Notes A Real Zinger Willie Mac Shines

By Associated PressJune 2, 2007, 4:00 pm
DUBLIN, Ohio -- One guy set a tournament record with seven consecutive birdies -- all on the front side -- and then was 10 strokes worse on the back nine. The other had a snowman and two eagles in the same round. Both shot their low rounds of the week.
Welcome to the wacky world of Mark Wilson and Jerry Kelly, a couple of Wisconsin natives who did and saw just about everything in one 4-hour span at the Memorial Tournament on Saturday.
Wilson, playing in his first Memorial, barely made the cut with rounds of 71 and 75. Not much was happening in his game.
Then, after parring the first two holes of the third round, something clicked.
'I just had one of those magical things you always dream about,' he said.
He hit his approach to the third hole 4 feet for birdie, then to a foot at No. 4. He made 15-foot birdie putts at No. 5 and again at No. 6, then two-putted for another birdie at the par-5 seventh. He closed out a record-tying 29 on the front nine with birdie putts of 20 and 30 feet.
The seven straight birdies broke the tournament record of six held by tournament founder Jack Nicklaus, Jay Haas and Jim Furyk.
'That's fantastic, holding the record at Jack Nicklaus' course,' Wilson said. 'That's an honor.'
Unfortunately for him, things fell apart on the back side. He had four bogeys in a 39, to close out a 68.
Kelly could only shake his head when asked if it was a little bit of a strange round.
'A little bit?' he said. 'Yeah, it was pretty weird.'
He played a part in it, too.
Kelly turned in 32, including an eagle at the par-5 seventh hole, and had it going just like his playing partner. But then he twice hit into the creek which meanders through the par-5 11th on his way to a triple-bogey 8.
Three holes later, after Wilson hit his approach on the par-4 14th to 3 feet, Kelly stood over his second shot.
'He skipped it in there and it just kind of kissed off my ball and gave it enough kick to the right that it went in for a 2,' Wilson said.
Wilson shot a 68, Kelly a 69. Both could be paired in the final round. Stay tuned.
Paul Azinger has been coming to the Memorial since 1985 and won the tournament in 1993. In 72 rounds stretched over all those years at Muirfield Village, he had never hit into the water in front of the par-3 12th hole.
Until Saturday.
He caught an 8-iron a little thin and saw a splash, the end of a perfectly good streak.
'I had never hit it in the water,' Azinger said. 'I shouldn't say that, because I'll probably do it 12 more times now.'
He started to hit his third shot from the tee when he realized there was a drop area -- something he had never had to use before. Azinger would up with a double bogey and shot 74.
It has been a strange week for him. Azinger hadn't hit a ball since the AT&T Classic outside Atlanta, for no other reason than he just didn't feel like it. He showed up Wednesday morning about 6:30 and was done with his practice round in 2 1/2 hours.
His week will end after the final round.
Azinger has pulled out of the Monday qualifier for the U.S. Open. He is not interested in grinding it out for 36 holes on two courses (Scarlet and Scioto) he doesn't know.
'It gives the first alternate a chance to get here,' he said.
When a reporter asked Will MacKenzie about the past few months, he laughed and said, 'Do you want 'The Adventures of Willie Mac'?'
If you think pro golfers are bland and colorless, then you haven't been introduced to MacKenzie.
The 32-year-old North Carolinian has led a nomad's existence -- living in a snow cave in Alaska, surfing in Costa Rica and working as a kayak guide in the whitewater rapids of West Virginia. He gave up golf when he was 14 and didn't pick it up again for a decade, falling back in love with the game after watching Payne Stewart win the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
After his round of 7-under 65 put him at 11 under and near the lead, MacKenzie displayed his unique approach to life.
On hanging around with Tiger Woods during a suspension of play: 'He puts off a nice vibe. He's the man. Unbelievable. He's the best player to play the game, possibly, in my era. I barely said two words.'
On being seven shots ahead of Woods through 54 holes: 'It's great. He'll probably shoot about a 58 tomorrow. He's really good. He loves to come back.'
On what else he did during the break: 'I just ate a lot of shrimp and I'm also going to get some alligator belts from my friend Camilo Villegas. ... I don't necessarily agree with killing alligators, but I am getting some alligator belts from Colombia.'
On what people in the gallery say to him: 'They say, 'Let's go kayaking, Willie Mac! Paddling! Let's drop off a cliff!' That's cool. Whatever.'
Jason Bohn withdrew because of a rib injury after making the cut with rounds of 72 and 71. ... Charles Howell III had three double bogeys in a round of 80. ... Woods has hit 67 percent of the fairways and has been on in regulation 74 percent of the time, but is averaging 30 putts a round. ... Play was suspended for 2 hours, 32 minutes, the 32nd time a round had been suspended, delayed or canceled in the tournament's 32 years.
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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”