Notes Kinder Gentler Fourth Hole

By Associated PressApril 7, 2006, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The Masters showed some compassion Friday, moving the tees forward on the 240-yard fourth hole to the same location members use. It measured about 180 yards, and most players were hitting 5- and 6-irons instead of fairway metals.
 
Then again, the pin was back and to the right.
 
'Surprisingly, should I say, easy,' Ernie Els said with a laugh. 'The flag was top right. I saw the flags this morning before I went out, and I was praying that they had the tees up. It was up. I hit 7-iron in there, so it was fine.'
 
It still was no picnic.
 
Vijay Singh was leading the tournament when he hit a 6-iron that he thought was perfect, just right of the flag. But it was a tad too strong, hopped hard off the slope behind the green and went into the bushes, leading to double bogey.
 
And there was the wind.
 
Robert Allenby hit 6-iron over the green and into the bushes to make bogey. Tiger Woods hits his irons about the same distance, so he picked a 6-iron and came up short into the bunker, also making bogey.
 
Imagine trying to guess which club to hit -- and how far it would go -- with a 5-wood.
 
'To that pin with the wind conditions today, it would have been just brutal to figure out what club to hit,' Woods said.
 
The hole played easier than the first round, when the pin was back left and the hole played 248 yards. The average score Friday was 3.1, compared with 3.25 the first round. There were 12 birdies Friday, only four birdies Thursday.
 
COODY FAREWELL
Charles Coody went out on his own terms, and did he ever go out in style.
 
Coody, who held off Jack Nicklaus to win the 1971 Masters, decided when he arrived at Augusta National that this would be his final Masters. And when he opened with an 89 -- his worst round ever -- it looked as if he couldn't get out of town soon enough.
 
'Yesterday I played poorly,' Coody said. 'And today I played well.'
 
The 68-year-old Texan played so well that his 2-over 74 was his best score since 2000. And he didn't even finish last, beating 26-year-old Charles Howell III by one shot.
 
Coody finished with a 15-foot par save on the 18th hole.
 
'I'd like to be remembered as a nice guy and a fairly decent player,' Coody said. 'I know I'm not a Hall of Fame golfer. But nice guy and good family man, that would be good enough for me. And a halfway decent golfer.'
 
He actually was 1 under through the par-5 15th, but a bogey at 16 and double-bogey at 17 ruined his improbable bid to go out with a round in the red.
 
'I have a lot of respect for the tournament,' he said. 'That's one of the reasons I won't play anymore. I don't want to embarrass the tournament.'
 
BIG NUMBERS
Chris DiMarco holed out from the 18th fairway for eagle, Rory Sabbatini made eagle from the 11th fairway and Brandt Jobe made a 6-iron from the 10th fairway.
 
But for all those spectacular shots came some equally spectacular numbers.
 
David Duval made a 10 on the par-5 second hole, hitting into the woods three times, and one time hitting a stubby hazard stake he didn't even see. He hit everything but the fairway, matching Sam Byrd in 1948 for the highest score ever made on No. 2.
 
Jim Furyk was moving into contention until an 8 on the par-5 13th. Vijay Singh had just about every number covered during his strange round of 74 -- a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and a 7.
 
Perhaps the most embarrassing was Charles Howell III, who couldn't escape the back bunker on No. 11 and took 9 on his way to an 84, leaving him last among the 90 players at the Masters.
 
BACK FROM HOLIDAY
Darren Clarke walked off the first green Thursday and said with a smile and between puffs on his cigar, 'I'm still on holiday.'
 
Clarke was a late arrival for the Masters, and that was by design.
 
After The Players Championship, he went on vacation to Grand Abaco in the Bahamas, where he spent time with his cancer-stricken wife, Heather, and friends. Most of that time was spent bone fishing, although Clarke promised there would be a beer or three.
 
After a 2-under 70 on Friday that left him in a tie for fifth, he was asked about his game.
 
'Maybe it's got something to do with Abaco, where I was last week,' he said. 'I've forgotten what I should be doing and just gone out and hit it. And it's working.'
 
Clarke's wife first was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago, although it now has spread throughout her body. It has given Clarke a new perspective about his career, and it showed when someone mentioned how relaxed he was.
 
'I'm hitting it nicely and I'll try to keep it going,' Clarke said. 'There are a lot of people who want to win this a lot more than I do. I would love to do it myself, but it's not that important.'
 
PERFECT PRESENTATION
At the Masters, they want everything just right.
 
Everything.
 
Joe Damiano, the caddie for Stuart Appleby, raked the front bunker on the par-3 12th hole and placed it where he found it, to the left of the trap. As the group left the green, an official emerged from the azaleas and straightened the rake so that it lay parallel to the bunker, instead of the 45-degree angle which Damiano left it.
 
About 30 minutes later, Sergio Garcia's caddie left the rake directly in front of the bunker -- shame on him. The official returned and neatly put it back in its spot.
 
THE HIGHS AND LOWS
Brandt Jobe got the best and worst of Augusta National on the back nine Friday.
 
Jobe made only the seventh eagle in Masters history on the par-4 10th hole, a 6-iron from 202 yards that he feared was headed for the bunker, but turned just enough to disappear into the cup.
 
'It's my first crystal,' said Jobe, noting that Augusta National awards crystal goblets for every eagle. 'When it went in, I about jumped up and down. It startled me.'
 
So did the par-5 15th, although that startled him for different reasons.
 
Jobe went over the green, then chipped down the slope and into the water on his way to a triple-bogey 8. He wound up with a 76 and was at 4-over 148, giving him two more days of this roller coaster.
 
DIVOTS
Nick O'Hern of Australia has his own cheering section this week. His father, Mel, is at Augusta National. It's his first trip to the United States. ... Chris DiMarco has missed the cut in his last two majors. ... While Charles Coody had the best turnaround by going 89-74, Mark Hensby's improvement meant more. He opened with an 80 and followed with a 67 to make the cut by one shot. ... Mike Weir and Arron Oberholser will be paired together for the first time since the final round at Pebble Beach, when they were tied for the lead. Oberholser shot 72 to win his first PGA Tour event, while Weir shot 78. Also paired together are Vijay Singh and Fred Couples, a rematch of sorts from the Presidents Cup, when Couples beat him on the 18th hole.
 
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    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.