Storylines, contenders plentiful Sunday at Masters

By Rex HoggardApril 14, 2013, 12:29 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Turns out the show does go on – for Tiger Woods and the Masters.

In one of the most bizarre rules snafus since Roberto De Vicenzo miscalculated himself into Masters lore, Woods was issued a two-stroke penalty and given metaphorical free relief all before the leaders reached the first tee on Saturday.

Woods, who was penalized for taking an incorrect drop after ricocheting his approach at the par-5 15th hole into the water, began his day with the rules committee at 8 a.m. ET. Nearly six hours later, he teed off despite having signed for an incorrect score thanks to a caveat in the rules.

If, as Nike Golf reasoned after Woods won last month at Bay Hill and regained the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, “winning takes care of everything,” Augusta National proved equally adept as a conversation changer thanks to a collection of classic contenders.

Brandt Snedeker, the hottest player on the planet before the PGA Tour moved east and he was slowed by a muscle injury, and Angel Cabrera, who has also been no stranger to injuries and inconsistent play in recent years, enter the most famous final round in golf tied for the lead at 7 under.

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Both have been in similar situations before – Snedeker in 2008 when he went off in Sunday’s final group, closed with a 77 and tied for third; and Cabrera, who was tied for second – and in the final pairing – going into the last lap in 2011, but faded with a 71.

Both will be trailed by demons into the final round, not to mention a deep leaderboard that includes Woods, Matt Kuchar, Jason Day and Adam Scott all within four strokes of the lead.

In fact, for those with a sense of history, if not a rooting interest, Sunday is shaping up to be historic for Australia. The Aussie duck – duck being a cricket term meaning zero, which is how many green jackets have been won by a player from Oz – may finally, and mercifully, be lifted.

Not since the days of Greg Norman has Australia had numbers like this. Scott, one back after a third-round 69, is alone in third followed by Day, who held a share of the lead for much of the day before finishing with consecutive bogeys and falling to 5 under along with fellow countryman Marc Leishman.

“We were talking about it this morning,” said Day’s caddie/swing coach Col Swatton. “Obviously, Aussies feel a little more pressure, but there always has to be a first time.”

For Cabrera it would be a surprising second time. In 2012, the ’09 Masters champion missed as many cuts (nine) as he made and didn’t post a single top-10 finish. He seemed to turn things around late last year, winning the Argentine Open in December, but had shown little form in the U.S. this season.

That was until this week.

“Last June he knew he wasn’t doing things the right way,” said Charlie Epps, the Argentine’s swing coach. “It’s all mental. Sometimes you get in ruts, life is hard and it’s not fun, but he did what he had to do and he did it well.”

Those odds would suggest the green jacket is headed back to the Southern Hemisphere – or maybe just the South.

Snedeker ramped up for this week’s event just downstate at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort and has played the Georgia gem, either as a competitor or guest, hundreds of times. That he is also one of the game’s top putters is also worth style points in these parts.

“I spent 32 years getting ready for tomorrow,” said Snedeker, who was nearly flawless in his Saturday 69.

Through the first month of the season he was almost as perfect, finishing third, second, second and first in four of his first five events. But after his victory at Pebble Beach he went on the DL with a strained intercostal muscle and missed consecutive cuts when he returned.

That the highlight of his Masters career is his Sunday swoon in 2008 promises to also be a talking point, but five years removed from that emotional Sunday the five-time Tour winner and reigning FedEx Cup champion didn’t sound like a man haunted by Masters memories.

“I had no clue what I was doing in 2008. No idea,” Snedeker said. “I have a complete and clear focus of what I need to do tomorrow.”

So does Woods, although he hasn’t done it in eight years.

They say the Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday. For Woods it almost ended just past Amen Corner on Friday.

Officials initially deemed Woods’ drop on No. 15 during the second round within the rules. It wasn’t until he signed his scorecard and spoke with the media that they realized he’d dropped a few feet from where he took the original shot, which is a violation.

When the dust and speculation settled, Woods received a two-stroke penalty and the Masters took a mulligan, using Rule 33-7 to keep Woods from being disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

“(The rule) is to protect the player when the committee changes its mind,” said Fred Ridley, chairman of the tournament’s rules committee. “The committee makes mistakes some times. I think he’s entitled to protection.”

Woods made the most of the ruling, carding a 2-under 70 that included birdies at Nos. 12, 13 and 15. For the fifth time in the last seven years since he collected green jacket No. 4, Woods begins the final day within the top 10. Or, put another way, he’s exactly where he wants to be.

“As we all know, if you are within six shots on the back nine on Sunday you’ve got a chance,” said Woods, who has won all 14 of his majors with at least a share of the lead going into the last 18 holes. “I’m right there with a good shot to win the tournament.”

And it seems that after a brief detour early Saturday, Augusta National is right on schedule.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x