Past Champs Cant Keep Up with Mickelson

By Associated PressApril 9, 2006, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There were so many green jackets chasing Phil Mickelson for a time on the back nine at the Masters that the leaderboard looked more like the champions locker room.
 
Tiger Woods. Jose Maria Olazabal. Vijay Singh. Fred Couples. Eight titles at Augusta National among them. And not one of them could make a putt when he needed it most Sunday afternoon.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods missed too many putts to repeat as champion.
'As good as I hit it, that's as bad as I putted,' Woods said. 'If I had putted halfway decently, I'd be giving Phil a battle.'
 
By the end of the day, the parade of former champions couldn't even hold onto second place. That belonged to unheralded Tim Clark, known best as the South African who isn't Ernie Els or Retief Goosen.
 
Clark finished two strokes behind Mickelson at 5-under 283, while Couples, Olazabal, Woods, Goosen and Chad Campbell were another stroke back at 4 under. Singh tied for eighth at 3 under.
 
With Mickelson and Couples paired together, and Woods, Singh and Olazabal giving chase, the final round at Augusta National had all the makings of an epic finish.
 
Woods was seeking his fifth green jacket, with his father battling cancer back in California. Couples was hoping to become the oldest Masters champion ever six months shy of his 47th birthday -- and on the anniversary of Jack Nicklaus' last title, no less.
 
'I felt this great feeling of accomplishment to be able to beat guys like Tiger and Retief and Ernie and Vijay and Fred,' Mickelson said. 'To come out on top, it's a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.'
 
For the others, it was an epic bust.
 
'It's a humbling experience out there, because you're trying so hard,' Couples said. 'I just left too many out there.'
 
Olazabal, the winner at Augusta National in 1994 and 1999, at least made things interesting. Beginning the final round at 2 over, he had birdies on three of his first four holes to post a 32 on the front side.
 
'When I looked at the leaderboard and saw how the guys were not making a charge, I thought, `Well, let's see how well I can play the back nine,'' said Olazabal, who played 10 groups ahead of Mickelson.
 
He shook off a bogey at No. 11 and closed within a shot of the lead with an eagle at the 15th. But he cooled off with a three-putt on the par-3 16th, then had to work to save par on his final two holes.
 
Woods was dismal on the greens, but at least he was consistent. He flubbed short putts on the front nine and the back nine. He pushed them and pulled them. He never could get his speed right.
 
He three-putted from 15 feet for bogey on No. 11, and missed a 12-footer for birdie on No. 12. He missed eagle putts inside 15 feet on both Nos. 13 and 15, and couldn't make a 10-footer for birdie on No. 14.
 
He had three three-putts in all, equaling the first three rounds combined and the most Woods could remember in a single round at Augusta.
 
'I absolutely lost it out there on the greens,' Woods said. 'I'll probably go snap this putter in about eight pieces.'
 
Singh played well, but was never spectacular. He was at 4 under by the turn, but couldn't pick up any more ground.
 
The most disheartening of the collapses was by Couples.
 
One of golf's most popular players, fans were rooting for him to show a bit of immortality. He has one victory in the last eight years, at the 2003 Shell Open, and he threw away the Nissan Open earlier this year when he had an 8-footer for the lead at No. 13 and left it short, then bogeyed three of the last four holes.
 
But this was the 20th anniversary of Nicklaus' victory for the aged, his sixth -- and final -- Masters title at age 46. What better way to celebrate it than to have Couples win it, replacing Nicklaus as oldest champion by about three months?
 
If the ages weren't omen enough, Couples' Masters badge this week -- assigned in order of player registration -- was No. 86, same as the year of Nicklaus' famous charge.
 
'When I teed off,' Couples said, 'I was, in my mind, one of the four, five, six guys that had a chance to win.'
 
For a while, it looked as if he just might. A birdie on the first hole pulled him even with Mickelson, and they went birdie-for-birdie on the seventh. He fell a stroke behind on the next hole, then three-putted for a bogey on 11.
 
He looked as if he might sink even further when his tee shot landed about a foot from the creek on the par-5 13th. But he recovered beautifully, dropping a 4-footer for a birdie for his best putt of the day.
 
'The back nine, we were telling each other, `Let's make some birdies,'' Couples said.
 
His hopes died on the next hole. Needing only to make a 4-footer for a birdie, he pushed it about 5 feet past the hole. His par putt rolled right on by, too, and it looked as if he had lost all touch on the greens.
 
'I'm 46. I don't really feel 46. I didn't hit the ball like I was 46,' Couples said. 'I putted like I was 66. I'm beating myself up, but it just really came down to one minor, minor casualty and that was on 14.
 
'I mean, I can live and die with three-putting and some of the other stuff,' he added. 'But that really is a putt where it would have been a heck of a lot more fun to make and see what would have happened.'
 
Instead, the green jacket in his size was put back in the closet. Along with those of the other champions.
 
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    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.