Singh in Tune Early at Masters

By Associated PressApril 6, 2006, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- In his office overlooking a super-sized golf course, Masters chairman Hootie Johnson must have been smiling.
 
For all the dread that the latest changes to Augusta National went over the top, the Masters had a familiar look Thursday, starting with Vijay Singh atop the leaderboard.
 
Vijay Singh
Vijay Singh had five birdies and no bogeys in his opening 5-under 67.
The former Masters champion fired off three straight birdies on the back nine for a 5-under 67, his best start in this tournament and a round he felt was long overdue.
 
There was a surprise, as always, in Rocco Mediate (68), and another strong debut by a Masters rookie, this time from Arron Oberholser (69). For sentimental value, look no further than 54-year-old Ben Crenshaw, whose short game carried him to a 71, his best round on this course since he closed with a 68 to win his second green jacket 11 years ago.
 
Tiger Woods had to settle for a 72, no change there since he has never broken 70 in the first round.
 
'This is probably one of the better rounds I've played out here,' Singh said.
 
Johnson heard plenty of criticism in the days leading up to the Masters, particularly the extra length on the par-3 fourth (240 yards), the tree-lined seventh (450 yards) and the frightening 11th hole, which measures 505 yards and has a dozen more pine trees planted down the right side of the fairway.
 
Singh had a simple two-putt from just off the back of the green at No. 4, hit 7-iron into 20 feet for birdie on the seventh and made one of only two birdies -- Mediate had the other -- on No. 11 by carving a 5-iron around a tree and into 10 feet.
 
The result was a one-shot lead and a shot of confidence he badly needed -- he hasn't won since August.
 
'I don't know if it was easier,' Singh said. 'I think the golf course was pretty tough from the get-go. If you don't hit good shots, you're going to make a number out there.'
 
And there were plenty of those.
 
A dozen players, young and old, couldn't break 80, and at least eight players had their worst score ever at the Masters, including David Duval (84), Mark O'Meara (81) and Mark Calcavecchia (80).
 
'I didn't struggle with my game at all,' Singh said. 'I hit a lot of good iron shots.'
 
That's what Johnson wanted when he ordered the latest round of changes to the course. He had six holes lengthened, hopeful that even the modern player with his modern equipment would be hitting similar clubs as Masters champions did in the past.
 
It still was tough, as a major should be.
 
Only three players broke 70, and 15 others were under par. But the scoring average for the first round -- 74.94 -- was a fraction of a stroke lower than the previous two years.
 
'I don't think anybody will be unhappy with the way the course played today,' Retief Goosen said after a 70, joined by Phil Mickelson, Tim Clark and Geoff Ogilvy.
 
It wasn't so tough that it drained the drama. The 12 eagles in the first round were one short of the record set in 1991.
 
And for those who feared the changes catered to the big hitters, hold that thought.
 
Helped by sunshine rarely seen at this tournament the last five years, the fairways were firm and fast, inviting a wide range of players into the fold. Length off the tee was helpful only if the tee shots stayed out of the trees.
 
Mediate, Oberholser and Clark have medium length, while Crenshaw is short even by senior standards. They were mixed in with the power games of Singh, Goosen, Mickelson and Ogilvy.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is trying to become the first player to twice win back-to-back Masters titles.
'For the medium to shorter hitters, we need those fairways to be firm,' Clark said. 'And that's what they were today. It almost felt like the way it played a few years ago, when Mike Weir won when it really was wet.'
 
If there was a discernible difference, it might have been long periods of silence while so many players battled for par.
 
'One hole, you could hear the birds singing away, like there's nobody on the course,' Goosen said. 'It's definitely a lot quieter out there than you normally hear around Augusta, besides the one big cheer we heard. And we obviously all knew that was Tiger.'
 
That was about the only cheer for Woods.
 
The defending champion struggled from the start with two three-putts on his first four holes -- one to make par, another bogey -- and avoiding three others with testy, 5-foot putts. His fortunes appeared to change when he hit 8-iron from 163 yards on the 14th hole that landed soft enough to trickle into the cup, his first eagle on a par 4 at the Masters.
 
But his momentum was doomed when he laid up on the par-5 15th short of the water, and found his ball in a deep divot. He tried to smother a sand wedge, instead, caught it fat and watched it drop into the middle of the pond, leading to double bogey.
 
'All in all, I thought I could have got under par today, but it just didn't happen,' Woods said.
 
Ernie Els barely made it. He played it safe and wound up in a large group at 71.
 
'Anything around par here these days is pretty good,' Els said. 'I've just got to keep going. Maybe there's a low number out there for me this week.'
 
But maybe all that sunshine brought a mirage.
 
The greens already had a yellow sheen and were getting crusty. And with wind in the forecast for Friday, there was a feeling that Augusta National was at its tamest.
 
'Although we had some under-par rounds, we also had perfect conditions,' Mickelson said. 'The fairways dried out, and we were able to hit the ball out there, get to the greens. I'm concerned about tomorrow's round with the wind. It's going to be rough.'
 
Even Crenshaw was ready to concede.
 
On the 20-year anniversary of Jack Nicklaus' last green jacket, can a 54-year-old win the Masters? That was the cue for Crenshaw to wag his finger and say, 'I have a good feeling about this,' as he did while captaining the Ryder Cup team at Brookline in 1999.
 
'Doubtful,' he said, laughing. 'I've had my time here.'
 
The last time was in 1995, when he was a pallbearer at the funeral of longtime teacher Harvey Penick at the start of the week, and he was wearing a green jacket at the end.
 
The emotions this week might lie with Woods, whose father could not travel to Augusta for the first time because of cancer that has spread throughout his body.
 
'I know it's difficult for him,' Crenshaw said. 'I'm sure he's thinking about it every second. But he's got a job to do. Sometimes, you do things that you don't think you're capable of doing.'
 
Woods said he didn't speak with his father before the round.
 
'I had enough to worry about,' Woods said, 'trying to get out there and hit a shot.'
 
Related Links:
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    Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

    By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

    KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

    The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

    Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

    Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

    Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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    Rahm (62) fires career low round

    By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

    The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

    Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

    What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

    Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

    Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

    Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

    Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

    Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

    Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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    Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

    Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

    "Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

    Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

    "That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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    Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

    By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

    There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

    Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

    Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

    Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

    @tommyfleetwood_1

    A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

    The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

    It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.