Crenshaw winding down long, emotional Masters journey

By Rex HoggardApril 8, 2015, 7:56 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – In the spring of 1972 Ben Crenshaw was poised to play his first Masters when he received an immediate introduction to the Augusta National way.

“I had pretty long hair and [chairman Clifford] Roberts just reeled me in,” Crenshaw recalled earlier this week.

“He was talking to me and he had a great monotone voice. And he said, ‘You know, Ben, Texans have done really well in this tournament. Jackie Burke, Jimmy Demaret, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan.’ He said, ‘I’ve spent a lot of time in Texas. Sold a few oil leases. Sold some clothes down on the coast.’ He goes, ‘By the way, we have a barbershop on the grounds.’ Just like that. It was great. I went immediately and Mr. Johnson was the barber.”

Forty-four springs have passed since that wide-eyed 20-year-old amateur first drove down Magnolia Lane. And yet as Crenshaw embarked this week on his swansong tour of the course that has defined his career, he was still learning lessons about the former fruit nursery.

All the nuances, all the subtle strategies of a golf course that continually evolves while maintaining a sense of self, is what has inspired Crenshaw for more than four decades.

“You're required to do so much on this golf course,” he said. “You're required to think. I've always thought that you cannot win this tournament playing safe. You've got to take chances.”

Crenshaw announced last April that this would be his final Masters, figuring on Tuesday when he spoke with the media, “I've probably stayed too long.”

For the 63 year old, the new Augusta National is simply too much golf course and he’s failed to make a cut at the Masters since 2007. So, like the place that means so much to him, he is stepping down in subtle style.

There were no tears when he spoke with the media – although it seems likely they will come when he makes his final stroll up the 18th fairway, whenever that occurs.

Like the other former champions, Crenshaw is a direct connection to the game’s past.

In 1972, when Crenshaw made his debut, Thursday’s honorary starters were Jock Hutchison and Freddie McLeod. He watched Jack Nicklaus win his final Masters in 1986 and Woods win his first in ’97.

He’s also made a good share of his own history amid the azaleas and dogwoods.

Crenshaw clipped Tom Watson by two shots in 1984 for his first green jacket, but it was that second victory in ’95 that has established itself as one of the most memorable Masters moments.

On the eve of that tournament Crenshaw was back home in Austin, Texas, to attend the funeral of Harvey Penick, who first taught Gentle Ben the game at 6 years old.

Twenty-four hours later an admittedly emotional Crenshaw teed off with few, if any, expectations. He was fresh off missing the cut in three of his last four events and hadn’t broken 70 in two months on the PGA Tour. And, of course, there was the loss of Penick, which weighed heavily on him.

But with Carl Jackson on the bag, his caddie for all but four of his Masters starts, Crenshaw took a share of the 54-hole lead and birdied two of his last three holes for one-stroke victory over Davis Love III.

Following the final putt he collapsed in Jackson’s arms, his face in his hands and his emotions, as they always are, on his sleeve.

“Harvey was like a second father, and a wonderful teacher and a great person. To have played that well that week is beyond my comprehension,” Crenshaw recalled.

“I didn't harbor any thoughts about winning the tournament that week until I got into the tournament and started playing well, and my confidence got up. But to have won my favorite tournament for his memory will always be my best moment.”

Crenshaw taught generations how to play Alister MacKenzie’s gem, and not just Jordan Spieth and Brandt Snedeker, who have become frequent practice round partners over the years.

“That was the message to me,” said Nick Faldo when asked about Crenshaw’s legacy. “It’s not the highlight holes, it’s gutting out putts and shots that miss the highlight reel like he did in ’95.”

On Wednesday, Crenshaw tested the waters of a ceremonial golfer, replacing Arnold Palmer, who has been slowed recently by a dislocated shoulder, in the traditional group with Nicklaus and Gary Player in the Par 3 Contest.

Augusta National chairman Billy Payne also suggested that the club has something special planned for Crenshaw’s farewell, “I suspect we will see a very nice ending to Ben's round. I don't want to give away anymore secrets.”

In a rare moment of uncertainty for a man who has become the definition of conviction, Crenshaw was asked what he will do after this final turn at Augusta National.

Following a few moments of uncertainty he finally allowed, “Might just find a place in the grandstands on 15 and just sit there, I don't know.”

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – 

Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

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Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.

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Mickelson 'displeased' with iron play; 10 back

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:18 am

All of Phil Mickelson’s offseason work on his driver has paid off through two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

His iron play? Not as sharp, and it’s the reason why he heads into the weekend 10 shots off the lead.

“I’ve been pretty pleased, overall, with the way I’ve been driving the ball, and very displeased with the way my iron game has been,” said Mickelson, who shot 68 Friday on PGA West’s Nicklaus course. He has hit only 21 of 36 greens so far this week. “Usually my iron play is a lot better than what it’s been. So I’ll go work on it and hopefully improve each round in this tournament and build a solid foundation for the upcoming West Coast events.

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“I feel like if I continue to drive the ball the way I am, and if I got my iron play back to my normal standard, I should have the results that I’ve been expecting.”

Mickelson, of course, is always bullish this time of year, but he has been able to find 10 of 14 fairways each of the past two rounds, including at narrower La Quinta Country Club, which doesn’t always fit his eye.

“This is actually the best I’ve driven it in a lot of years,” he said.

Currently in a tie for 67th, Mickelson will need a solid round on the more difficult Stadium course Saturday to ensure that he makes the 54-hole cut. He hasn’t missed a cut in his first West Coast event of the new year since 2009.