Happens Every Spring

By Brian HewittMarch 8, 2007, 5:00 pm
Hard to believe the Masters begins four Thursdays from now. Time flies when youre having fun. And sometimes it flies when youre not. But excitement always flies around the grounds at Augusta National the first week in April.
 
Hard to believe golf is so hard to believe.
 
Golf is assuredly a mystifying game, wrote none other than Bobby Jones, the man primarily responsible for making the first Masters happen way back in 1934. It would seem that if a person has hit a golf ball correctly a thousand times, he should be able to duplicate the performance at will. But this is certainly not the case.
 
It would seem that if a person was told that he needed to get excited about the same event at the same venue at the same time every year, he might get a bit jaded. But that is certainly not the case either when it comes to The Masters.
 
It is the first major championship of the season and the most anticipated. There are American players who will tell you they covet a spot in the U.S. Open more. And there are International players who will tell you they would rather win the Open Championship, a.k.a the British Open, more than any other tournament.
 
But I have yet to find the player who will tell me there is any competition they would rather receive their invitation to in the mail more than the Masters.
 
Hard to believe, too, by the way, that The Masters is now being run by Billy Payne who has succeeded Hootie Johnson who succeeded Jack Stephens, who succeeded Hord Hardin who succeeded William Lane who succeeded Clifford Roberts.
 
Hard to believe Augusta National, the golf club that hosts The Masters has simultaneously and deservedly earned the reputation for being at once obdurately secretive and unfailingly hospitable.
 
I want you to know we appreciate all you have done for us, Payne says to the media in his Message From The Chairman in the 2007 Masters media guide.
 
Hard to believe Augusta National wont be playing any longer this year than it did last year. As recently as 1998 the golf course measured out at 6,925 yards. Last year it had stretched to 7,445 yards. No new length for 2007.
 
In the end, two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw told author John Feinstein, you win The Masters with your short game. But you have to have enough length to get into position to make those shots.
 
It is not hard to believe that Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have won six of the last seven Masters. All three are inordinately long off the tee and all three possess exquisite touch around the greens. Nor will it be hard to believe if Swedens Henrik Stenson, also long and deft, plays well this year in his second appearance at Augusta. Stenson already has won two titles this year'Dubai and the WGC-Accenture Match Play'in which the redoubtable Woods was in the field.
 
Hard to believe Gary Player, who won The Masters in 1961, 1974 and 1978, will be playing in his 50th Masters. There is no tournament in the world, Player said earlier this year, that compares to Augusta as far as running a tournament.
 
To be sure, there is a precision that complements The Masters charm that would make a Swiss watchmaker blush. Although when they are in the same place every year and they know exactly what theyre capable of, it makes it a bit easier, Player added.
 
But thats kind of the point, isnt it? Television viewers love The Masters because they know the holes because the venue never changes. Raes Creek, Butler Cabin, Eisenhower Tree, Magnolia Lane, Sarazen Bridge. Its all part of the tradition that oozes from the place and makes sentimentalists out of even the most hardened observers.
 
Familiarity, by the way, is also why the PGA TOURs Players Championship has been catching up so fast. Its not close to The Masters yet (what event is?). But when you get a terrific golf course, a meaningful tournament and you dont change the site, you will be way ahead of everybody else each year before the first ball is struck.
 
Finally there is this: Augusta National during Masters week is the only place I know where spectators, arriving for the practice rounds for the first time, are more interested in seeing the golf course than they are in watching the players who might happen to be tuning up at the time.
 
And if you have ever been to The Masters, you will not find that hard to believe at all.
 
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    Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

    New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

    The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

    "Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

    It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

    Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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    Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

    By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

    SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

    Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

    He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

    Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



    The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

    ''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

    Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

    He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

    Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

    ''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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    13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

    Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

    “An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



    Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

    Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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    McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

    It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

    Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

    Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    “I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

    Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

    “Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

    This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.