A Masters of Fate and Fortune

By Rich LernerApril 14, 2011, 12:02 am
AUGUSTA, Ga. – The tinkling piano strains had barely faded from the traditional CBS open when Tiger Woods turned the final round of the 75th Masters into a full-blown rock opera; the Phantom no more.

And while Tiger got going, the kid got stage fright.

Gary Player wisely cautioned in an appearance on “Live From” more than two hours before the last pairing teed off that it’s what’s inside a player that wins majors. He said we wouldn’t know about Rory McIlroy until late in the afternoon, when there’s nowhere to hide, not even between the cabins far from view at No. 10.

Through 54 holes it had all looked so good. The endless and desperate search for a new love to replace Tiger appeared to be at an end. Rory was a perfect match. He’s nice and not threatening. He signs autographs and amiably handles interviews. And he’d arrive just as Tiger did, at 21 clad triumphantly in a green jacket.

Sadly, even pathetically, there will not be another Tiger. Rory, gifted as he is, turns out to be another in a long line of young hopefuls who must suffer and learn.

Adam Scott knows. He was Rory once. Now he’s the Masters champion. Alright, he’s not the Masters winner, but in just about any other year, 12 under with birdies at 14 and 16 and a clutch par putt at 17 is good enough to win.

Birdies at 17 and 18 to finish 12 under are usually good enough to win. Jason Day didn’t.

Five birdies in a row from 12 through 16 to get to 10 under are usually good enough to win. Geoff Ogilvy didn’t.

An all time chip-in three at the 72nd hole to get to 10 under is usually good enough to win. Luke Donald didn’t.

That’s because Charl Schwarztel uncorked a closing stretch as remarkable as any in history. If Woods or Phil Mickelson had done the same, there’d be no debate. The 2011 Masters would’ve instantly been labeled the best Masters ever. Yes, better than 1986, which is still my favorite because it was the greatest Sunday by the greatest player and no one saw it coming. But this one isn’t far behind.

Guys invariably spit the bit, choke, come unglued at majors and more are lost than won. But Sunday from the opening bell was an epic display of clutch and scintillating golf by a half-dozen players on a golf course perfectly set up for a battle royal.

TIGER WOODS: Tiger has delivered two moments since his world unraveled in November 2009 where you thought, “that’s it, that’s old Tiger, he’s back.”

The first was the three-wood he sent out over the Pacific Ocean and carved back to Pebble’s 18th green on Saturday of the U.S. Open last year.

The second was the eagle at No. 8 Sunday at the Masters. And in that instant, you remember that this is what Tiger was put on this planet to do. Not to be the nicest guy in the room or the one who signs the most autographs, but the guy who ignites a fury you feel in football, letting loose that maniacal scream and the vicious right-hand fist chop that could’ve dropped George Foreman in his prime.

And then he buried the par putt on the ninth. He’d eviscerated the 7-shot deficit. Just like Old Tiger.

But as colleague Brandel Chamblee pointed out, New Tiger has demons like every other golfer, those demons that were once scared witless of Old Tiger and didn’t dare knock on his door. Old Tiger doesn’t three-putt the 12th. He might pull the 7-iron at 13, but Old Tiger finds a way to get it up and down for birdie.

Old Tiger never, ever misses the putt for eagle at 15.

So in 18 holes we witnessed this battle between Old and New Tiger. Yes, he can still will the ball into the hole. He still possesses the insane talent needed to hit the second shot to eight, to shoot 31 going out with a bogey. But on the second nine he struggled to make crucial putts. He didn’t have the signature supreme confidence to finish it off.

As for the post-round interview in which Tiger short-answered the CBS reporter, some people wondered why he has to be so coldhearted. It’s because he’s never learned to switch off the competitive burn, especially when he’s running as hot as he was having blown the Masters. And some of the best ever were also the toughest, most hard-boiled customers – Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Ray Floyd, Tom Watson, Curtis Strange, Hale Irwin and Jack Nicklaus. Yes Jack. Barbara softened Jack.

There aren’t a whole lot of sweethearts at the top of the heap in sports. Michael Jordan could be nasty. Arrogance can be appealing when it’s backed up.

Could Tiger use a week in charm school? Maybe. But he’d probably skip it to work on his putting.

In any event, the galleries at Augusta didn’t appear to be as hung up on getting warmth from Tiger. They wanted heat, the kind of scorched earth heat that he generates when he’s playing explosive golf. Who doesn’t want to watch a great athlete at his best?

He’s not there yet, but he’s getting closer.

RORY MCILROY: Rory’s collapse was the most crushing since Greg Norman blew a 6-shot lead in 1996. And like Greg, Rory handled the embarrassment with admirable grace. He didn’t pout or duck the press.

As a result, Rory is a sympathetic figure. Crowds will pull for him as fervently as they pulled for Phil through all his travails.

True, Sergio once had the public’s affection at 21, but eventually became a brooding sort. Could the same happen to Rory? You never know, but at present Rory gives off a vibe of being humble and likeable.

Will Rory win majors? Sergio is now 30 and hasn’t, and we were sure at 21 he would. We do now know Rory’s not the next Tiger because Tiger would never have shot 80 at 21. Tiger ran away and hid at 21.

True, Rory is supremely talented. But Rory is now scarred and flawed. Of course, so too was Tom Watson. He blew the 1974 U.S. Open at Winged Foot with a final-round 79 and went on to win eight majors. Hogan almost quit the game before winning nine.

CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Not unlike other major winners over the last few years, Charl Schwarztel wasn’t the popular guy that everyone wanted. He wasn’t in the original script just as many of the recent major winners weren’t. Stewart Cink instead of Tom Watson at the 2009 British Open, Lucas Glover instead of Phil Mickelson or David Duval at the 2009 U.S. Open and Martin Kaymer instead of Dustin Johnson at last year’s PGA Championship all immediately come to mind.

And invariably when someone does win a major, we’re quick to suppose that the floodgates will open and he’ll win multiple majors. But Davis Love III, David Duval, David Toms, Jim Furyk, Michael Campbell, Glover and Cink are all stuck on one major.

Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Kaymer and now Schwartzel are the latest meteors who may or may not stick. It’s getting harder because the pool of potential major winners is so deep and they’re coming from just about every corner of the globe. When China’s investment in golf begins to bear fruit in another decade or so, it will be even tougher.

Golf is, as you’ve heard repeatedly, unquestionably wide open.

Wide open was never more wildly entertaining than it was at the 2011 Masters.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.