Notes Return trip to Augusta No jacket required

By Associated PressApril 12, 2009, 4:00 pm
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AUGUSTA, Ga. ' The first time John Merrick visited Augusta National, he got a lecture from one of the green jackets.
 
Now hes got an invitation to come back next year.
 
Merrick shot a 66 on Sunday, giving him low round of the day and an automatic entry into next years tournament. The top 16 finishers qualify, and Merrick finished in a four-way tie for sixth with Tiger Woods, Steve Flesch and Steve Stricker.
 
Fun day out there, said Merrick, who finished at 8-under for the tournament. I cant wait to tee it up again next year.
 
Merrick had only been to Augusta National once before his sixth-place finish at the 2008 U.S. Open earned him a trip to this years Masters, but boy, was it memorable. He played college golf at UCLA, and the Bruins came to the Augusta State Invitational in 2004 when Merrick was a senior. All of the teams get tickets for Mondays practice round, and Merrick said he was chastised when a committee member caught him lounging on the ground beside the 18th green.
 
He said, `Son, you cant be laying down on the grounds of Augusta National, Merrick said. We had a long night out the night before.
 
Merrick wasnt loafing Sunday.
 
After playing the front nine at 2 under, he and playing partner Geoff Ogilvy took off on the back nine. Merrick birdied 13, 14, 15 and 16, including making a 20-footer on the 14th hole. Ogilvy went one better, also making birdie on the 17th hole.
 
Everything was kind of falling. It was fun, Merrick said. Im more than excited about the way I played in my first Masters.
 
Especially with how brutally Augusta National usually treats rookies.
 
It often takes players several years to learn the intricacies of the course and get a feel for the speedy, rolling greens. Jack Nicklaus missed the cut in his first appearance, and Tiger Woods didnt break par his first two times here. Fuzzy Zoeller is still the only player to win in his first appearance.
 
But Merrick, who played a practice round three weeks ago, figured it out remarkably quickly.
 
I dont know, Merrick said when asked to explain his beginners luck. I tried not to think about that.
 
Now hell be thinking about making an encore.
 
Cant wait, he said.
 
EAGLE-EYED: Dustin Johnson has a lot of new crystal.
 
A spot in the Masters record book, too.
 
Johnson had eagles on 13 and 14 on Sunday, only the second player ever with back-to-back eagles at Augusta National. Dan Pohl did it in 1982, also on 13 and 14.
 
I was struggling, Johnson said. It got me going a little bit because I was a little bit down on myself. I definitely wasnt performing as well as I wanted to, and that definitely gave me a little boost, gave me some energy to finish it off.
 
Players get a pair of crystal goblets for each eagle they make, and Johnson finished the week with four.
 
Johnson was 6 over for the day when he walked to the tee on the par-5 13th. He actually pushed his second shot, a 5-iron from 221 yards out, and landed 20 feet behind the hole. But he made the putt for the first eagle.
 
He pulled his tee shot on the par-4 14th and landed in some pine straw under the trees down the left side. Johnson said he knew his second shot was good, but had no idea how good until he saw everyone behind the green jumping up and down.
 
I knew I made a 2, Johnson said. That was pretty cool.
 
For good measure, he added a birdie on 15.
 
Johnson made par his last three holes for a 73. He tied for 30th at 1-under.
 
NO JACKET REQUIRED: The closest Trevor Immelman got to a green jacket this year was putting it on Angel Cabrera.
 
The defending champion had a 69 Sunday, but was too far back for it to do any good. He was done before the leaders even made the turn and wound up tied for 20th, 10 strokes behind Cabrera.
 
Today is a different feeling, Immelman said, his eyes watery. Im trying to go out there and shoot as low as I can, whereas last year I was just really concentrating on one shot and just trying to survive out there, really. Its a lot different.
 
And not nearly as enjoyable.
 
Immelmans chances of winning a second green jacket all but disappeared with a 74 in the second round. He made the cut ' right on the line ' but he needed to have spectacular rounds the last two days to have a shot. Instead, he failed to gain any ground Saturday, making only a pair of birdies and giving them back with two bogeys on the last six holes.
 
Immelman spoke openly over the last year about his struggles to deal with the hype that comes with being Masters champion. Now that hes not, he wishes he could have it back.
 
I wish I could start over, he said. I feel like Im a better player and a better person for what happened and the things that I learned. Hopefully, I can put all that to a good test for the rest of my career.
 
UP A TREE: Driver in hand, Padraig Harrington was all by himself as he walked back down the ninth fairway to the tee.
 
Lost? No, but the Irishmans ball was.
 
Harringtons hard-luck Masters continued Sunday when his drive on No. 9 got stuck in a tree, forcing him to take a penalty and trudge all the way back to the tee to hit again. Only when he got close to the tee box did he realize he didnt have a tee ' with his caddie and bag all the way back down the hill.
 
Fortunately for Harrington, Justin Rose was coming off the eighth green.
 
I said, `Can I borrow a tee? He said, `As long as you dont mind having the English flag on it, Harrington said.
 
Harrington hit another drive, then hitched a ride back up the hole with a marshal. He wound up with a triple-bogey 7 after three-putting.
 
Trees have caused Harrington all sorts of trouble this week, all but killing any chance the British Open and PGA Championship winner had for a Paddy Slam. On Saturday, he hit the same tree twice on the par-5 second hole and ended with a quadruple-bogey 9.
 
Then came the lost ball Sunday. And that wasnt all. On 15, one of Harringtons favorite holes at Augusta National, his ball hit a tree and ricocheted into the water.
 
Its good they all happened in one week, he said.
 

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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.”