The Eve of the Masters

By Randall MellApril 7, 2011, 1:12 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The dogwoods and azaleas aren’t in full bloom yet down in Amen Corner, but Augusta National was adorned with colorful scenery just the same with 99 players preparing for Thursday’s start of the Masters.

If you’ve never been here, you’ll see that even practice rounds are different from anywhere else.

Follow me, I’ll show you.

 

First stop, the 13th hole . . .

Ken Ress of Mandeville, La., a retired 58-year-old who used to work on offshore oil rigs for Shell, is looking for the spot where Phil Mickelson struck it big last year. He’s looking for the famous patch where Mickelson hit that spectacular 6-iron through the trees to 4 feet to set up his third Masters’ title.

“You see that little purple flag over there?” a hole marshal tells him. “That’s the spot.”

Standing there, you see one patron after another drift over to the hole marshals, all wanting to know where Lefty made his magic. The marshals say about 300 people wandered over to ask them for the exact location. That was Tuesday morning alone. That’s why they put the flag there.

With Mickelson on the course for his practice round later Wednesday, thousands of people are huddled along the ropes near that purple flag, all wondering if Mickelson will wander over and try to repeat the shot.

“Maybe he’ll hit another drive there,” one patron says. “Wouldn’t that be something?”

In fact, Mickelson does blast his tee shot deep into the trees, but this time he’s found the trees on the other side of the fairway, over across the creek. He’s playing his practice round with Fred Couples, Rickie Fowler and reigning U.S. Amateur champ Peter Uihlein.

“Phil’s not going to play it out of there in a practice round,” says one patron.

“He’ll be lucky to find it,” another says.

Moments later, Mickelson is jumping over the creek, where a marshal has found his ball. Then Mickelson’s caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, is throwing a club to Mickelson, who sets up between two giant azalea bushes and punches the ball back into the fairway.

“Wow, I wonder what they’re playing for?” says a patron. “I can’t believe he played that.”

Mickelson marches past the purple flag without even looking at the magical patch of pine straw or the little purple flag.

Though a month ago Mickelson left open the possibility that he might try to repeat the shot in a practice round, he decided against it.

“I didn’t see the point,” Mickelson said. “I’ve already done that.”


Tiger as a coach at the 15th tee . . .

Too far away to hear him with the gallery thick around the tee box, you can see Tiger Woods pointing with his driver as he tutors Arjun Atwal.

Atwal has become a pal to Woods. As fellow Isleworth Country Club members in Windermere, Fla., they play together often. They took a trip together to play Augusta National for one day last week and played it together again Wednesday with Mark O’Meara.

It’s Atwal’s first Masters, and he is reveling in the advanced education Woods is giving him.

“Physically, I can’t do the stuff he does, but the mental side, he’s really, really helped me a lot,” Atwal says. “How to approach a tournament, how to go about practice rounds, this tournament, especially, with ball placement and all that stuff.”


Everyone’s named Skip at the 16th . . .

After Kyung-Tae Kim hit his tee shot into the 16th green, the chants begin.

“Skip . . . Skip . . . Skip.”

That’s not his nickname. It’s what the patrons down there chant at every player who comes through in the practice rounds in an effort to get them to skip a shot across the pond and onto the green.

Kim doesn’t look like a Masters’ rookie at all. After dropping a ball at the foot of the pond, Kim expertly drills a low screamer that hits about 75 yards out in the pond and skips up on the bank, bounces onto the green 30 feet right of the flag, takes the slope in the bowl, turns left, then hard left, and gently rolls dead toward the flagstick. The patrons are howling as he nearly holes the shot, leaving it 3 feet past.

Scott, Chris and Eric Wahlers, three brothers in their 30s from Philadelphia, are loving the scene behind the 16th tee. It’s the first time they’ve ever been to Augusta National. A veteran spectator tells them it’s not the best skip he’s witnessed there. Vijay Singh holed one two years ago.


Euros scheming at the seventh green . . .

England’s Luke Donald reaches the seventh green, where Germany’s Martin Kaymer joins him. Kaymer’s just chipping and putting his way across the course in his Wednesday practice round.

Though Kaymer is the No. 1 player in the world, he tells world No. 4 Donald that he’s picked him as the man to beat this week.

“I must have impressed him,” Donald says.

Donald beat Kaymer 3-and-2 in the finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February.

Though Europeans dominated the Masters with 11 victories in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Euros haven’t won a Masters’ title in a dozen years, since Jose Maria Olazabal claimed his second green jacket in ’99. With five of the top six players in the world rankings this week from Europe, nobody should be surprised to see a Euro end the drought.

After his practice round, Donald credits Ireland’s Padraig Harrington for the recent rise of the Europeans. Donald says Harrington elevated the play of the continent with his three major championships in ’07 and ’08.

“When you are around someone who’s done special things, you’re inspired to believe that if they can do it, you can do it,” Donald said.


Under the oak, Seve’s missed . . .

Under the giant oak tree behind the Augusta National clubhouse, Olazabal says Seve Ballesteros was missed at the traditional Champions Dinner Tuesday night.

But Olazabal says as defending champ and host of the dinner, Mickelson made sure Ballesteros’ presence was felt.

In honor of Ballesteros, a two-time Masters’ winner who is battling cancer, Mickelson offered up Spanish dishes on the menu. Seafood paella and Filete de Res Mignon (tenderloin with smoked paprika demi-glace) were the main dishes. Empanada de Manzana was the dessert with Spanish wine.

“I know the gesture by Phil touched Seve,” Olazabal said. “He obviously appreciated it.

“We talked about Seve. It was emotional and touching.”

Olazabal said Mickelson’s derring-do and short-game magic reminds him of Ballesteros.


The Par 3 Contest . . .

With Arnold Palmer posing over a shot, Jack Nicklaus couldn’t help himself.

“Get off the tee,” Nicklaus cracked. “Stop admiring your shot.”

Palmer, Nicklaus and Gary Player treated the patrons who crowded around the holes at the annual Par 3 Contest to some good humor as they needled their way around the course.

The trio combined to win 13 green jackets.

The reverence for history at Augusta National is on full display in the scenery at Augusta National with patrons embracing the Big Three one more time.

“The three of us are miles beyond our games, but they didn’t care,” Nicklaus said.


Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 3, Tiger Woods

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:45 pm

After returning to competition at the Hero World Challenge in December 2016, Woods started the new year with an ambitious slate of tournament starts as he eyed his first full season since 2013. But he made it only three rounds, looking rusty en route to a missed cut at Torrey Pines before withdrawing abruptly in Dubai.

The “spasms” that led to that withdrawal turned out to be something far more serious, as Woods underwent his fourth and most invasive back surgery in April, a lumbar fusion. It brought with it an extensive rehabilitation, and at the Presidents Cup in September Woods humored the prospect that he might never again play competitive golf.

At Liberty National he also faced some scrutiny for an off-course incident from months prior. In May he was arrested for suspicion of DUI, an incident that produced a startling roadside video of an intoxicated Woods struggling to follow instructions from the arresting officer after driving erratically.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


While he was not drinking at the time, Woods was found to have a mix of several prescription medications in his system, including multiple painkillers. He checked himself into a private drug treatment program in July to address his dependency issues, and in October he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving.

But the incident was barely a memory when Woods again made a return to competition in the Bahamas at the tournament he hosts. This time around he exceeded nearly every expectation, twice shooting 4-under 68 while tying for ninth among the 18-man field. Having re-tooled his swing following fusion surgery, Woods appeared relaxed, happy and healthy while briefly taking the lead during the tournament’s second round.

What lies ahead for Woods in 2018 remains uncertain, as the stop-and-start nature of this past season serves as a cautionary tale. But after a harrowing arrest and another serious surgery, he seems once again focused on his game, intent on chasing down a new crop of elite talent, some of whom are barely more than half his age.

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Article: Players disappointed Woods withdraws from Dubai

Really, again: Tiger undergoes fourth back surgery

Begay on Tiger: Future is 'extremely uncertain'


Woods arrested for DUI, enters diversion program after getting "professional help"

Article: Woods arrested for DUI in May

Article: Police say Woods had 5 drugs in system when arrested

Article: DUI affidavit states Tiger asleep in parked car

Dashcam video released of Tiger's DUI arrest

Begay, Rolfing: Tiger's arrest needs to be wakeup call

Photos: Tiger Woods' car during DUI arrest

Tiger Woods at his 2017 DUI court hearing.

Photos: Tiger Woods in court for DUI hearing

Article: Tiger gets 'professional help' for prescription meds

Tiger Woods at his 2017 DUI court hearing.

Article: Woods pleads in court guilty to reckless driving


Woods goes from unsure of his pro golf future to resuming full golf activities

Article: Doctor clears Woods for full golf activity six months after back surgery

Article: Tiger doesn't know what future holds

Article: Woods back to making full swings

Woods admits he might never return to competition

Making progress: Breaking down Tiger's driver swing


Woods returns to competition for first time since February at Hero World Challenge

Article: Hero comeback a success for healthy Woods

Article: Woods discusses his back: 'No issues at all, none'

Tiger Tracker: Woods finished T-9 in return to competition

Chamblee: 'I was wrong' about some of my Woods skepticism

Tiger, if you were hurting, would you tell us? 'Yeah, I'd tell you'


Woods out and about in 2017

Article: Video, images of Tiger's round with Trump

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Article: Tiger at U.S. Open sitting in Nadal's box

Article: Shirtless Tiger holds up a massive lobster

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

NBC Sports' Coverage of LPGA Tour in 2017 Most-Viewed Season Ever for NBC Sports

By Golf Channel Public RelationsDecember 13, 2017, 8:45 pm

NBC Sports’ LPGA Tour Coverage Ties 2013 for Most-Watched Year Since 2011

NBC and Golf Channel Boast Top-6 Most-Watched Women’s Golf Telecasts in 2017

Beginning with the dramatic playoff finish at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic in January and concluding with Lexi Thompson winning the $1 million Race to the CME Globe, nearly 22 million viewers tuned in to LPGA Tour coverage across Golf Channel and NBC in 2017. This makes 2017 the most-viewed LPGA Tour season across NBC Sports since Golf Channel joined the NBC Sports Group in 2011. Additionally, 2017 tied 2013 as the LPGA Tour’s most-watched year across NBC Sports since 2011. Coverage drew an average of 221,000 viewers per telecast in 2017 (+24% vs. 2016), according to data released by The Nielsen Company.

NBC SPORTS GROUP CLAIMS TOP-6 MOST-WATCHED WOMEN’S GOLF TELECASTS IN ‘17

For the first time ever in televised women’s golf, Sunday’s final round of the RICOH Women’s British Open (Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, 1.1 million viewers) delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast of the year. NBC’s Saturday (Day 2) coverage of the Solheim Cup in August placed second with 968,000 viewers, followed by Sunday’s Solheim Cup coverage on NBC with 946,000 viewers. Golf Channel’s live coverage of Sunday’s final day of the Solheim Cup drew 795,000 viewers, the most-watched women’s golf event on cable in eight years.

Rank

Network

Event

Day

Avg. Viewers P2+

1

NBC

RICOH WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN

Sunday

1,100,526

2

NBC

SOLHEIM CUP

Saturday

968,202

3

NBC

SOLHEIM CUP

Sunday

946,387

4

NBC

KPMG WOMEN'S PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Sunday

839,983

5

NBC

RICOH WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN

Saturday

808,578

6

GOLF

SOLHEIM CUP

Sunday

795,000

ADDITIONAL VIEWERSHIP MILESTONES FOR WOMEN’S GOLF IN 2017

  • ANA Inspiration - The LPGA’s first major championship delivered thefifth most-watched LPGA final round in Golf Channel history with 551,000 viewers when So Yeon Ryu defeated Lexi Thompson in a playoff following Thompson being assessed a four-stroke penalty earlier in the final round.
  • KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – The LPGA’s second major was seen by 6.6 million viewers across Golf Channel and NBC, the largest audience for the event on record (2006-17). Sunday’s final round on NBC, which saw Danielle Kang win her first LPGA Tour event over defending champion Brooke Henderson, also was the most-watched telecast in the event’s history with 840,000 average viewers.
  • RICOH Women’s British Open – NBC’s Sunday coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast in 2017 (.78 U.S. HH rating, 1.1 million viewers). In total, 7 million unique viewers tuned in to coverage across Golf Channel and NBC, the most-watched RICOH Women’s British Open in the past 10 years and the most-watched among the five women’s major championships in 2017.
  • Solheim Cup – Seen by a total audience of 7.3 million viewers across Golf Channel and NBC, the Solheim Cup posted the largest total audience for women’s golf since the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open on ESPN/NBC. Golf Channel’s live coverage of the final day drew 795,000 average viewers, becoming the most-watched women’s golf telecast on cable in the last eight years, since the final day of the 2009 Solheim Cup.

GOLF CHANNEL DIGITAL POSTS RECORD STREAMING CONSUMPTION

Golf Channel Digital posted record numbers of LPGA streaming consumption with 11.9 million live minutes streamed across LPGA Tour telecasts in 2017 (+563% vs. 2016).

  • Solheim Cup – Three-day coverage of the Solheim Cup saw 6.3 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports’ Digital platforms, trailing only the 2016 Rio Olympics (9 million) as the most-ever for a women’s golf event airing on Golf Channel / NBC.
  • RICOH Women’s British Open – Four-day coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open saw 2 million minutes streamed, +773% vs. 2016.

NBC Sports Group combined to air 31 LPGA Tour events in 2017 and a total of 420 hours of coverage, the most in LPGA history. The exclusive cable home to the LPGA Tour, Golf Channel aired coverage of four of five women’s major championships in 2017, with three majors also airing on NBC: the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, RICOH Women’s British Open and The Evian Championship. The biennial Solheim Cup also returned to network television for the first time in 15 years with weekend coverage on NBC.

Source: Nielsen 2017 Live+Same Day DVR vs. prior available data. Persons 2+ avg 000’s and/or Persons 2+ reach w/six-minute qualifier. Digital Metrics from Adobe Reports & Analytics. Details available.

Hensby takes full responsibility for violation

By Rex HoggardDecember 13, 2017, 5:28 pm

The PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program manual covers 48 pages of details, from the pressing to the mundane, but for Mark Hensby the key section of the policy could be found on Page 5.

“The collector may allow you to delay reporting to the testing area for unavoidable obligations; however, you will be monitored from the time of notification until completion of the sample collection process,” the policy reads. “A failure to report to the testing area by the required time is the same as a doping violation under the program.”

Hensby, a 46-year-old former Tour winner from Australia, didn’t read that section, or any other part of the manual. In fact, he said he hasn’t received the circuit’s anti-doping manual in years. Not that he uses that as an excuse.

To be clear, Hensby doesn’t blame his anti-doping plight on anyone else.

“At the end of the day it’s my responsibility. I take full responsibility,” he told GolfChannel.com.

Like Doug Barron, Scott Stallings and even Vijay Singh before him, Hensby ran afoul of the Tour’s anti-doping policy because, essentially, of a clerical error. There were no failed tests, no in-depth investigations, no seedy entourages who sent Hensby down a dark road of performance-enhancing drug use.

Just a simple misunderstanding combined with bad timing.

Hensby, who last played a full season on Tour in 2003, had just completed the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship when he was approached by a member of the Tour’s anti-doping testing staff. He was angry about his play and had just used the restroom on the 17th hole and, he admits, was in no mood to wait around to take the urine test.

“Once I said, ‘Can I take it in the morning,’ [the Tour’s anti-doping official] said, ‘We can’t hold you here,’” Hensby recalled. “I just left.”

Not one but two officials called Hensby that night to ask why he’d declined to take the test, and he said he was even advised to return to the Country Club of Jackson (Miss.) to take the test, which is curious because the policy doesn’t allow for such gaps between notification of a test and the actual testing.

According to the policy, a player is considered in violation of the program if he leaves the presence of the doping control officers without providing the required sample.

A Tour official declined to comment on the matter citing the circuit’s policy not to comment on doping violations beyond the initial disclosure.

A week later, Hensby was informed he was in violation of the Tour’s policy and although he submitted a letter to the commissioner explaining the reasons for his failure to take the test he was told he would be suspended from playing in any Tour-sanctioned events (including events on the Web.com Tour) for a year.

“I understand now what the consequences are, but you know I’ve been banned for a performance-enhancing drug violation, and I don’t take performance-enhancing drugs,” Hensby said.

Hensby isn’t challenging his suspension nor did he have any interest in criticizing the Tour’s policy, instead his message two days after the circuit announced the suspension was focused on his fellow Tour members.

“I think the players need to read that manual really, really well. There are things I wasn’t aware of and I think other players weren’t aware of either,” he said. “You have to read the manual.”

It was a similar message Stallings offered following his 90-day suspension in 2015 after he turned himself in for using DHEA, an anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour.

“This whole thing was a unique situation that could have been dealt with differently, but I made a mistake and I owned up to it,” Stallings said at the time.

Barron’s 2009 suspension, which was for a year, also could have been avoided after he tested positive for supplemental testosterone and a beta-blocker, both of which were prescribed by a doctor for what were by many accounts legitimate health issues.

And Singh’s case, well that chapter is still pending in the New York Supreme Court, but the essential element of the Fijian’s violation was based on his admitted use of deer-antler spray, which contained a compound called IGF-1. Although IGF-1 is a banned substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that the use of deer-antler spray is not a violation if an athlete doesn’t fail a drug test. Singh never failed a test.

The Tour’s anti-doping history is littered with cases that could have been avoided, cases that should have been avoided. Despite the circuit’s best educational efforts, it’s been these relatively innocent violations that have defined the program.

In retrospect, Hensby knows he should have taken the test. He said he had nothing to hide, but anger got the best of him.

“To be honest, it would have been hard, the way I was feeling that day, I know I’m a hothead at times, but I would have probably stayed [had he known the consequences],” he admitted. “You’ve got to understand that if you have too much water you can’t get a test either and then you have to stay even longer.”

Hensby said before his run in with the anti-doping small print he wasn’t sure what his professional future would be, but his suspension has given him perspective and a unique motivation.

“I was talking to my wife last night, I have a little boy, it’s been a long month,” said Hensby after dropping his son, Caden, off at school. “I think I have a little more drive now and when I come back. I wasn’t going to play anymore, but when I do come back I am going to be motivated.”

He’s also going to be informed when it comes to the Tour’s anti-doping policy, and he hopes his follow professionals take a similar interest.