Just What They Wanted

By Mercer BaggsApril 9, 2006, 4:00 pm
Hootie Johnson speaks few words. He makes his point and then hes done. He asks not for an opposing opinion nor cares for a rebuttal.
 
We are very comfortable with what we are doing with the golf course for the Masters Tournament, said the Augusta National Golf Club chairman during Wednesdays press conference.
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson has now won each of the last two major championships.
He explained ' once again ' that the most recent changes to Augusta National ' the addition of 155 yards; the narrowing of fairways; the planting of even more pine trees ' were done so to make the course play, in terms of club selection, like it did in the days of Saint Bobby Jones.
 
In other words: to keep players from hitting a damn pitching wedge into every green.
 
But that may have been a veiled explanation. There may well have been an ulterior motive to the alterations.
 
Pride and prejudice are to Augusta National members like green and jacket.
 
But this has nothing to do with race or gender; it has to with prestige and pedigree.
 
Masters champions are a rare and special breed. When you look down the list of past winners, from Horton Smith in 34 to Tiger Woods in 05, few names seem out of place (see Claude Harmon, Charles Coody, Herman Keiser, Tommy Aaron and Larry Mize).
 
And thats the way Johnson and Co. want to keep it.
 
They have, I believe, no desire to drape their rayon and wool around the shoulders of Ben Curtis or Shaun Micheel or Todd Hamilton or Rich Beem. That was evident when they rescinded invitations to all PGA TOUR winners in 2000, saying, in essence, Winning the B.C. Open does not make you worthy of playing in our toonamint.
 
By making this course even longer and even tougher, theyve significantly reduced the chances of a surprise winner, and further increased the winning odds ' which were already great to begin with ' of Woods and Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh. Theyve given more hope to Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.
 
Thats just what they wanted to do; and, judging by this years results, thats just what theyve achieved.
 
Thats not to say that they would have been opposed to seeing Fred Couples or Jose Maria Olazabal win again; or perhaps the well-established and popular Darren Clarke; or some player on the cusp of greatness ' maybe even an up-and-coming Chad Campbell.
 
But while Rocco Mediate would make for a great story at the U.S. Open, and Miguel Angel Jimenez and his ponytail would look nice holding the claret jug, and Tim Clark may one day be a fine winner of the PGA ' Masters champions, in Green Jacket eyes, they are not.
 
At least, it seems, they would prefer them not to be.
 
By contrast, golf observers, at least those who arent rooting for or against any one player, are more interested in the race than the ultimate outcome. We care more about who is contending and how hotly the contest is being contested, as opposed to who first crosses the line.
 
The leaderboard during this final round was a fans dream. There wasnt a What the hell? name in the mix.
 
While the Green Jackets may have been rooting for a Big Five winner, fans were just happy to see them all with a chance at the start of the day. If Mediate, Jimenez or Clark should best them, then so be it.
 
Of course, none of them did.
 
This had all the makings of a glorious, sunset Sunday finish.
 
The leaderboard was outstanding, but U.S. Open-style groans seemed to far outnumber Masters-style roars. Bird chirps echoed in the silent pines.
 
Eagles and birdies were replaced, for the most part, with pars and bogeys ' and whatever in the world you call Mediates 10 on the par-3 12th.

To be fair, though, Olazabal did shoot 66, and should have shot at least 65.
 
And, while it wasnt a 31 this time around, Mickelson did close with a 35 for a 69 and an overall 7-under 281, which was equal to or lower than seven of the last 13 winning totals. He didn't make a bogey until it didn't matter.
 
Any lack of scoring by the field, it appeared, was attributable more to nerves and missed putts than to an inability to handle the courses length.
 
All in all, red numbers mattered little to the Augusta faithful.
 
They got everything they wanted out of this, the 70th Masters Tournament.
 
They got the course they wanted. They got the leaderboard they wanted. And, most importantly to them, they got the champion they wanted.
 
Which brings us to this: should Mickelson win the next two major championships, he will complete the career Grand Slam. And, having won the 2005 PGA Championship, should he win the next two, he will have won all four in succession.
 
It's time to start talking about the possibility of: the 'MickelSlam.'
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
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    Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar

    By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 5:06 pm

    DOHA, Qatar – Eddie PepperellGregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.

    Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.

    One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.

    Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.


    Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters


    Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.

    Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.

    He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.

    ''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.

    ''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.

    ''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.

    ''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”

    Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.

    ''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.

    ''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''

    Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.

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    Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

    By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 4:45 pm

    Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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    Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

    The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

    How to watch:

    Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

    Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET


    Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

    Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

    Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.


    Notables in the field:

    Tiger Woods

    • Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

    • Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

    • Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.


    Rickie Fowler

    • The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

    • Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

    • On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 


    Rory McIlroy

    • It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

    • McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

    • Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

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    Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand

    By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 1:01 pm

    CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.

    Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.

    ''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.

    ''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''


    Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


    Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.

    Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.

    ''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.

    Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.

    Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.

    ''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.

    She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.

    Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.