Masters Turning into the Tiger and Phil Show

By Associated PressApril 3, 2007, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Daybreak at Augusta National brought together the two most prominent figures at the Masters, the first showdown of the week between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
OK, so it was only Tuesday. And it lasted only a split second.
Woods showed up on the first tee and looked back toward the putting green in Mickelson's direction.
Tiger Woods and Mark O
Tiger Woods played with 1998 champion Mark O'Meara Tuesday. (WireImage)
'Let's go,' he said.
He was talking, of course, to Mark O'Meara, who picked up his golf balls and joined his buddy for a practice round.
It is easy to exaggerate the rivalry of Woods and Mickelson, especially at the Masters. Snapshots on late Sunday afternoon the last few years have been Mickelson slipping the green jacket on Woods, or vice versa. And while there are 97 players in this year's tournament, at times it seems as though there are only two.
Woods won in 2001 -- oddly enough, the only time he has played with Mickelson in the final group at the Masters -- and in 2002. Mickelson won his first major at the Masters in 2004. Woods answered with a playoff victory in 2005, Mickelson won in a walk in 2006.
It is reminiscent of the early 1960s, when Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus traded green jackets.
'I hope not,' Mickelson said, 'because that would mean what I don't want it to mean this week.'
Woods is favored to continue the cycle this week based on recent history outside of the Masters. He already has won twice this year, in the Buick Invitational and the CA Championship at Doral, and he is going for his third straight major championship.
The days leading up to the opening round Thursday are mostly about memories, not only of his 12-shot victory 10 years ago when Woods became the youngest Masters champion, but all the putts he missed last year in a desperate attempt to win one for his ailing father, who died three weeks after the tournament.
'Last year was a lot more difficult than I was letting on, because I knew that was the last tournament he was ever going to watch me play,' Woods said. 'I just wanted to win one for his last time, and didn't get it done, and it hurt quite a bit.'
Happier memories come from 10 years ago, when he walked into his father's arms after a watershed moment in golf. Woods obliterated the course and his competition, finishing at 18-under 270, a score that probably won't be touched for a long time considering how much Augusta National has been super-sized since then (from 6,925 yards to 7,445 yards).
Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus saw it coming after a practice round with Woods the year before, Woods' last as an amateur.
'We both marveled at the way he was playing, and how good we thought he was,' Palmer said. 'Let's just be up front about it. He hasn't disappointed us. If he puts his whole life into the future of his game like he has to this point, there's no telling what he might do.'
Mickelson, however, presents a serious obstacle to Woods at Augusta National, if he is not already an equal.
Woods is 2-up in green jackets, but Mickelson has a more consistent record over the last 10 years. Lefty hasn't finished out of the top 10 at the Masters since 1998, while Woods has had three years since that year when he never seriously contended.
Proof for Mickelson came in 2003, his worst season on the PGA TOUR. He still only finished two shots behind.
'It's certainly a course that I feel comfortable on and have played well here, whether I've played well going in or not,' Mickelson said. 'I remember in '03, I was playing terrible and was able to finish third. And when I've entered it playing well, like last year, I've been able to win. It's a course I feel very good on.
'But so does Tiger,' he quickly added. 'He plays this course very well. He's very tough to beat out here.'
It's hard to take inventory of Mickelson's game at this point. He was unstoppable at Pebble Beach, where he missed only one fairway in the final round. He was leading at Riviera until a bogey on the 18th hole, which led to a playoff loss to Charles Howell III.
Mickelson played a practice round two weeks ago and, despite missing putts inside 15 feet on the last three holes, shot 65. He ate lunch, played nine holes in the afternoon and shot 31. But at Doral and Bay Hill, his scoring suffered.
Woods has not been unbeatable in recent weeks. Sure, he won for the third straight year at Torrey Pines (his seventh straight PGA TOUR victory) and for the third straight year at Doral, but his putting cost him at Dubai, Bay Hill and Match Play.
His biggest concern at Augusta National, naturally, is with the flat stick.
'I just have to get the speed of these a little bit better,' he said. 'They have changed every day. Come Thursday, they are always a little bit different. They just turn the vacuums on these greens and suck all the moisture.'
As much as Woods and Mickelson have dominated the Masters this decade (for trivia buffs, it was Mike Weir who interrupted their reign by winning in 2003), they rarely go head-to-head. The only occasion was in 2001, when Woods won by two.
Of the U.S. majors, the Masters has the most players who have won at least three times -- Nicklaus, Palmer, Woods, Gary Player, Nick Faldo, Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret.
'Once you figure it out, you see the same guys up there at the top of the board,' Woods said. 'Phil has been up there many a times, and once he won a few years ago, all of a sudden it gave him the confidence to do it again last year.'
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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.

    Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

    Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

    By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

    The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

    Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

    "I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

    Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

    Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

    Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.