Shades of '96: Ecstasy and agony collide at Augusta

By Rex HoggardApril 11, 2016, 1:52 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The guy that said he’d skip the Masters to attend the birth of his first child now has the luxury of never having to miss one.

Zachariah James Willett turned 13 days old on Sunday, the son of Danny and Nicole arriving in time for the pater familias to play the Masters. But with respect to young Zachariah it was another anniversary that the Englishman was mulling just past sunset at Augusta National.

Twenty years ago this week, Greg Norman endured what is widely considered the most shocking collapse in major championship history, losing a six-stroke 54-hole lead with a ghastly Sunday 78.

It was only fitting that the last time the iconic pines were witness to such a collapse it was also an Englishman who emerged to fill the void.

In 1996, Norman went out in 2 over and finally disintegrated when he played Nos. 10-12 in bogey, bogey, double bogey to lose to Nick Faldo.

Given what transpired on that same stretch of turf on Sunday, even the Shark must have cringed watching Jordan Spieth’s implosion.

Spieth missed his approach in the right bunker at the 10th for his second bogey of the day and added his third at the 11th when his drive sailed into the trees right of the fairway. Next, he nearly deposited a sleeve of golf balls into Rae’s Creek at the 12th on his way to a quadruple-bogey 7 at No. 12 to drop from five strokes clear of the field, at the turn, to trailing by three.

Things can change just that quick in an Augusta minute.

“We’re all in shock with what happened to Jordan,” said Faldo, who called Sunday’s action for CBS Sports and is the only other Englishman to win the Masters. “In ’96, you got the sense that Greg was struggling but it was bit by bit.

“What happened to Jordan it was so sudden, just bam. It was 10 minutes of golf. That’s the harshness of it.”

Although that glosses over the fine details of Sunday’s action, it essentially sums up the 80th Masters.

It ignores timely birdie putts converted by Willett at Nos. 13, 14 and 16; a clutch up-and-down from left of the 17th green for par and the flawless drive he roped down the last to finish off a final-round 67 – the same score shot by Faldo in ’96.

And, much like Faldo two decades earlier, it ignores an otherwise brilliant performance by a player few outside of Rotherham, England thought possible until the last hour of action.

Unlike Faldo, Willett wasn’t paired with Spieth on Sunday, but that’s not to say he was unaware of the upheaval three groups behind him.

As the 28-year-old, who was five strokes back with seven holes to play, was walking off the 15th green he heard the first telltale signs of trouble.

“I actually heard everyone groaning and moaning. [Spieth] obviously had a terrible run, 10, 11, 12, which basically put it right back in anyone's hands,” Willett said. “I was waiting for someone to, as a little joke, to put a 7 [under] back up [on the leaderboard]. It was one of those things that hole will do it. It's one of the toughest par 3s in golf.”

For Spieth, this Masters will be remembered as an opportunity lost.

After an opening 66 put him on a collision course with his second trip to Butler Cabin, he struggled through two days of brutal conditions with his first over-par rounds (74-73) in his Masters career, and yet he still found himself in a familiar position.

Spieth finished Day 3 atop the leaderboard – for the eighth time in 11 rounds at Augusta National – and appeared to be destined to become the first player to win back-to-back majors in wire-to-wire fashion when he played the front nine in 4 under par.

With nine holes to play, Spieth’s Masters career appeared to be the stuff of legend – runner-up, victory and another looming victory – and the only option for officials to “Jordan-proof” Augusta National would be to remove the putting portion of the competition.

But that Teflon short game which had saved him all week slowly slipped away. Spieth missed an 8-footer for par at the 11th hole and failed to limit the damage after sending his fifth shot into a bunker at No. 12.

“At one point I told Mike [Greller, his caddie], I said, ‘Buddy, it seems like we're collapsing,’” said Spieth, who finished with a 73 to tie for second place with Lee Westwood, three strokes behind Willett. “I wanted to be brutally honest with the way I felt towards him, so that he could respond with what was necessary to get us to rebound.”

Spieth attempted to rebound with birdies at Nos. 13 and 15, and he had 13 feet for birdie at the 16th hole to cut Willett’s lead to one, but missed.

It’s true, he missed.

A young career defined by clutch putting has now been dealt its first dose of adversity, and in the emotional moments after his round Spieth sensed as much.

“This one will hurt,” Spieth said as his eyes welled up with tears. “It’s going to take a while.”

Spieth wasn’t the only one stinging on Sunday.

Per the traditional order of things, the second nine proved to be the pivotal give and take of this Masters – unfortunately by the time many of the would-be winners rounded the turn their chances had already faded.

Dustin Johnson four-putted the fifth hole for a double-bogey 6 to drop six strokes back, and Jason Day bogeyed the same hole and turned at even par on his way to a closing 73.

The same could be said for Rory McIlroy, whose bid to complete the career Grand Slam will have to wait another calendar after the Northern Irishman posted six bogeys and tied for 10th place.

Spieth, however, will endure the most scar tissue from this Masters.

The world No. 2 played the first nine under par each day, but was 9 over par the final three days over the closing loop. On Saturday, when he closed bogey, double bogey, he appeared stunned. After closing with a 41 on Sunday he appeared shell shocked.

“I had my B‑minus game tee to green, and I made up for it around the greens with my putter,” Spieth conceded. “Ultimately, you just have to have your A game every single shot, and I just didn't have those iron swings, as it showed on the back nine.”

Much like Faldo in ’96, Willett will have a vastly different memory of Sunday’s closing hours. That’s the thing with collapses: they always come with an equal amount of celebration for someone else.

In 13 days Willett’s life has vastly changed, first with the early arrival of Zachariah, whose original due date was Sunday, and now a lifetime date with Augusta National.

“I'm not quite sure which is better, this day or last Tuesday,” Willett said. “They are very, very, very close. I don't know which one I should say to be politically correct.”

Much like his decision to not play the Masters if his son wasn’t born in time, he no longer has to make that choice.

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.