A Masters Like No Other

By Golf Channel NewsroomApril 8, 2003, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Tiger Woods returns to Augusta National with his size 42-long green jacket, the best game in golf and a parachute.
 
Inside the gates is another chance to make history.
 
Outside the gates, there may be chaos.
 
``It's going to be a joke trying to get into the tournament,'' the two-time defending champion said. ``Maybe I'll try to parachute in.''
 
Clearly, this is shaping up to be a Masters like no other.
 
At least two groups plan to protest the all-male membership at Augusta National. Others plan to protest against the protesters, including a one-man faction of the Ku Klux Klan who lists Woods as his favorite golfer.
 
Attention has shifted from the raging colors of spring and the towering Georgia pines to hand-painted picket signs for a protest against an exclusive membership that is no longer secret, except that they wear green jackets and answer to ``Sir.''
 
The eyes will not be on who drives through the gates of Magnolia Lane, but whether Martha Burk and her National Council of Women's Organizations marches outside them.
 
The Masters, which only allowed four minutes of television commercials every hour, will make it even cozier for couch potatoes -- the first commercial-free sporting event on network television.
 
The honorary starters are gone.
 
Arnold Palmer is back, and so is Jack Nicklaus.
 
And in case anyone has forgotten, Woods will try to become the first player to win three straight Masters championships when play begins on Thursday.
 
``It's become not just about a golf tournament anymore,'' Woods said. ``That's where it's gotten to now. It used to be the first major of the year, and everyone looked forward to that. Now, it's not that anymore, for a number of reasons.''
 
Players who once spoke of Augusta National in reverential tones now use words like ``zoo'' and ``circus.''
 
``All the peripheral stuff is going to detract a lot from the tournament,'' Nick Price said. ``It's bad. Maybe Thursday, everything will be forgotten and we'll be on our way. But we're getting away from golf, and that's sad.''
 
The peripheral stuff can be traced to June 12, when Burk sent Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson a foreboding letter that urged him to open the club's membership to women so that it doesn't become an ``issue'' for the Masters and its sponsors.
 
Johnson felt threatened and came out swinging.
 
In a three-page, 932-word statement to the media -- compared with a three-sentence, 69-word letter to Burk -- he predicted an all-out campaign by the NCWO to pressure Augusta National into inviting a female member.
 
He vowed that the club would act as always -- on its own, with a timetable of its choosing, certainly ``not at the point of a bayonet.''
 
Suddenly, the Masters became more than green jackets, slick greens, Rae's Creek and Amen Corner. It became a public relations battle between the rights of a private club and the moral obligation of golf's most famous tournament.
 
Johnson canceled the Masters' television sponsors to keep them out of the fray. Burk went after CEOs of major corporations who are Augusta members, and two of them resigned.
 
Nine months later, there is no winner and the stalemate continues.
 
At least one winner will be declared Sunday evening, and most eyes are on Woods.
 
Since the tournament began in 1934, only two other players have won the Masters in consecutive years -- Nicklaus (1965-66) and Nick Faldo (1989-90). Neither came close to winning three in a row, Nicklaus missing the cut, Faldo tying for 12th.
 
Neither dominated their peers quite like Woods.
 
``He does not have to play his best to win,'' said Nicklaus, who won a record six times. ``I didn't have to play my best to win, either. I thought if I played decent golf, I was going to be hard to beat. If I played well, I didn't think I would get beat.
 
``I would think he feels the same way.''
 
Woods certainly knows how to rise to the occasion.
 
Two years ago, he won the Masters over Phil Mickelson and David Duval to become the first professional to win four straight majors. For an encore in 2002, he built a lead going into the back nine and watched a world-class collection of challengers self-destruct.
 
``He wants the golf record book to just have one name,'' Faldo said. ``It's as simple as that. I'm sure that's what motivates him -- to be the first one to win three in a row.''
 
Two months off for knee surgery didn't stop him from winning three of his first five tournaments. Even with an upset stormach, he won Bay Hill by 11 shots.
 
Now comes the tournament he has been gearing up for since August.
 
``It's important to me to win that one,'' Woods said. ``Jack and Nick were the only other guys, so I could put myself in company where no one has been.''
 
He figures to get some competition from Davis Love III and Ernie Els, both two-time winners on the PGA Tour this year. Mickelson returns from taking a month off while his first son was born.
 
All of them will be chasing Woods.
 
``He's superhuman,'' Brad Faxon said. ``We keep hearing Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player say he doesn't have the same sort of competition they had, and I have to laugh. Tiger would have beaten any of those guys.''
 
Woods gets a crack at all of them in the Masters.
 
Nicklaus returns to the Masters for the 43rd time under no illusions that a 63-year-old can win. Still, he believes a top-10 finish is not out of the question if he plays well.
 
Arnie's Army marched alongside Palmer for what was supposed to be one final time last year, only to learn he has changed his mind and will play again after Augusta scrapped its new policy banning former champions from playing after they turn 65.
 
Palmer and Nicklaus are the only past Masters champions invited to join Augusta National, and they have been strangely silent on whether the club should have women.
 
Woods sees it both ways. He would like to see a female member, but he said he respects the right of a private club to invite whomever it wants.
 
That led The New York Times to ask him to skip the Masters in protest. Burk was so disappointed in Woods riding the fence that she said, ``If others had taken that view, he'd be a caddie at Augusta.''
 
Burk plans her protest on Saturday during the third round. It was not clear where she would be allowed to demonstrate, only that she will have company.
 
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition have permits to protest, along with a single member of the Ku Klux Klan, which supports Augusta National; a group protesting Jackson and his coalition; and a group opposed to Burk.
 
``It's going to be an absolute joke, just a zoo,'' Woods said. ``I think a lot of us players are really going to enjoy getting inside the ropes and playing, and not having to deal with a lot of this stuff.''
 
Related Links:
  • 2003 Masters Tournament Mini-Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • The Augusta National Membership Debate: A Chronology
     

    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

    Getty Images

    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.