Augusta National changes slow Tiger's record chase

By John HawkinsApril 2, 2012, 7:05 pm

Tiger Woods hasn’t won a Masters in seven years, or since former tournament chairman Hootie Johnson added 150 yards and a second army of trees to toughen up a half-dozen or so holes at Augusta National. Johnson’s first lengthen-and-strengthen crusade occurred in 2002, prompting some to characterize the renovations as “Tigerproofing.” Almost a decade later, that once-whimsical notion has become reality.

You’d have a hard time convincing people otherwise. Woods won three of his first six Masters as a pro but has just one victory in his last nine starts. It would be ridiculous to think he can’t win again – Tiger’s worst finish since winning in 2005 is a T-6. He has finished a total of 21 strokes behind the winners in those six years, an average margin of 3.5, so it’s not like he’s flailing about and not factoring on the weekend.

Still, it’s fairly obvious Johnson’s green thumb has made green jackets much harder to come by in Tiger’s world. The tree plantings served as a counter-punch to Woods’ biggest weakness in recent years: the inability to drive the ball accurately. He could get away with it at the old Augusta National, but the price of a wayward bomb is significantly higher now. Certainly enough to cost him another major title or two.

The shame of it all is that Johnson, a man of honest intentions, tinkered with the Bobby Jones/Alister Mackenzie masterpiece, thereby altering the character of the game’s finest competitive stage. Jones, whose love of the Old Course at St. Andrews is well-documented, wanted those who hit errant drives to still have a chance at the green. A recovery route can lead to a heroic shot, one that requires skill and creative instinct. By disposition, Augusta National was never meant to be a connect-the-dots type of venue.

Because Jones was so keen on allowing multiple angles of attack, the greens are exceptionally severe. The heavy contours and pronounced undulations produce the payback for any ballstriking mistakes made en route. You can be aggressive, but you’d better be precise – or you’ll find yourself with an impossible putt or a chip you can’t get within 25 feet of the flag.

Basically, we’re talking about a layout with linksland-style overtones in a parkland setting that was transformed into an unabashed parkland test. In its original state, the entire golf course was intended to serve as a shrine to risk vs. reward, which is the true genius behind Augusta National. Certain design elements that seem over-the-top actually serve a crucial purpose in maintaining the risk/reward balance.

By no means did Johnson ruin that, but he did affect it. If the surplus of trees and yardage was an attempt to combat technological advances in equipment, that hasn’t happened. Scoring at Augusta National has (and always will) depend largely on the weather conditions. In 2007, Woods finished tied for second at 3 over par. In 2010, he ended up tied for fourth at 11 under.

His ability to improvise and execute in difficult spots may be the greatest of his many assets – consider the chip he holed from behind the 16th green in 2005 as the best example. That strength has been compromised by the course changes, leaving a guy Jack Nicklaus once predicted would win “10 or 12” green jackets stuck on four.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.