A Dozen Azaleas

By Kelly TilghmanApril 10, 2002, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- I, like you Im sure, grew up watching The Masters on television. Each spring, a few of my closest friends would tell me they scored practice round badges and were headed south to Augusta. I would turn green with envy, but not as green as Augusta Nationals emerald fairways. How do I know how green they are? Well, finally, after 20 years of waiting, I saw them in person for the first time. Right now I am at the Masters walking this storied venue, talking with the best players in the world under the old oak tree and completely soaking up the atmosphere.
My cameraman probably wanted to kill me on Monday because I dragged him all the way down to the 14th tee to shoot video. Okay, I really went down there to take in all the sights, smell the Azaleas and witness the shotmakers hard at work, but I didnt tell him that.
You cant imagine, unless youve been there, how magnificent Augusta National is. Its simply amazing. Theres an energy that fills the air. It pads every step you take. Your feet never get tired of carrying you from tee to green. If its that special for a member of the media, just consider what its like for a first-time player.
In total, there are 12 first-timers competing in the 2002 Masters and all 12 are mesmerized. Paul McGinley of Ireland told me that the highlight of his trip so far is the practice round he played with Tom Watson and Ian Woosnam on Monday. Paul said he started on the front nine and absolutely couldnt wait to make the turn. At least three or four times, he was extended an invitation to play Augusta National in his free time, but he chose to wait until he qualified for The Masters to finally make a tee time.
Twenty-one-year-old Australian Adam Scott is also playing for the first time. Like McGinley, he played a memorable practice round. His was with his hero, Greg Norman. The Shark is a two time major champion but has been left at the altar three times at The Masters. For young Scott to share fairway space with Norman in this place must be an emotional experience. Believe it or not, Adam is not the youngest player in this years field. That honor is shared between a pair of 20-year-olds, U.S. Amateur Champion Bubba Dickerson and U.S. Public Links Champion Chez Reavie. These gentlemen are two of five amateurs continuing the tradition that Bobby Jones instilled in 1934, at the inaugural event. Amateurs are always invited.
If you want a great first impression story from 2002, look no further than Sony Open winner Jerry Kelly. Youve never met a man with more personality than Jerry. When I asked him to describe his most memorable moment thus far, he began with his educational putting experience on the lightning fast first green, then he started in on his drama at the 12th , otherwise known as the meanest little par-3 in golf. Remember this hole? You know the one. Tom Weiskopf made a 13 on it in 1980 with no more than a 7-iron in his hand. Well, Jerry Kelly stood on the 150-ish-yard hole and darted a short iron right at the flag. It hit once, bounced straight toward the hole and smacked the pin! It ended up two feet away, a tap-in birdie in his back nine debut. What a way to start the week!
The stories are endless. The talent is immense. If youve qualified to compete at Augusta National, then you deserve to be here. Once youve had a taste, its impossible to forget the flavor. Perhaps the first time is the best for many, but you have to believe that the second, the tenth, and the 48th consecutive start, in the case of Arnold Palmer, are just as nice as the first.
The Masters- its a tradition unlike any other. Can you believe its only Wednesday?
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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.