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.

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Tiger can't commit, goes OB on 16: 'That’s on me'

By Will GrayMarch 18, 2018, 11:05 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Standing on the 16th tee with the leaders in sight and the roars of the crowd still ringing in his ears, Tiger Woods contemplated three different options for his most critical tee shot of the week.

He couldn’t decide on any of them, and as a result deposited his chances of winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational into a backyard adjacent to the fairway.

Woods was only one shot back through 15 holes, but with the leaders well behind him on the course he knew he needed at least a birdie on the par-5 16th to keep pace. Instead, he pulled his tee shot left and out of bounds, leading to an untimely and costly bogey on the easiest hole on the course.

“I was caught,” Woods said. “I couldn’t decide what I was going to do.”

In Woods’ mind, he had three options: “fit” a driver left to right with the shape of the fairway, “bomb it over the top” of the dogleg or just hit a 3-wood “straight away.” He opted for the driver, but after missing right the first three days he sent his ball sailing left.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I bailed out and hit a bad shot,” Woods said. “And that’s on me for not committing.”

Woods went on to bogey the next hole, but after a par save on No. 18 he finished the week in a tie for fifth at 10 under for his third straight top-12 finish. Given the sizzling close of Rory McIlroy, an eagle on 16 likely would have still left him looking up at the Ulsterman on the leaderboard.

“Even though I got up there, I just knew I needed to keep making birdies,” Woods said. “Those guys had so many holes behind me, where I just birdied the same holes and so if they made birdie on those holes, I would have to keep going. I got to 16, I figure I’ve got to play the last three holes in 3 under to have a chance and probably force a playoff. And maybe that wouldn’t have been good enough the way Rory is playing back there.”

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McIlroy (64) storms to Arnold Palmer victory

By Nick MentaMarch 18, 2018, 10:48 pm

Rory McIlroy fired a bogey-free, final-round 64, birdied the 72nd hole in Tiger-esque fashion and stormed to a three-shot victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here’s how Rory ended his winless drought, and how the aforementioned Woods made a Sunday charge before collapsing late:

Leaderboard: McIlroy (-18), Bryson DeChambeau (-15), Justin Rose (-14), Henrik Stenson (-13), Woods (-10), Ryan Moore (-10)

What it means: This is McIlroy’s 14th PGA Tour victory and his first worldwide win since Sept. 25th, 2016. That was the day he walked away from East Lake with both the Tour Championship and the FedExCup. It was also the day Arnold Palmer passed away at the age of 87. With the win, McIlroy reasserts himself as a force following a winless 2017 in which he was plagued by a nagging rib injury. The four-time major winner will make one more start at next week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and then make his way to Augusta National, where he looks to complete the career Grand Slam.

Round of the day: Two back to start the final round, McIlroy made his eight birdies in bunches. He circled three of his last four holes on the front nine – Nos. 6, 7 and 9 – to make the turn in 3-under 33 and work his way into the mix. Following three pars at 10-12, he caught fire, ripping off five birdies in his final six holes. He took the outright lead at 14, chipped in at 15, and sealed the deal at 18.

Best of the rest: DeChambeau made McIlroy earn it, cutting the lead to just one when he eagled the 16th hole as McIlroy was walking to the final tee. A par at 17 and a bogey at 18 netted him 68 and solo second.

Big disappointment: This is Stenson’s fourth top-five finish at this event in the last six years. The overnight leader by one, he went 71-71 over the weekend and bogeyed 18 to finish fourth.

Biggest disappointment: Woods made a vintage Sunday charge at Bay Hill before bogeying two of his final three holes and settling for a final-round 69 and a tie for fifth.The eight-time API winner was minus-5 on the day and just one off the lead when he sniped his tee shot at the par-5 16th out of bounds to the left. He bogeyed both 16 and 17 before making a scrambling par at 18 to finish the week 10 under par.

Shot of the day: McIlroy’s birdie putt at 18.

Remind you of anything?

Quote of the day: "It means a lot. You know, the last time I won a PGA Tour event was the day Mr. Palmer passed away, so it's a little bit ironic that I come here and win. He set a great example for all of us players to try and follow in his footsteps. If everyone on Tour could handle themselves the way Arnie did, the game of golf would be in a better place. ... To be able to win his event, I wish I walked up that hill and got a handshake from him but I'm so happy to my name on that trophy." - McIlroy

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TT postscript: Masters hype builds after final-round charge

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 10:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Here are some thoughts from walking one last loop alongside Tiger Woods on another steamy afternoon at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

• What might have been. Woods transformed Bay Hill into an absolutely electric atmosphere when he started the back nine with three birdies in four holes to get within a shot of the lead. Dressed in his traditional red and black, it was a second straight Sunday where we were treated to watching him try to catch the leaders down the stretch.

• But the momentum he had built up disappeared with a single tee shot, as Woods pulled his drive on the par-5 16th out of bounds and into someone’s backyard. His chances for a ninth tournament title were effectively ended with one errant swing, as he bogeyed the easiest hole on the course and then bogeyed the next for good measure.

• While the closing stretch was disappointing, it was still another remarkable week for Woods considering where his game stood a month ago. His 3-under 69 in the final round lifted him to 10 under for the week, and he ended up in a tie for fifth. He’s now on the cusp of the top 100 in the world rankings, and he’ll head to the Masters on the heels of three straight top-12 finishes for the first time since 2008.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

• It didn’t take long after his final putt dropped for Augusta National to become a topic of conversation. Woods has played only once since 2014, and he plans to make a return trip before the season’s first major to re-acclimate himself with the course and make sure his yardage book “is still good.”

• Taking the long view on things, Woods was all smiles about his comeback that remains a work in progress. “If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year that I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments,” Woods said, “I would have taken that in a heartbeat.”

After going T-2 and T-5 in this latest fortnight, Woods will now have two weeks off before he tees it up for a chance to win his fourth green jacket, his first major since 2008 and his first tournament anywhere since 2013. Can. Not. Wait.

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Highlights: Tiger (69) makes charge, collapses

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 18, 2018, 9:45 pm

Tiger Woods made a vintage Sunday charge at Bay Hill before bogeying two of his final three holes and settling for a final-round 69 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The eight-time API winner was 5 under on the day and just one off the lead when he sniped his tee shot at the par-5 16th out of bounds to the left. He bogeyed both 16 and 17 before making a scrambling par at 18 to finish the week 10 under par, in a tie for fifth.

"I didn't commit to it," Woods said of his drive at 16, where he attempted to fly his ball over the fairway bunkers, rather than hitting a cut or laying back. "And that's on me for not committing."

Starting five off the lead, Tiger got rolling with with a laced 2-iron and a par at No. 1.

Woods hit the green at the par-3 second but left himself a 50-foot birdie putt and a 6-footer to save par, which he walked in.

A two-putt 4 at the par-5 fourth gave Woods his first birdie of the day and moved him to 8 under for the week. Apparently energized, Tiger pulled driver at the short par-4 fifth and unleashed this violent swing.

A pitch from the thick rough hit a sprinkler head and stopped on the apron, leading to this birdie try, which fortunately hit the pin but unfortunately didn't fall.

Looking to pick up another stroke - or two - at the par-5 sixth, Woods took his drive 317 yards over the water and hit this second shot from 227 yards to 13 feet, leading to another two-putt birdie when his eagle try burned the right edge.

Returning to his trusty 2-iron, Tiger found the fairway at the par-4 eighth and then threw this dart from 176 yards to 6 feet and rolled in his third birdie putt of the day to move to 10 under.

His momentum was slowed by his first bogey of the day at No. 9, the product of an errant drive and its ensuing complications. As a result, Woods made the turn 2 under on his round, 9 under for the week, and still five off the lead, like when he started the day.

But Woods wouldn't wait long to make up for his mistake, immediately responding with another flagged iron and birdie at No. 10.

He continued his assault on Bay Hill's par-5s at the 12th, getting up and down from the sand for a birdie-4 that moved him to 11 under par, just two off the lead.

This roll at 13 giving him his third birdie in four holes, and the charge was officially on, as Woods was suddenly just a shot back.

Just when it looked like Woods was primed for a late run at his 80th PGA Tour victory, Woods stepped to the tee at the par-5 16th, where he had missed wide right three days in a row, and ripped his drive out of bounds into a backyard miles left.

He made 4 on his second ball for a bogey-6 and dropped another shot at the par-3 17th, ending his chances.