Notes Tales of Iceman and Snowmen

By Associated PressApril 5, 2007, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Henrik Stenson was one of the popular darkhorse picks for this year's Masters. He did nothing in the first round to prove the prognostigators wrong.
The big-hitting Swede, who won the Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this year, shot even-par 72 to get in contention, three strokes off the lead.
'I'm happy with level par because the game doesn't feel 100 percent and the swing is so-so,' said Stenson, who came into the week ranked sixth in the world. 'But I made some good putts and was pretty sharp around the greens, which is why I managed to keep it together as well as that.'
Stenson has been down on his game of late, saying he was hoping simply for a top-10 finish at Augusta this year. He said he flared a couple irons out to the right in his opening round -- a sign that things aren't quite yet worked out.
'It comes with not feeling comfortable over the ball, so I'm going to the range right now and keep working on my game,' he said. 'That's all I can do and hopefully I can feel a little better tomorrow.'
Fred Couples' achy back held up through the round. His pride might be a different matter.
The 1992 champion came to Augusta having played only two competitive rounds this year because of severe back problems. He held up fine through the first nine, coming in with a 37. But the wheels came off on the back nine, and he finished his round in particularly brutal fashion.
After pushing his drive on the par-4 18th into trees off the right side of the fairway, Couples' second shot sailed over the fairway and onto a hill that runs between the 9th and 18th greens.
That wasn't the worst of it.
After several seconds, the ball began rolling slowly down the hill. A security guard chased after it, bellowing at fans to get out of the way. It finally came to a rest at the bottom of the hill.
Couples hit a low shot that landed on the green and drew loud applause from the adoring fans. But a few seconds later, the ball began another slow roll and trickled off the green.
Couples chipped to within 8 feet of the pin, and two-putted from there for a double-bogey that left him at 4-over 76.
Gary Player would probably be the first to tell people that his mind is sharp as a tack. Funny, then, to see him forget to bring something pretty basic to the course Thursday -- like a ball marker.
The 71-year-old former champion held up play for a brief moment on the first green when he realized he had nothing to mark his ball on the green.
'No big deal,' said Vaughn Taylor, who was playing with the wee South African. 'You just kind of chuckle about it and play on.'
Player was among the older champions that members were targeting a few years ago, when they sent out letters subtly suggesting they consider not taking advantage of one of the tournament's most storied traditions -- lifetime exemptions for all winners.
Player will have none of it, at least not yet. His goal is to play this year and next so he can say he competed in 51 Masters, which would be one more than Arnold Palmer.
As he found out once again Thursday, getting those rounds in is work.
'This place has turned out to be one of the three toughest courses in the world,' said Player, who shot an 83 that included two 7's on the back nine.
The other two on his list: The Links in South Africa and Carnoustie, the home of this year's British Open.
There were seven 8s logged on Thursday, none uglier or more ill-timed than Padraig Harrington's on the par-5 15th.
It turned a promising round, albeit one in which he didn't chip or putt very well, into a semi-disaster. He finished at 5-over 77.
Harrington's strategy going into the narrow green surrounded by two small ponds was to avoid hitting long, and risking the ball rolling into the back water.
'I succeeded very nicely,' he said ... but only by sticking in the water in front.
Another ugly 8 was logged by amateur Casey Watabu. He hit his tee shot on No. 12 short and watched it slowly and painfully roll backward into the water. Later came an instant replay, after he skulled his drop short of the green and down the hill, also into the drink.
His fifth went into the sand in back of the green, then he got out and two-putted for the quintuple bogey. It was still five shots short of the famous 13 logged there by Tom Weiskopf in 1980.
The first round of the Masters offered more proof that team play and medal play are two completely different animals.
Of the nine below-par rounds shot on Thursday, four belonged to Americans who were on the team that got blown out in the Ryder Cup in Ireland last fall.
Brett Wetterich was a co-leader at 3-under. Augusta native Vaughn Taylor, Zach Johnson and J.J. Henry all went 1 under. Those four combined to go 1-5-5 last year in America's 18 1/2 -9 1/2 blowout loss.
Meanwhile, two stars from the European victory -- Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal -- shot 76 and 74, respectively.
Craig Stadler, the 1982 champion, spent most of the day on the leaderboard. A double-bogey on 16 knocked him off, but he still shot 74 -- ahead of other past champions like Phil Mickelson and only one stroke behind Tiger Woods.
'The golf course gets harder and longer, but I don't get any younger,' said the 53-year-old Stadler.
He wasn't the only veteran to enjoy a good day.
Fuzzy Zoeller also spent much of the day under par and finished with a 74.
At the end, the 1979 champion made a comment sure to go over well with the Augusta brass: 'Washington Road is softer than the No. 1 green,' he said. 'That's the hardest green I think I've ever seen.'
Tom Watson, the 57-year-old two-time champion, finished at 75, and Ben Crenshaw shot 76. With scores not plummeting, all these past champions could have a chance at making the cut.
'Last year, I actually hit it better and shot 77 and 78,' Stadler said. 'It was nice to kind of hang in there.'
Fred Funk had the worst collapse of the day, turning a front-side 36 into an 82. ... Ian Woosnam withdrew with a bad back before teeing off...Former two-time champion Seve Ballersteros, playing for the first time in four years, shot a 14-over 86.
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    McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

    By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

    One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

    McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

    It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

    McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

    Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

    Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

    Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

    The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

    The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

    Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

    The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

    A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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    Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

    Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

    Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

    South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

    Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

    The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



    Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

    By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

    It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

    Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

    Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

    "We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

    Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

    Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

    Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.