A Masters with endless possibilities

By Doug FergusonApril 7, 2011, 2:53 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – On the far end of the course Wednesday, near the only palm tree at Augusta National, Lee Westwood rolled long putts across the fourth green as he practiced alone on a quiet afternoon before the Masters.

Spotting two familiar faces in the crowd, he looked over with a grin and said, 'Lost? Bar closed?'

Through the pines and dogwoods, down a steep slope toward the 16th green, players stopped on the edge of the 16th green to the fans' delight and tried skipping shots across the pond and onto the green. On what might be the only day of booing, Graeme McDowell got an earful when his shot sank before it got halfway across the water.

It sure didn't feel like the day before the first major of the year.

But then, Augusta National has a way of putting players at ease with its sheer beauty, when the Masters is more about azaleas and jasmine and enjoying a special place than trying to win a green jacket.

That figures to change on Thursday.

'The Masters has a fear factor, and that's the best thing about this golf course,' three-time champion Nick Faldo said Wednesday.

Phil Mickelson will try to join some exclusive clubs when he tees off in the opening round as the clear favorite in the first major of the year. Never has Lefty had so much at stake at one tournament.

He can go to No. 1 in the world for the first time in his career. He can join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer as the only players with at least four green jackets. And he can become only the fourth player to win the Masters in consecutive years.

To show how much he's ready, Mickelson poured in 18 birdies last weekend to win the Houston Open. And when he arrived at the Masters, one of the first visits he made was to a back specialist.

'This week is the one week where I swing the absolute hardest,' Mickelson said. 'I've been working out for it. I saw a back specialist just to make sure that my back hangs in there. It feels terrific, but I've been working on it for some time to make sure it's strong enough to withstand the rotational speed that I'm going to be trying to apply this week. Because it's a big advantage if you can move it out there.'

Woods, no longer the betting favorite at Augusta for the first time since 1999, is more concerned with a shorter club – his putter. It has kept him from winning the Masters twice in the last four years, and kept him from contending since his return to golf a year ago.

Even so, they remain the two dominant forces.

'The Masters will always start with Tiger and Phil,' said Robert Allenby, who will play with Woods the first two rounds. 'Their record here and the way they play Augusta make them the two to beat.'

The difference this year: They have some company.

PGA champion Martin Kaymer is No. 1 in the world and will try to win his second straight major. He considers the favorite to be Luke Donald, who beat Kaymer in the Match Play Championship earlier this year. Then there's Westwood, who has been no worse than third in four of the last five majors. Throw in the likes of Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey, and the smallest field of any major suddenly has a long list of contenders.

Some of that is a new generation arriving. Some of that is Woods no longer standing in their way.

'In the past, a lot of guys used up a lot of energy thinking about Tiger and what he's doing. Now they're doing their own thing and thinking about what they're needing to do,' Faldo said. 'There's genuinely 20 guys who could win this. I'm hoping we have a dozen guys coming down the back nine Sunday with a shot.'

What had been considered a wide open Masters became slightly more narrow with Mickelson's win last week in Houston. And while Woods has gone 17 months without a win, Nicklaus won't rule him out.

'They both are going to play well,' Nicklaus said. 'But there are other guys who will do the same.'

The names he mentioned all had one trait – they hit the ball high and long, always a good combination at Augusta. But with a forecast for sunshine the rest of the week, which will make the course fast and firm and shorter than its 7,435 yards, there has been more talk about the short game than usual this week.

'You don't have to be a big hitter to win here,' Mickelson said. 'If you're short game isn't sharp, you really need to strike it exceptionally well. I don't know if it's really possible, because the penalty for a slight miss-hit is in an area where you have be on your short game. So anybody – whether you are long or short – if you're on your short game, you have a good chance.'

Faldo mentioned Donald, who is one of a half-dozen players who can go to No. 1 with a win this week. Donald is at No. 4, and along with his win at the Match Play, he has finished out of the top 10 only twice over the last seven months.

'I've never felt more confident coming in here,' Donald said. 'I've prepared well. I've been very diligent in what I need to do. I've been hitting a lot of chips. Now I've just got to do it.'

As always, that's always the hard part at the Masters.

Even as the No. 1 player in the world, Woods has gone five Masters without winning, the longest drought of his career. And while Mickelson looked as tough as ever to beat last week in Houston, this is Augusta.

'I find the golf course very intimidating,' Padraig Harrington said. 'There's a lot of pressure on the golf course. You can hit a good shot and make birdie, and hit a bad shot on the same hole and make double bogey. As much as I find it intimidating, I've got to believe it suits my game. I have a good short game, a good mental game. I like the idea it's pressure.

'As much as I'm suffering, everyone else must be suffering, too.'

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Snedeker starts slow in effort to snag Masters invite

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.

Rose (62) sets blistering pace in Indonesia

By Associated PressDecember 14, 2017, 3:06 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Justin Rose shot a 10-under 62 Thursday to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, starting on the back nine at Royale Jakarta Golf Club, had five birdies to go out in 31, then birdied four of five holes midway through his final nine and another birdie on his last hole in the $750,000 tournament.


Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters


Gunn Charoenkul (64) was in second place and Kim Giwhan and Phachara Khongwatmai (both 65) were tied for third.

Brandt Snedeker shot 72. Ranked 51st in the world, the American is aiming for a strong finish in Jakarta to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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LaCava: Woods wouldn't talk after H.O.R.S.E. match

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 2:27 pm

The competitive streak within Tiger Woods knows no bounds - even on the basketball court, according to caddie Joe LaCava.

LaCava has been on Woods' bag since 2011, and he recently shared a story on "Inside the Ropes" on Sirius/XM PGA Tour Radio about a clash between the two men over a seemingly friendly game of H.O.R.S.E. Actually, it turned into nine straight games (and nine straight wins) for LaCava, who exploited a weakness in Woods' on-court strategy while leaning on a mid-length jumper of his own:

"The thing with him was if I missed a shot, which I missed plenty of shots, but if I missed the shot he'd go back down to the 3 (point line) because he liked to make the 3," LaCava said. "But it's harder obviously to make a 3, and I'd go right back to the baseline 12-footer, and he couldn't make it."

It's a short list of people who have beaten Woods nine times in any athletic pursuit, let alone in a row. But for LaCava, the fallout from his afternoon of on-court dominance was less than subtle.

"He did not talk to me the rest of the day," LaCava explained. "I didn't even get the old text, 'Dinner is ready,' because I stay across at the beach house. I didn't even get that text that night. I had to get take-out. He didn't announce he wasn't (talking), he just did it. I'm telling you, nine games in a row. Like I said, he's so competitive, even at something like that."