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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    Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

    KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

    The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

    Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

    ''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

    Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

    First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

    ''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

    David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

    Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

    The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

    ''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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    The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

    By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

    Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

    Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

    I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

    One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

    So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

    You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

    Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

    I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

    This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

    Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

    On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

    The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

    “What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

    Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

    Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

    Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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    Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

    Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

    Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

    In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

    Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

    After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

    Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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    Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

    Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

    “I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

    After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

    Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

    The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.