Notes Nervous Start for Hometown Kids

By Associated PressApril 6, 2006, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Vaughn Taylor grew up in Augusta, so the nerves were understandable when he made his Masters debut.
He had a bogey on his opening hole, another one at No. 2 and settled down for a 75.
'It took me a while to get comfortable,' Taylor said. 'I was a little more nervous than I wanted to be.'
Taylor is a two-time winner of the Reno-Tahoe Open who became eligible for the Masters by finishing in the top 40 on the PGA Tour money list a year ago. He is doing a diary for The Augusta Chronicle and seeing more friendly faces than normal, although he tends to walk with his eyes to the ground.
It wasn't his best, but it was a start.
'I hit a good shot on the first tee,' he said. 'You learn what your body feels like. You learn how to deal with it. Each time you go through, you get better at it.'
Taylor played with Rocco Mediate, who shot 68 and was one shot out of the lead. Mediate hardly considers himself a veteran of Augusta National, although he offered sound advice.
'I said, 'Vaughn, a 7-iron still goes ... 160 yards. There's no green jackets hanging in the trees. Just play golf,'' Mediate said. 'He kind of laughed. You could tell he was a bit nervous. He didn't shoot a good score today, but that's fine.'
Charles Howell III didn't quite figure it out Thursday.
He also grew up in Augusta, and has been playing in the Masters every year since 2002.
Howell recently revamped the circle around him, switching swing coaches and sports psychologists. But he bogeyed five of his first six holes and wound up with an 80, by four shots his worst score in the Masters.
The five amateurs at this year's Masters played like, well, amateurs.
U.S. Amateur champion Edoardo Molinari of Italy failed to make a birdie while playing with defending champion Tiger Woods and wound up with an 80. He was tied with British Amateur champion Brian McElhinney, who at least birdied the 16th.
Clay Ogden, the U.S. Amateur Public Links winner who beat Michelle Wie in the quarterfinals, took quadruple-bogey 8 on the ninth hole on his way to an 83, while U.S. Amateur runner-up Dillon Dougherty went without a birdie and shot 82.
U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Kevin Marsh was low amateur Thursday -- no birdies in a 79.
Molinari had few complaints, spending the day before massive galleries while playing alongside Woods. The Masters traditionally puts the defending champion with the reigning U.S. Amateur champion.
'I was lucky to win the U.S. Amateur, and especially on the year I would play with Tiger,' Molinari said. 'It was really cool, and he was so nice. The most amazing experience I've ever had on a golf course. It beat my expectations by far.'
The Masters awards a sterling silver cup to the low amateur, provided he makes the cut. It has been awarded each of the last three years, a streak that looks to be over.
Even par never looked so good to Adam Scott.
The Aussie got off to a rough start in the first round of the Masters on Thursday, dropping three strokes in the first five holes. But he closed the front nine with three straight birdies to get back to even par, then had another 36 on the back nine.
'I got off to a bit of a nervous start, and then got it together,' he said. 'Even par is pretty good after being three over early.'
Scott's putter was the cause of his early problems. He needed three putts on Nos. 1 and 3, and missed a short one on No. 2.
'I was hitting shots OK, but I was a little shaky on the greens. That's always a little scary here,' said Scott, whose best finish in his previous four Masters is a tie for ninth in 2002. 'It was nice to pull myself together by the end of the front nine and give myself a chance.'
He wasn't the only player who recovered.
Davis Love III hit his tee shot on the par-3 12th over the green and into a bush, had to take a penalty drop and wound up with a triple bogey that left him 5 over par. He then birdied his next four holes and finished with a 2-over 74.
Robert Allenby was 3 over after three holes and headed south when he made a 35-foot par putt on the fourth. He shot 33 on the back nine and salvaged a 73.
Rocco Mediate hasn't been playing well the last two years as he copes with ongoing back problems.
He had to use a one-time exemption to keep his card last year, and a late surge allowed him to narrowly finish inside the top 125 on the PGA Tour money list. He is not the kind of guy anyone expected to see at the Masters.
Forgotten, however, is that he tied for sixth in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, his only top 10 last year. The Masters invites the top eight players from the U.S. Open.
Did anyone ask him why he was at Augusta National?
'Actually, they didn't,' Mediate said after his 68, leaving him one shot behind Vijay Singh. 'But I'd tell them, 'Just look at last year's U.S. Open,' and then they shut up.'
Mediate said he wouldn't blame anyone for asking.
'I haven't played a lot of golf, and I've been hurt,' he said. 'That's all body related, not golf swing or golf game related. Because otherwise, I would have killed myself by now.'
David Duval began using a cross-handed putting grip this week, although it didn't do him much good. He shot an 84. ... Fred Couples opened with a 71 and is in good shape to continue his streak as the only Masters champion to have never missed the cut at Augusta National. ... Thongchai Jaidee, the first Thai in 35 years at the Masters, shot 78. ... Ben Curtis had another good start at a major. The surprising winner of the '03 British Open was 3 under par until dropping two shots on the final five holes for a 71. He opened with a 67 at Baltusrol at the PGA Championship last year before tumbling into a tie for 34th. Curtis and his wife, Candace, recently learned they are expecting their first child in September.
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    Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

    SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

    The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

    Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

    It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

    “It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

    Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

    According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

    “I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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    Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

    And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

    As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

    He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

    “I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

    If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

    Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

    “I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

    Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

    Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

    “If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

    Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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    Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

    After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

    With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

    “Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

    “I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

    Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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    Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    “I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

    “I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

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    On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

    Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

    Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

    “We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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    Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

    The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

    Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

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    Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

    Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

    • Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

    • Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

    • Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1