Chasing Tiger Phil at Augusta

By Mercer BaggsApril 2, 2007, 4:00 pm
Gosh, all anyone you media types ever talk about in regards to winning the Masters Tournament are Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Tiger and Phil, Phil and Tiger ' blah, blah, blah. Can you at least try and be original? Try to have your own thoughts. Oh, thats right: you dont have any. Youre just a sheep following the masses, picking the obvious.
You know, there are other people in this field. Players who CAN actually beat your treasured Tiger and precious Phil.

Thats not an actual e-mail that I received, but one quite similar in content to what I read and hear about this time of year.
Yes, there are indeed other players aside from Tiger and Phil in the Masters field. One-hundred and seven men have been invited to compete, and Im sure a few of them will give these two a run for their money this week ' these two who just happen to have won five of the last six Masters titles and seven of the last 12 overall major championships.
Here are some of the ones who might make a push but will most likely be unable to topple both Tiger and Phil at Augusta National.
Vijay Singh
Vijay Singh's Bay Hill win came with Tiger and Phil in the field. (WireImage)
Vijay Singh:
Why he can win: Hes already won twice this year (as many as Woods and one more than Mickelson), is a past Masters champion, and has cracked the top 10 at Augusta National in each of the last five years.
Why he probably wont: Sometimes, results can be deceiving. While Singh might be finishing inside the top 10, hes also finishing, on average, about 6 strokes behind the eventual winner. Hes also having a very difficult time breaking par over the weekend, with his Saturday/Sunday scoring average being in the black. His best weekend performance came in 2004, when he closed 69-69 ' and finished seven back of Mickelson. In 2002, he was only two back entering the final round and shot 76.
Adam Scott
Why he can win: He just won last week in Houston, and Mickelson captured the BellSouth and Masters back-to-back a year ago. He also tied for third at last years PGA Championship and was T8 at the Open Championship, his two most recent major championship starts.
Why he probably wont: Again, looks are a bit deceiving. Scott was never really in contention in either the 06 British or PGA. He was four back of Woods at Royal Liverpool and shot 72 to Tigers 67 on Sunday. At Medinah, he closed with a 67, but began the day seven in arrears and ultimately made up only one shot on Tiger. Scott tied for ninth in his 2002 Masters debut; he hasnt since broken the top 20. Hes never shot in the 60s in 18 career rounds at Augusta, and no Australian has ever won this event.
Ernie Els
Why he can win: He is a two-time runner-up in this event, finished inside the top 10 on five straight occasions, and has three career major championship titles. He also has the desire, wanting nothing more than to win this tournament.
Why he probably wont: He may want it too much and that could prove detrimental. He also knows that his window of opportunity is closing and he may press too hard. His two best Sunday performances came when he shot 68 in 2000 and 67 in 2004. Neither time was it good enough for the gold (or green). Hes also played rather poorly over the last two years in majors, accruing only one top-10. That came at last years British, when he was one off the 54-hole lead, but shot 71 on Sunday to finish five back of Woods.
Retief Goosen
Why he can win: He has three top-3s here in the last five years. Hes a proven major champion who putts well on fast greens and plays well under difficult conditions. He also won in Qatar on the European Tour earlier this year.
Why he probably wont: Goosen's last win on the PGA TOUR came in the 2005 International. In three stroke-play TOUR events this year, he has one finish inside the top 50. His best chance to win the Masters was in 2002, when he was tied with Woods for the lead entering the final round. Woods shot 71 and won by three as Goosen wilted with a 74.
Jim Furyk
Jim Furyk has three top-10s this year, but none since the Nissan Open. (WireImage)
Jim Furyk
Why he can win: He had a pair of top-5 finishes in the majors last year and has a trio of top-10s at Augusta throughout his career. He has one major in his pocket and it seems just a matter of time before he collects No. 2. Hes also the second-ranked player in the world.
Why he probably wont: As Augusta National continues to grow in length, Furyk has increasingly finished outside the top 10. Having missed the event in 2004 due to his injured wrist, he tied for 28th in 05 and tied for 22nd in 06. Most amazingly, his tie for second in last years U.S. Open and fourth-place showing at the British are his only top-10s in majors since he won the 03 U.S. Open. He has missed twice as many cuts during that stretch.
Chris DiMarco
Why he can win: He nearly shocked Tiger in 2005, losing in a playoff, and played in the final twosome on Sunday in 04, falling to Mickelson. He also finished runner-up to Woods in last years Open Championship.
Why he probably wont: DiMarco is totally hit or miss in majors. Over the last two years, he has a pair of runner-ups; a T12; a T67; and four missed cuts. But the biggest reason why he wont win: he almost never wins ' hasnt done so on TOUR in over five years.
Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald
Why they can win: They're all very talented; all very successful; all have had chances before to win a major; all have at least one top-10 at the Masters.
Why they probably wont: Well, for one, theyre European; and a European hasnt won a major since the 99 British. Casey hasnt shown that he can close out a U.S. tournament; Garcia cant find the bottom of the cup (spit aside) fast enough; Harrington has missed the cut in six of his last nine majors, including each of the two after his narrow miss at last years U.S. Open; Donald will need a Mike-Weir-2003-near-perfect-short-game performance just to have a chance.
Mike Weir
Why he can win: Hes the only player not named Tiger or Phil over the last six years to win the Masters.
Why he probably wont: He hasnt won a tournament in over three years. Hes still in search of his first top-20 of the season.
Charles Howell III
Why he can win: He is an Augusta native who has played this course since he was a kid. He won the Nissan Open in February and had a pair of runner-up finishes to earn his way into the event.
Why he probably wont: Like Els, he just wants to win too much. His best finish is a tie for 13th, his only top-25 in five starts. He missed the cut last year shooting 80-84 to finish dead last in the field.
Henrik Stenson
Why he can win: He's playing very well going into the event. The Swede won the Dubai Desert Classic with Tiger, Ernie and other notables in attendance. He also took home the WGC-Accenture Match Play. He hits the ball a ton and has a good short game.
Why he probably won't: Stenson has only played in seven career major tournaments. He missed the cut in his Masters debut a year ago. He's also a chic pick to win, which means he can't come in under the radar; he has to deal with pressure from the beginning. And he's European.
Everyone Else
Why they can win: Plenty of past Masters and other major champions comprise the limited field, as well as a host of world class players.
Why they probably wont: Three words: Tiger and Phil.
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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”