Jack Nicklaus at the Masters but only for 1 hole

By Doug FergusonSeptember 1, 2009, 12:00 pm
NORTON, Mass. –  Jack Nicklaus has said all along he would never become a ceremonial player, and just because he will be on the first tee at Augusta National next April doesn’t change that.

Nicklaus agreed to join Arnold Palmer as honorary – not ceremonial – starters at the Masters.

The difference between those words only becomes blurred if they decide to hit more than the opening tee shot.

Nicklaus already was reaching ceremonial status in 2005 when he played his last Masters without telling anyone. Then, he played his final major in the British Open at St. Andrews with the world watching, some weeping.

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Player: Jack Nicklaus

That spring, he was asked if it bothered him that fans only wanted to see him play.

What did they come to see?

The winner of 18 majors, the benchmark of greatness in golf? Or someone who can barely reach some of the fairways?

The Golden Bear or the Olden Bear?

“I don’t think he ever wants to be looked at like a museum piece,” Brad Faxon said Tuesday.

Palmer, a four-time champion who turns 80 next week, stopped playing the Masters in 2004 and agreed to become the honorary starter in 2007. Nicklaus said that wasn’t for him, but changed his mind at Palmer’s invitation.

“He is so deserving of this honor, and thus I felt it was his time, not mine,” Nicklaus said. “Recently, I was invited by both Augusta National and Arnold to join him on the first tee, and because he enthusiastically supported the invitation, it became an easy decision for me.”

Don’t be surprised to see Gary Player, the other member of the “Big Three,” join them over the next few years.

Now would seem to be a good time to restore some tradition at the Masters, a major already loaded with it.

The practice of an honorary starter began in 1963, although it goes back even further. Fred McLeod (1908 U.S. Open) and Jock Hutchinson (1920 PGA Championship, 1921 British Open) were both in their 70s when they were assigned the first tee time in 1954 and “led the field” during the first round.

Nine years later, they became the inaugural honorary starters.

After they died – McLeod in 1976, Hutchison in 1977– the honorary starter was revived in 1981 with Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead. They often played the front nine, giving fans a glimpse of living history. No one took it too seriously, except for one time when Ken Venturi was asked to fill in for Nelson in 1983.

“We played nine holes, me and Gene Sarazen,” Venturi once said. “That might have been the best I played. I had four birdies and a bogey, and I told Gene, ‘Let’s keep going. I might be leading the tournament.’ And Gene said, ‘Are you crazy? We’re going for lunch.”’

Before long, the honorary starters were skipping holes, and it wasn’t much longer that they hit only the opening tee shot.

Sarazen once considered not even hitting the tee shot, worried that his game was not in shape. That’s when the late Masters chairman Hord Hardin said to him, “Gene, they don’t want to see you play, they just want to see if you’re still alive.”

What would be so wrong with Nicklaus and Palmer chasing after their tee shot and going at it for nine holes, or even all 18?

“It’s not out of the realm of possibility,” said Zach Johnson, a Masters champion who knows that nothing it out of any realm when it comes to Augusta National. “As a fan of the game, as a fan of Jack, as a player … he’s the best who ever played. You want to see him play.”

Scott Verplank played the first two rounds with Nicklaus in 1986, the year he went on to capture his sixth green jacket. He wouldn’t mind seeing Nicklaus and Palmer hit more than one shot, either.

“But only if they wanted to,” he said. “It needs to be their idea. And they would get to play the member tees.”

That isn’t the Nicklaus way, though. It never has been.

The only thing he enjoyed more than competing in majors was preparing for them. Nicklaus never played a lot of recreational golf, and he still doesn’t. His last real competition – even though it was fake – was a Skins game against Tiger Woods, Kenny Perry and Stewart Cink at the Memorial this year. Nicklaus felt an adrenaline rush that day, even though he could barely reach three fairways. Woods won on the final hole with a chip-in from 25 yards.

It was his first time playing with Nicklaus in nine years, although one thing didn’t change.

“Anyone who has ever played at the highest level always wants to play at the highest level,” Woods said.

Would the Masters turn into a carnival by having Nicklaus and Palmer play a round that doesn’t count? No. It already is the only major with a Par 3 Tournament on Wednesday, and the only major with an honorary starter.

To have Nicklaus join Palmer on the first tee is an honor, one he earned.

Anything more would be a ceremony, the one thing he disdains.

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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 right 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."

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.