First Impressions

By Randall MellApril 8, 2010, 12:27 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – They’ve left their footprints all over Augusta National without playing the course.

Now they want to leave their marks here.

They want to make history at the Masters.

Brian Gay, Francesco Molinari and Bill Haas are among 17 players who will be teeing it up Thursday in their first Masters. All three of them enjoyed up-close-and-personal introductions to the venue that didn’t include hitting shots. They’re hoping their unique connections to the place will help them join Fuzzy Zoeller as the only players to win the Masters the first time they played it (outside, of course, Horton Smith, who won the inaugural event in 1934).

Gay, 38, a three-time PGA Tour winner, spent a formative part of his youth growing up in Louisville, Ga., 40 miles south of Augusta. His mother is a native Georgian. He believes he was 9 years old when his parents took him to his first Masters. He’ll never forget asking Andy Bean for an autograph at the second tee box during a practice round and Bean waving him out onto the course to sign it.

Molinari, 27, joins his older brother, Edoardo, 29, as the first brother tandem to play the Masters since Jumbo and Joe Ozaki played together 10 years ago. The Italian siblings are close. They won the World Cup together last year. When Edoardo claimed a spot in the 2006 Masters after winning the U.S. Amateur, Francesco caddied for him. It was a special experience given they played with Tiger Woods for the first two rounds with Woods as defending champ.

Haas, 27, will become the fifth member of his extended family to play in the Masters. By winning the Bob Hope Classic in January, Haas earned his Masters invite. He joins his father, Jay, his uncles Jerry Haas and Dillard Pruitt, and his great uncle, 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby, in the family line of Masters participants.

For Gay, this Masters is a hard-earned reward. He made it via four different qualifying categories. He made it as a Tour winner last year, through his world ranking, through his Tour Championship appearance and through his place among the top 30 on the final PGA Tour money list last season.

“It’s great, because I’ve missed it almost every way you can miss it,” Gay said.

Twice, Gay missed qualifying for the Masters by one spot on the PGA Tour money list.

“Missed by a couple dollars, really,” Gay said.

The Masters used to invite the U.S. Walker Cup team, but Gay made the team after Augusta National officials dropped the custom.

Gay came one match victory away from earning his way to the Masters through the U.S. Amateur.

“It’s exciting to make it,” Gay said. “Being from the south, growing up in the area, being the first tournament I ever went to see, the Masters was always the tournament for me.”

The downside this week is that Gay tweaked a back injury on the practice range, but he’s playing through it. He’s even writing a diary for the Augusta Chronicle.

Francesco Molinari earned his way to the Masters by making the top 50 in the world rankings at the end of last year. His brother, Edoardo, earned his second trip by also cracking the top 50. Francesco’s currently No. 41 in the world, Edoardo No. 35.

“We both wanted to be here together one day, and now we’re here and we are both playing quite well,” Francesco said. “It’s really a dream come true.”

They both arrive with momentum. Francesco tied for fourth at the European Tour’s Andalucia Open in his last start with Edoardo tying for second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in his.

Francesco has been motivated to make it here ever since he caddied for Edoardo in that ’06 Masters. He wasn’t just inspired by his brother. He was inspired watching Woods play alongside his brother. Edoardo laughs at the memory of Francesco on his bag during any pause in play.

“I would look over, and I would see Francesco with a golf club in his hand, imagining he was hitting a shot,” Edoardo said. “I think he has a lot of fond memories of that Masters that will help him here.”

Haas is on familiar turf. His father, Jay, played in 22 Masters. Bill thinks he was 6 or 7 the first time he came with his father to watch a Masters. He caddied for his father here when he was in high school.

“I was here pretty much every year he made it when I was growing up,” Bill said. “I have a bunch of memories watching him play. It’s a dream come true to play here, but, honestly, I don’t know if I really dreamed it for myself as a kid. I always dreamed of my father winning it and didn’t think much about even playing in it.”

This special trio will be looking to strengthen their unique connections to the course in their first Masters.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

Getty Images

Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.