Sunday at Augusta was like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory

By Jason SobelApril 7, 2014, 8:45 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – About halfway through Sunday’s inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship that featured children ages 7-15 competing for the first time here at Augusta National Golf Club, I received a text message from a friend in the golf industry: “This feels like Willy Wonka opening up his chocolate factory to the kids.”

There couldn’t have been a better analogy.

Eighty-eight of these kids received golden tickets to golf’s most exclusive and, yes, reclusive theater. Eighty-eight young Charlie Buckets joined by their Grandpa Joes in search of success on the game’s grandest stage – which they say is even sweeter than chocolate.

There was Natalie Pietromonaco, 13, who after winning her age division, said, “It was just such an amazing experience to come out here and be able to practice at the world’s best golf course.” There was Patrick Welch, 14, who vowed, “I would describe it as an amazing experience. … To play out here and practice out here is just amazing.”

And there was Kelly Xu, 9, who when asked if she understood the significance of becoming the first female to win an open competitive event at Augusta National, broke into an ear-to-ear grin and declared, “Yes!”

Didn’t seem like there were any ungracious Veruca Salts or ungrateful Augustus Gloops in the bunch.

If Masters week is where the game’s elite meet to determine history, the Sunday beforehand has always been the calm before the storm. In past years, I’ve seen Tiger Woods tee off the first hole with less than a dozen spectators in attendance; I’ve seen Phil Mickelson begin a title defense by first pulling a member away from a leisurely lunch, so he could get on with his practice regimen.

The scene has always been equal parts stunning and surprising, its shock value rooted in watching the game’s most recognizable faces without swarms of observers nearby. On Sunday, though, that scene was stolen – heck, the entire show was stolen – by the 88 kids competing on this hallowed ground.

Oh, sure, there were still a few dozen players in the 96-man field going through their pre-tourney preparation, but even they seemed more focused on the next generation than their own games.

“It’s amazing to see so many people out here and the kids having a fun time,” said defending champion Adam Scott. “I think there’s been a lot of high-fives thrown. I was watching some of the telecast earlier and saw some incredible swings. The future looks bright for golf.”

“Being here in person and seeing the smiles on their faces and watch their parents walk with them is a dream, too,” added Bubba Watson, who won here two years ago, “so it’s cool.”

If success isn’t measured simply by the impressed expressions of big-time players or the boundless enthusiasm of the youngsters who competed here, then – like so many other perspectives around here – it will be measured by those who wear the green jackets.

And after their inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, they were beaming.

“It became clear to me about a month ago that they were going to bring that emotion to the golf course,” insisted Augusta National chairman Billy Payne. “We are going to have a lot of kids who want to find their way to Augusta National.”

With a mission increasingly intent on growing the game, Payne and his cohorts with the USGA and PGA of America opened up the factory and showed the kids with those golden tickets how the chocolate is made. In the process, the gatekeepers probably learned a few things themselves, not the least of which is how a fresh dose of passion can send ripples through an entire industry in desperate need of a smile.

On a day that was previously only viewed through the prism of those privileged enough to qualify for the tournament or own membership here, Augusta National officials turned their club into the world’s coolest playground.

The upcoming Masters, with all of its fanfare and affectation, will continue as planned. This day, though, belonged to the kids. It belonged to the next generation of great golfers – or maybe just the next generation of fans who want to see the great golfers.

When it was all over, Xu, one of those 88 dazzling Charlie Buckets with a golden ticket, briefly stopped smiling to answer a question about the weight of her new trophy.

“It’s really heavy,” the 9-year-old said. She could have been talking about the weightiness of such a day or that of becoming the first female to win at Augusta National.

Speaking of which, Pietromonaco, one of the other girls division winners, could be overheard receiving a congratulatory pep talk from an Augusta member who told her, “I hope we’ll see you competing here again soon.”

If you listened closely enough, it almost sounded like Willy Wonka asking Charlie how he liked the factory.

“I think it’s the most wonderful place in the whole world!”

“I’m very pleased to hear you say that, because I’m giving it to you.”

Hey, it might sound like a fictional tale, but Sunday was a time for dreaming big at Augusta National.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”

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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.

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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.

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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).