Wier-isome Day Concludes

By Golf Channel NewsroomApril 11, 2003, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Darren Clarke leaned back in a lawn chair, laughing and puffing on a cigar as he waited for the 10th fairway to clear. Tiger Woods was grinding away, trying to overcome his worst start ever in a major championship.
The Masters finally got under way Friday, and except for a long day of work at tough and soggy Augusta National, it was hardly what anyone expected.
Woods, trying to become the first player to win three straight green jackets, went 21 holes before making a birdie and opened with a 76. If that wasn't bad enough, he finished seven strokes behind his amateur partner, Ricky Barnes.
This was supposed to be a day when only the fittest survived, but there was burly Clarke and his steady stream of cigar smoke, ambling the fairways to a 6-under 66 in the toughest first-round for scoring at Augusta in 15 years.
When the second round was finally suspended by darkness, Clarke lost the lead to the hottest Lefty in golf -- no, not that one.
Mike Weir of Canada, a two-time winner this year, but rarely a contender in majors, birdied his final two holes and was at 6-under par with six holes to play.
Clarke, with back-to-back bogeys, was at 4-under through 10 holes.
The more famous southpaw -- Phil Mickelson -- looks like he'll have yet another crack at winning his first major. He opened with a 73, then birdied four of his first five holes and finished his long day at 2-under par with seven holes left.
The only other guy in red numbers was Barnes, the U.S. Amateur champion who got some key advice from Woods -- 'Just enjoy yourself' -- and shot a 69. He was at 1-under and will have eight more holes to play on Saturday.
Woods is trying to make history, but this isn't what he had in mind.
Not only was it his highest first-round score in a major since turning pro, it was his worst start at any PGA Tour-sanctioned event since a 76 in the 1998 Western Open. Even more ominous: No Masters champion has ever started with worse than a 75.
Still, as sunshine finally broke through the clouds in the afternoon, Woods slowly worked himself back into the hunt with three birdies on the back nine. He was 2-over par, sitting on the bench at the par-5 second hole, when the horn sounded to stop play.
'Obviously, I'd like to be a little better than I am, but I'm on the right track,' Woods said. 'I made some progress. I've still got a chance.'
It was shaping up to be a busy Saturday -- and not just on the course.
As Woods tries to chip away at the lead, Martha Burk and her National Council of Women's Organizations plan to protest the all-male membership at Augusta National.
She might only have 100 or people, and Burk conceded that her campaign has lost steam over the last few months, especially with the war in Iraq.
'But it doesn't matter if it's on people's radar right this minute or not,' she said. 'What matters is that, in the long run, sex discrimination becomes a no-no for people who hold power in this country. And Augusta National is emblematic of this group.'
The Masters has been best known for Woods the last two years. He has never broken 70 in the first round, but he has never been this slow out of the gates.
Woods was 10 strokes out of the lead after 18 holes, a deficit that no Masters champion has ever made up in the tournament's 66 years.
He might have known what was coming on the first hole. Woods chipped past the hole and over the green, and his par chip climbed up the hill and then rolled back to his feet. His third chip was perfect, falling for an improbable bogey.
'I had so much practice pitching, I figured I'll just pitch in,' Woods said.
He had a lot of practice with patience, too.
He dropped to his knees when birdie putts slid by the hole, pulled his cap over his face when par putts did the same and, at times, looked as if he would rather be anywhere but on the course he has dominated the last two years.
'I didn't hit the ball that bad, I just didn't make any putts,' Woods said.
He really got exasperated when a good tee shot on No. 10 picked up a clump of mud, a typical occurrence at Augusta National after four days of rain. Woods angrily banged his fists together when he saw the grime, then uttered, 'Oh, mud!' when his approach shot squirted off to the right and into a bunker - another bogey.
Woods wasn't alone in his misery.
Fifteen of the 77 players who had played the Masters before walked off with their worst score ever at Augusta, the most noticeable being Nicklaus.
'The course wasn't much of a problem,' Nicklaus said. 'I was.'
The six-time champion had an 85 -- his previous worst was an 81 in wind-swept conditions three years ago -- and was well on his way to missing the cut for only the fifth time in 43 trips to the Masters.
Even Arnold Palmer beat his longtime rival with an 83.
The galleries didn't see all those shots. Most of the time, their eyes were on the ground as they tried to navigate muck so thick it almost pulled off their shoes.
Indeed, it was tough on everyone. The average first-round score -- 76.2 -- was the highest at the Masters since 1988.
Woods can attest to that. He failed to make a birdie for the first time since Saturday at Carnoustie in the 1999 British Open, and his 76 ended his string of 10 consecutive rounds under par at Augusta National.
The second round will resume at 8:20 AM EDT, and Woods isn't the only guy who needs to pull it together.
Ernie Els, who opened the year with two victories in Hawaii and added two more in Australia, bogeyed his first two holes and shot a 79. The Big Easy rallied in the afternoon with three birdies and was hovering around the cut line.
Related Links:
  • 2003 Masters Tournament Mini-Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • 2003 Masters Photo Gallery
  • Augusta National Course Tour
  • The Augusta National Membership Debate: A Chronology
  • Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

    Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

    Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

    "He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

    The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

    Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

    "I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

    Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

    "From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

    "And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

    "There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

    Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

    "It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.