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.

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”