years ago. While he was doing his best to help his brother, Francesco was also watching Woods closely.

“For a first-year professional, having the chance to watch Tiger was an incredible experience,” he said. “I learned a lot of things.”

The Masters invites the top 50 in the final world ranking of the year. Francesco finished 2009 at No. 38 and Edoardo was 48.

In November, the Molinaris became the first brothers to win the World Cup of Golf, giving Italy its first title in the team event with a one-stroke victory over Sweden and Ireland in Shenzhen, China.

The victory made the front page of the football-focused national sports newspaper, the Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Becoming world champion in any sport is always something special,” Francesco said. “For everyone – even the people who don’t follow the sport in question.”

The Molinaris’ breakthrough didn’t happen overnight, though, and that stands in sharp contrast to the way Manassero followed up his British Amateur win with a 13th-place finish in the British Open, playing solidly the first two rounds at Turnberry alongside 59-year-old runner-up Tom Watson.

Manassero who won’t turn 17 until eight days after the Masters, meaning he’ll break the previous record for the youngest player at Augusta – Tommy Jacobs, who was 17 years, 1 month, 21 days when he competed in 1952.

“It’s always nice to break records, but I don’t feel any pressure,” Manassero said.

Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, who played his first Masters last year at age 17, saw Manassero in the British Open last year at Turnberry and considers him a “great, great player.” Ishikawa had already won pro events before his first trip to the Masters, but he recalled being excited to be there and expects the Italian teenager to feel the same.

Manassero said he would like to make the cut, although he’s not creating any specific goals for himself. That follows the advice that the 53-year-old Rocca gave him a few weeks ago.

“Manassero is 16 years old, so nobody should tell him he’s got to do well or that he has to win,” Rocca said. “It should be a fantastic experience for him and he should take it seriously, but without any pressure. He should try and learn how to play that course.

“I explained a few things to him. That some holes might require three putts, and that it’s better to use all three, otherwise you’re going to need five.”

Manassero’s naturally low trajectory is a perfect fit for windy links courses, where he’s had his biggest successes so far. Augusta National is the opposite. It is known for its ultra-fast, undulating greens that put a premium on high approach shots.

“I’ve seen him play and he can also hit it high,” Rocca said. “He’s got a real feeling for the ball. Of course he can’t expect to score 10 under or 5 under. Considering this is his first year playing there, he should try and steal some secrets about the course and ask how to play certain greens.”

Manassero will have his national team coach, Alberto Binaghi, as his caddie at Augusta. Tradition will put him with defending champion Angel Cabrera of Argentina the first two days. And who will be the third?

“Tiger maybe. Why not? Or (Phil) Mickelson,” Manassero said.

Even with all the pressure and attention Woods will face in his first tournament back after a sex scandal?

“Sure, there’s no problem – he’s still Tiger,” Manassero said.

After the Masters, Manassero will make his pro debut at the Italian Open in May. Without sponsors for now, he still wears his national golf team shirt, clarifying that it’s not the shirt for Italy’s national football team.

Football, of course, remains Italy’s top sport by a large margin. Come April, though, the Masters is sure to gain some viewers in Italy.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.