Westwood on top after Thursday; Sunday the goal

By Rex HoggardApril 6, 2012, 12:17 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – It’s a title Lee Westwood wears almost as well as one of those tailored golf shirts, without even a hint of regret or resentment.

With a monsoon of respect to reigning world No. 1 Luke Donald, Westwood is – by almost every measure – the best active player without a major championship. Just ask Donald.

“Obviously my name would be in the hat. Lee's been around quite a bit and he's obviously had probably more opportunities than I have to win majors,” the Englishman said on Tuesday.

Yet unlike others who have eschewed the title, Westwood seems, if not comfortable, then at least content with his plight, using it as a kind of competitive currency gleaned from the fact that he may not have a Grand Slam to call his own but he sure has been close . . . a lot.

Westwood has finished inside the top 3 in five of his last nine majors, including a runner-up showing at Augusta National in 2010 when he finished three strokes behind Phil Mickelson despite a 2-under 34 on his closing nine.

Wild Day 1 at Augusta National

So if the world’s third-ranked golfer seemed a tad indifferent following his opening 67 on Thursday at the Masters it was by design.

Where others see failure, Westwood embraces opportunity. He didn’t lose the ’10 Masters; Lefty won it. He didn’t blow the 2009 British Open with three bogeys over his final four holes; Stewart Cink simply outlasted the pack.

From these missed opportunities, Westwood has modeled himself a work in progress, a distinction some may not embrace but one he seems comfortable with.

“When you’re in contention and you don’t finish it off you go home and assess what you did wrong, the areas of the game that let me down,” said Westwood, who leads Louis Oosthuizen and Peter Hanson by a stroke. “I do that after every tournament.”

For Westwood, Day 1 was straight out of the ballstriker’s playbook – 16 of 18 greens in regulation, 12 of 14 fairways and, for better or worse, 31 putts. If his status as the world’s best without a major is the ‘what,’ his often-pedestrian putting is the ‘why.’

It is what ultimately drove him to putting guru Phil Kenyon last September and the results have been, if not dramatic, then at least encouraging.

On Thursday, on greens that were slowed – at least by Augusta National standards – by consecutive days of afternoon downpours, Westwood had just one three-putt. He pulled away from the field with consecutive birdie putts of 4, 10, 6 and 1 ½ feet at Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 8, respectively, and made an 8-footer for birdie at the 17th hole to secure his status as overnight frontrunner.

His work with Kenyon has been less mechanical than it has been mental.

“It’s more of the way to practice, just a bit more methodology. He used to not have any structure on the putting green,” said Westwood’s manager Chubby Chandler with International Sports Management.

“He’s always been a fantastic practicer of the long game. You watch him on the range, his practice is real quality. Watch him on the putting green and it’s never been the same quality. What we tried to do is match the quality on the putting green to the quality on the range.”

But if the collective scar tissue of a lifetime of unfulfilled majors isn’t occupying his thoughts, his status as England’s great Augusta National hope likely doesn’t resonate either.

It’s been 16 years since an Englishman won the Masters, a drought that stretches back to 1996 when Nick Faldo won the last of his three green jackets. Not that Westwood seems interested in history lessons at this point.

In fact, if Westwood is influenced by any external forces it may only be the media’s fixation this week on a limited field of contenders. On Tuesday, he was asked about one national magazine’s take that this Masters only had two real contenders – Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

“You know, Rory has never won here. Tiger's not won here since 2005. So I think everybody in this room would have to be naïve to think it was a two-horse race, wouldn't they?” Westwood figured. “There's more. I think (Mickelson) might have a little bit of something to say about that; Luke might; I might.”

If Thursday’s near-flawless card is any indication, he might also finally be ready to shed his status as golf’s best player without a major.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm