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.'
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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.

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    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."

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    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.