Hawks Nest: Early odds for the Masters

By John HawkinsFebruary 11, 2013, 2:28 pm

YEAH, WE GOT a little snow in Connecticut last week. Thirty inches, give or take a flake, which left me with a tough decision. Do I start shoveling 25 yards of driveway when it’s 19 degrees out and still blowing like hell, or do I watch celebrity Saturday at Pebble Beach?

I chose the blizzard. Do I really need to sit through another frame-by-frame analysis of Huey Lewis’ golf swing? Am I in a better place because Bill Murray is sporting extended mutton chops? Seriously, you could run a rebroadcast of the third round in 2007 and no one could tell the difference. They need some new blood at that tournament. Sorry, but celeb-a-chop ain’t my thing.

The problem with 30 inches of snow is that you’re out there for like an hour and clear about 4 feet of earth. The payback comes when your daughters start laughing because their snowman just tipped over. Or when they pull out the inner tube and find 20 minutes of joy while sliding down a mound created by the excess from the driveway.

My guess is that Tiger Woods, who grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles (is that a redundancy?), never threw snowballs as a kid. February in the Northeast isn’t for a lot of people, but a few uppercuts from Old Man Winter are of little bother to me. Cold weather and all its inconveniences are only as bad as you allow them to be – it’s not half as brutal as watching washed-up actors hit lousy golf shots.

Tell you what, though. By the time you read this, my next-door neighbor and I will have already split the cost on a snowblower.

BOY, DO I love Brandt Snedeker. He plays faster than fast, has the coolest little follow-through and acts like he’s been there before, even if he hasn’t. He also wears one of those old-school visors – the 1980s design you’re more likely to see on some rich old lady to keep the sun off her face. I like a man comfortable in his own skin.

That 65 Sneds fired Sunday to win at Pebble Beach was a textbook round of golf, a performance reflective of a dude rapidly approaching the game’s highest level. And that has me thinking about the Masters, which is still almost two months away, but I’ve seen enough in the first six weeks of the season to formulate some very early odds.

Woods (7-1): Hasn’t won an emerald sportcoat since 2005, hasn’t putted well at Augusta National for just as long, but his recent win at Torrey Pines was fueled by an airtight short game. He knows he needs to get moving up Mount Nicklaus. The harder the conditions, the better his chances.

Rory McIlroy (10-1): Nike surely will adjust the dials on his new clubs, but that doesn’t mean he’ll hit it any better than he did at Abu Dhabi. where he missed the cut. Hasn’t played since – why is the kid taking such a long break? Still the world’s best player, but more than ever, it’s a what-have-you-done-lately world.

Snedeker (12-1): Fell apart with the final-round lead in 2008, but this is a totally different player now. I’m blown away by the dramatic improvement in Sneds’ ball-striking consistency. The guy missed a grand total of four fairways last week, more proof that swing coach Todd Anderson is one of the best in the business. On the greens? The Visor has never needed an adviser.

Phil Mickelson (12-1): His putting stroke had better fluidity and pace throughout the win at TPC Scottsdale – so much for that ninth rendition of “Phil is Phinished.” I’m not a huge fan of the way-left miss, as you can’t play Augusta National from the wrong fairway, but Lefty didn’t win three jackets by virtue of his pinpoint accuracy, either.

Louis Oosthuizen (15-1): Won a European Tour event in his native South Africa at the beginning of the year, continuing a stretch of fine golf that has continued for a while. Lost the Masters playoff to Bubba Watson last year. When he’s on, he’s really, really on. And when he’s not? No one will remember I had him as a favorite in February.

UNLESS MY MEMORY fails me, which is entirely possible, I’ve played in three official pro-ams during my 18 years as a golf writer, all of which were multi-round events similar to the one last week. I’ve worked with people who have played in a bunch of the Wednesday gatherings on the PGA Tour. Most of those folks either sold ads or sat behind a desk telling guys like me what to do.

What I vividly recall are the half-dozen or so times I’ve played a casual round with one of the game’s biggest stars.

Fred Couples – Lucky me, getting the assignment to do a full-length interview with Couples for Golf Digest in the spring of 2003. Fortune smiled again when he won the Shell Houston Open the day before we met at his home in Southern California, a victory that remains Fred’s last on the big-boy tour.

The original plan was for me to leave early Tuesday evening. I know I was still hanging around Thursday morning, and I must admit, an afternoon nap feels even better when Fred Couples is snoozing on the other couch. We teed it up at the Valley Club in Santa Barbara with his buddy John Pate, an outstanding amateur and brother of Steve.

At the par-5 first, Couples hit driver-5-iron to 20 feet and made the putt, literally continuing the conversation while striking all three shots. He birdied the second with a turkey sandwich hanging out of his mouth, then the third and fourth, and at that point, I was just a wee bit impressed. You could see Couples getting a little bored with it all, however, as if the game had become too easy. I have no idea what he ended up shooting. I’m pretty certain he didn’t, either.

Phil Mickelson – One of the most important rounds I’ve ever played in terms of improving my game. The day after the 1999 Tour Championship, I was asked to join Lefty, his caddie, Jim Mackay, and amateur-extraordinaire Danny Yates III for a game at Peachtree CC in Atlanta. Since Mackay, a scratch player at the time, was only the third best player in the foursome, we basically had three A players and a G-minus.

My little 4 handicap held up quite well, however, especially with Mickelson reading the greens. “If this one’s gonna go in, it has to enter the hole right here,” he would explain, pointing to a spot on the edge of the cup. It was as if someone beat me over the head with a burlap sack full of common sense.

Mickelson read putts “backwards” – from the hole to the ball instead of ball-to-hole – and basically envisioned the line in his head, which allowed him to account for speed and dismissed terms such as “right edge” or “two cups out” from the equation. Rocket science? Maybe not, but we won some bread that day, and I’ve been a fairly decent putter since.

Jesper Parnevik – I’m a trifle embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember when and where we played; probably Mirasol or Old Palm in the mid-2000s. What I’ll never forget was a fiercely contested match pitting Parnevik and Tim Rosaforte vs. myself and caddie Lance Ten Broeck, who holed a putt on the 18th for the W.

We were warming up before the round and Rosaforte wasn’t hitting it very well, which immediately got Parnevik’s attention. The Swede came over and spent the next 20 minutes searching for a cure, spending most of the time on one knee and literally teeing up each practice ball for Rosaforte’s next attempt.

I’d never seen a Tour pro do something like that before, and it’s highly likely I’ll never see it again. What always made Parnevik so appealing to me is that he couldn’t spell “ego” if you spotted him the g and the o.

John Cook – Orlando’s Isleworth G&CC had recently been lengthened and toughened up when we met Cookie there for a round in March 2005. I had begun my season playing well and was looking forward to showing the pro my game. It even crossed my mind that I’d out-drive the old man once or twice, if not all day, seeing how Cook had become one of the Tour’s straightest but shortest hitters.

Not a chance, fella. I spent the afternoon in the right bermuda, 30 or 40 yards behind Cook, who might have missed one fairway. He shot a 69 without an ounce of wasted breath on a behemoth course, reminding me that writers should stick to writing and Tour pros should make their 8-footers.

BY THE WAY, one of the worst golf experiences I’ve ever endured was a round with trashy talk-show host Maury Povich back in the mid-1990s. I mean, the guy was a nice player, and if you don’t believe me, ask him – he’ll be happy to tell you. An unfortunate victim of fame and illusion, Povich’s love affair with himself was hard to digest for 4 ½ minutes, much less 4 ½ hours.

The son of legendary Washington, D.C., sportswriter Shirley Povich, one of the nicest people ever to sit behind a typewriter, Maury was all the proof I’ve ever needed. Sometimes, the apple falls miles from the tree.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.