Notes Amen Corner No Problem for Amateur

By Associated PressApril 8, 2004, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Amen Corner is supposed to be a place to fear at Augusta National. Amateur Brandt Snedeker doesn't seem to know that.
The U.S. Amateur Public Links champion birdied all three holes of the treacherous stretch Thursday, en route to a round of 1-over-par 73 in the first round of the Masters.
'It was fantastic,' he said.
The charge on Amen Corner helped Snedeker overcome a front-nine score of 40 that made him look like a two-day-and-out amateur. Not anymore. The 73 puts him in good position to make the cut. Playing in his first Masters, the 23-year-old Snedeker said the nerves didn't hit until he walked up to the first tee box.
'I played in front of more people than ever before,' he said. 'For the first five holes, I couldn't feel my hands.'
In the end, though, he was feeling not only his hands, but the good vibes from the group of about 100 friends and family members who came to watch the kid from Nashville.
'He's very good,' said playing partner Fred Couples. 'He took Amen Corner to its knees.'
Major Challenge
The defending British Open and PGA champions opened the Masters by proving they really do belong on golf's biggest stages.
PGA winner Shawn Micheel finished at even-par 72. British Open champion Ben Curtis shot 73. Each were within striking range of Justin Rose, who took the early first-round lead at 5-under 67.
'I wasn't nervous at all. It was bizarre,' said Curtis, who qualified for his first Masters by winning the British.
Curtis had one of the shots of the day, holing out from 125 yards for an eagle on the par-4 seventh.
Micheel is also playing this tournament for the first time, and yes, the greens at Augusta are a tad quicker than they are at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., where he shocked the golf world with his victory in the PGA Championship.
'There's impending doom everywhere you go on the greens,' Micheel said. 'I had to be conservative at times. It's probably part of being my first time here.'
Defending U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk isn't playing the Masters because of a wrist injury.
All for Zhang
Zhang Lian-Wei received a special invitation, making him the first player from the Republic of China to compete in the Masters. He shot 77.
Among the reasons Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson listed for inviting Zhang was that he was the first Chinese player to win on the European tour last year, beating Ernie Els at the Singapore Masters, and that he finished second on the Asian tour money list.
Still, the invite raised a few eyebrows.
Arjun Atwal of India won the Asian Tour money list last year, then earned his PGA Tour card through Q-school. Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand finished third on the money list, and he is No. 68 in the world ranking. Zhang is No. 181.
At his news conference Wednesday, Johnson stood by his decision.
'We felt that it was good for the game of golf to extend a hand to the most populous nation in the world,' Johnson said. 'He is a good golfer, and we thought it was entirely appropriate.'
Zhang, who was playing his first competitive round in the United States, said he felt some pressure because he knew people in his homeland were watching.
'I knew before I arrived that it would be the most challenging course I'd ever play,' he said.
Masters Moment
Donald Blincoe's first trip to the Masters is one he won't forget.
He was standing on the right side of the seventh fairway when John Daly's drive landed square on his head, causing a big knot and some queasiness. After getting checked out by a medical staff on duty, he was OK.
Blincoe is from Bardstown, Ky., which he said was the Bourbon capital of the world.
'Daly told me to go have a drink of whiskey,' Blincoe said. Daly should have offered to buy him the drink. His tee shot ricocheted off Blincoe's head and back into the fairway, from where Daly was able to make par.
'This is my first time at the Masters, and I got a memorable experience,' Blincoe said.
The 10th hole was unkind again to last year's runner-up, Len Mattiace. He made double bogey, the same score he got credit for last year on No. 10 in the playoff against Mike Weir. ... Shigeki Maruyama shot 46 on the back nine, which included four bogeys, an 8 on the par-3 12th and a 7 on the par-4 17th. ... Vijay Singh went from the leaderboard to the middle of the pack with an 8 on No. 15. That's the same hole where his chances for the 2002 title sank on Sunday, when he made bogey after knocking a shot in the pond behind the green.
Related links:
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    Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

    By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

    “I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

    Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

    “If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”

    Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)

    Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

    Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

    “He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

    As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

    "I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

    Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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    McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

    The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

    McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

    And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

    “I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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    Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

    No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

    Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

    With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

    “This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

    Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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    Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

    Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

    Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

    Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

    McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.