Stars Converge at Augusta National

By Associated PressApril 3, 2005, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- If this is a golden era, then it starts with a green jacket.
 
Everyone has been pointing to the Masters since the first day of the new year, when it became obvious that golf was loaded with talent at the top, muddled only by debate over how many players belonged in the conversation.
 
The Big Three?
 
Ernie Els
Ernie Els is the only member of the 'Big Four' who hasn't won the Masters.
That would be Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els -- in that order, at the moment -- because each has won at least three major championships and because they are so tightly bunched atop the world ranking that any of them could go to No. 1 with a victory at Augusta National.
 
Phil Mickelson makes it the Big Four, and it's tough to leave him out of the mix.
 
The defending Masters champion came within five shots of a chance to win the Grand Slam last year. And while he tapered off at the end of the season, Lefty again came out firing on the West Coast by winning back-to-back weeks with audacious scores -- a 60 in Phoenix and a course-record 62 at Spyglass Hill, one of the toughest tracks on tour.
 
Some would argue for a Big Five to include U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, the stoic South African who doesn't make a peep except when he's beating the best players with an unflappable game. Whatever the number, they indeed are big. And they all converge on Augusta National this week for the 69th Masters Tournament, which has all the trappings of a free-for-all on a stage that rarely lacks for drama.
 
'I can't remember a time when golf was in this position, where you've got that many guys right at the top of the world rankings and playing consistently well going into the big start of the year,' Thomas Bjorn said. 'It's good fun to watch. It's interesting for the game. It's healthy for the game.'
 
Adding to the anticipation is that Augusta National, built for power with changes to the course over the last couple of years, has a habit of making sure the cream rises.
 
Mickelson had to birdie five of the least seven holes last year to beat Els. Woods won his fourth straight major in 2001 at Augusta National by holding off Mickelson and David Duval. Thirty years ago, it was Jack Nicklaus making that 40-foot putt on the 16th to beat Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf.
 
'It reminds me of the glory days of the '70s when we had almost 12 players that were just guns,' Miller said. 'Guys were in their prime, and they were tough down the stretch. We really haven't had that on the world golf scene. You've got so many top stars now. It's almost impossible to pick who's going to be the gun. It's an exciting time.'
 
Every era has its conglomerate of stars, so the concept of a Big Three (or any number) is nothing new.
 
Harry Vardon, James Braid and J.H. Taylor were the original Great Triumvirate in golf, and the United States produced its own cast of characters with Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson in the 1940s and 1950s. Then came the original 'Big Three' with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. And for international flavor, there was Nick Faldo, Nick Price and Greg Norman ominating the early part of the 1990s.
 
The common thread was a green jacket, at least as long as Augusta National has been around.
 
Hogan or Snead won the Masters five out of six times during the early 1950s. Palmer, Nicklaus and Player combined to win seven straight green jackets through 1966. Faldo won three Masters between 1989 and 1996, culminating with his shocking comeback against Norman.
 
Singh, Woods and Mickelson have won four of the last five Masters. The exception was Mike Weir, one of several players (Padraig Harrington, David Toms, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott) who are on the cusp of joining the elite in golf. Even so, the top five players stand out.
 
'Those guys are playing at a different level than most of us,' Scott said.
 
For the longest time, Woods had that distinction all to himself. He won three green jackets in the first six Masters he played as a pro, eight majors by the time he was 26. But the former No. 1 player comes to Augusta National without a major in his last 10 tries, matching the longest drought of his career.
 
Woods had just begun to change his swing last year when he tied for 22nd at 2-over 290, 11 shots behind the winner. All three of those figures were career worsts at Augusta National.
 
No one knows what to expect from Woods this time around. He has won twice, including a wonderful duel at Doral when he rallied to beat Mickelson in the final round, but he has been wild with his driver and errant with his putter in the two weeks coming into the Masters.
 
Most importantly, he now has competition. Nicklaus, whose 18 majors represent the record Woods is chasing, saw this coming even when it looked as though Woods had no rival.
 
'He's certainly going to have increased competition that he hasn't had in past years, that he seems to have more of now,' Nicklaus said recently. 'You heard me a couple of years ago. A lot of competition hadn't even shown up yet -- young kids coming out, or guys playing against him who will raise the level of their golf game or disappear.
 
'I think Tiger by far is still the most talented,' he said. 'His future depends on his desire.'
 
Singh has won nine times since the last Masters, ending Woods' five-year reign at No. 1 in the world. His only victory this season was the Sony Open, where he birdied the final hole at Waialae to beat Els by one shot.
 
Els picked up two victories in the Middle East, at Dubai and Qatar, although his global travels make some wonder if he has given himself enough rest coming to the place that now haunts him.
 
The South African had one arm in the green jacket last year, closing with two eagles and a 67 that looked like it might be enough until Mickelson hit the putt heard 'round the world on the 18th to beat him.
 
The rest of the year wasn't much better for the Big Easy. He shot 80 in the final group at the U.S. Open, lost in a four-hole playoff at the British Open to Todd Hamilton, and bogeyed the last hole of the PGA Championship to finish one shot out of another playoff.
 
'I'm a different guy from where I was last August,' Els said. 'As an athlete, you just pull yourself up. Who knows? You either crash, or you celebrate.'
 
Els remembers what it was like when he was No. 1 in the late 1990s, after winning his second U.S. Open. Woods had just begun to blossom. Davis Love III appeared to be in full stride. Mickelson was contending in majors and dazzling fans with his short game.
 
But, as he surveys the landscape now, Els says there is no comparison.
 
'I'm a different player than I was back then,' he said. 'I think we're all different now. I think we're all playing at a level that we weren't at in those days. Our records speak for themselves. I've won over 50 tournaments now, and Vijay has won over 30. We've got more experience, we've done different things.
 
'Maybe it's stronger now than it was back in the late '90s.'
 
It might be the strongest it has been in some 30 years, when the top stars brought their game to Augusta National and tried to settle the score at the Masters.
 
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    Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

    By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

    Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

    Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

    As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

    "That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

    Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

    Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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    Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

    By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

    If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

    Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

    But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

    Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

    Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

    Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

    Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

    Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

    Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

    Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

    Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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    Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

    SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

    Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

    “It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

    Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

    “What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

    Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

    “When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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    Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

    SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

    Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

    Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

    Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.