Masters weekend could be legendary

By Jason SobelApril 7, 2012, 12:39 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Bolt the front door. Disable the doorbell. Leave the phone off the hook.

Trust me on this one: You’ll want to cut yourself off from society for the next two days and not look back.

Whatever your plans were, cancel ‘em ASAP – even if it means turning that honey-do list into a honey-don’t list.

It’s time to camp out in front of the boob tube and put some conforming grooves into those couch cushions, because the 76th Masters Tournament is turning into one for the ages.

Literally.

Those ages are 52 and 22, and they represent the number of years on earth for the two biggest stories entering the final two rounds.

Fred Couples first started playing in the Masters back in 1983, winning his first and only major championship here in 1992. Since then, he has sashayed and sauntered his way into the hearts of golf fans, a favorite based on his easygoing demeanor and exceptionally smooth swing.

Perhaps more than anything, though, Freddie has won over the masses because his game blooms with the azaleas every April. On the most important and most revered golf week on the annual calendar, he always plays his best golf.

It’s happening again this week, with his score of 5-under 139, tied for the 36-hole lead. No fact or statistic can put his rally up the leaderboard into better context than this: Jack Nicklaus’ victory on this vaunted soil as a 46-year-old in 1986 is largely considered one of the greatest feats by an elder statesman in the history of the game; Couples is a half-dozen years older than Jack was at the time.

“I've said it for 28 years,” he imparted. “This is my favorite golf tournament in the world.”

It’s quickly becoming a favorite for Rory McIlroy, too – despite his final-round foibles of a year ago. As you’ll recall, the youngster held a lead entering the back-nine on Sunday, only to hit his 10th hole tee shot into some rarely seen cabins en route to a triple bogey and eventual T-15 finish.

Maybe there’s something to be said for dealing with adversity. McIlroy walked off the final green laughing with his caddie, then hung in while reporters fired questions about his collapse. Two months later, he won the U.S. Open in historic fashion, claiming the title at Congressional by eight strokes.

And now he’s back in the mix once again at Augusta, thanks to rounds of 71-69 that leave him one shot off the lead going into the weekend.

“It's nice. I wouldn't say I'm in a position to win yet, but we'll see what happens,” McIlroy conceded. “It will definitely be nice to feel like I'm in a good position going into Sunday.”

If you can’t get excited about a leaderboard that includes the game’s best older player and best younger player, then it may be time to throw your fan card out with last year’s pimento cheese sandwiches.

But your eyeballs shouldn’t be super-glued to the TV screen for Couples and McIlroy alone. The list of contenders includes plenty of intriguing stories, each worthy of attention.

There’s Jason Dufner, the co-leader, who is establishing himself as a big-game hunter in the major championships.

There’s Lee Westwood, the world’s third-ranked player, who is seeking to shed that Best Player To Have Never Won A Major title.

There’s Sergio Garcia, the mercurial former phenom, who is trying to finally claim a major after so many years of close calls.

There’s Bubba Watson, the big-hitting ball of energy, who attacks courses with a creativity unparalleled in the game today.

There’s Louis Oosthuizen, the former Open Championship winner, who continually showes his resiliency.

And that’s just the players within one shot of the lead.

Throw in former champions Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh, as well as perennial wannabes like Jim Furyk and Nick Watney, and it’s a leaderboard chock full of storylines, any of which can come true in the form of a green jacket come Sunday.

One of the few players it doesn’t include is the game’s most compelling and polarizing figures. Tiger Woods enters the third round in a share of 40th place, eight shots off the lead. And yet, that news alone should be enough to keep you on the couch. The unknown makes for dramatic theater.

So get ready, my fellow golf fans. Prepare yourself for two full days of lockdown mode, watching the Masters until the last putt drops.

If not, you’re bound to miss something. And there could be many fascinating somethings to be missed.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.