Masters Really Does Begin on the Back Nine

By Associated PressApril 8, 2007, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The faithful came early every day, as they always do, walking quickly with their green folding chairs to stake out the prime spots in Amen Corner. It wasn't always an easy march to make because, for the better part of four days, this Masters was almost as agonizing to watch as it was to play.
Augusta National had morphed into a chamber of horrors, with disaster lurking at every turn. There were whispers the green jackets had gone too far this time, and that the spirit of Bobby Jones had been lost in the never-ending battle to protect the course against modern technology.
Everyone braced for a stumble to the finish. The winner wasn't going to be the best player in the world, merely the only one left standing on the 18th green sometime early Sunday evening.
Then, just when all seemed lost, a real Masters broke out on the back nine.
The familiar roars that had been missing all week echoed once again through the tall pines as an entire leaderboard full of players traded shots through Amen Corner and down the final holes. Eagles and birdies returned to their proper places, and all was right again in the world of golf.
Well, almost. Zach Johnson is your new Masters champion, and, while he seems like a nice enough guy, he's not going to be compared to Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or even Retief Goosen for that matter.
The Masters is supposed to be won by guys who pull out the heavy metal, take dead aim at the pin and pull off shots like the one Woods hit on the 13th hole that curled back within 3 feet of the cup for his only eagle of the week.
Gene Sarazen began that tradition in just the second Masters in 1935, when he spanked a 4-wood 235 yards and watched it bounce into the hole for a double eagle that allowed him to tie Craig Wood and eventually beat him in a playoff.
Johnson wasn't going to win his green jacket with such dramatics. You can't make double eagle laying up, and Johnson did that all week on the par-5s, relying on his wedges and putter to make up the difference against the power hitters who were supposed to be the only ones with a chance to win on a bulked-up Augusta National.
It worked on the 13th hole, when Johnson had just 213 yards to the green and still somehow managed to resist the temptation to go over Rae's Creek with a long iron. This is a player who knows his game, and he wedged it in close for a birdie.
Hardly a 'shot heard 'round the world,' but good enough to take a lead Johnson would never give up.
All around him, though, players were attacking a back nine that played so hard the day before that the entire field barely broke 40. Anyone within 10 shots of the lead seemed suddenly emboldened to shoot at greens and pins that they trembled in fear of the previous three rounds.
Jerry Kelly got things going by hitting a utility club close on the par-5 13th and making an eagle that briefly got him in contention. A few groups later, Padraig Harrington followed a birdie on the par-3 12th with an eagle he could have only imagined a few days earlier.
It helped that the people who run the tight ship at Augusta National ordered enough water to fill the ponds on the 15th hole poured on the greens to soften them up. They also made sure the Sunday pins were in such a spot that balls could funnel to the holes.
The players had been careful all week not to criticize the course, afraid perhaps that their playing privileges might be revoked mid-tournament. But they finally seemed to get the message that this was not the kind of course Jones would have wanted his name attached to.
A back nine that bordered on unplayable the day before was there for the taking. Balls that bounced over greens on Saturday now settled softly next to the hole, and Woods was able to pull off the shot of the day when an iron to the 13th backed up some 40 feet down the hill and finished within kick-in distance.
'They gave us a break, which was nice,' Woods said. 'And gave us a chance to go out there and score.'
Woods didn't take enough advantage of that chance, but the patrons in their folding chairs got the kind of Sunday they're used to, topped off by a near hole-in-one by Justin Rose on No. 16 that made things interesting for a bit just when everyone thought it was over.
The ending was anticlimatic, with Woods never coming close to making birdies on the final two holes to force a tie. Even before Woods hit it into a greenside bunker on the 17th hole, Johnson was kissing his infant son and accepting the congratulations of everyone around him.
It was hardly Mickelson leaping for joy after getting his first major or Woods tearfully winning one for his father.
There might, in fact, never be a quieter or more unassuming winner than the self-described 'normal guy' from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Mr. Excitement, he's not. But at least there was some excitement Sunday on the back nine, where this year the Masters really did begin.
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  • If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

    She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

    You don’t believe it, though.

    She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

    Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

    Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

    “In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

    Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

    Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

    At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

    She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

    She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

    And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

    There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

    It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

    Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

    Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

    “I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

    About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

    Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

    “She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

    David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

    “She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

    Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

    Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

    “Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

    Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

    “It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

    Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

    “No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

    Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

    National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

    The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

    Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

    These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

    Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

    By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

    This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

    “I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

    Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

    In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

    If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

    “He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

    Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

    By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

    Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

    ''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

    The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

    The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

    ''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

    Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

    ''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

    First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

    Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

    ''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

    ''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''