Augusta National Set for the Masters

By Associated PressApril 5, 2004, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Augusta National is rarely as peaceful as the Sunday before the Masters.
 
Charles Howell III, Scott Verplank and Chad Campbell were among several players who took in a casual practice round while mingling with the members, the last day Augusta National looks more like a private golf club than the site of the first major championship.
 
No fans. No cameras. No pressure.
 
'It's a bit weird,' Howell said. 'You think about this tournament all year long. That's the one good thing about playing the Sunday before, because it has quite hit you yet. Then you come out here Monday and see 30,000 people for a practice round, and it's hits you pretty hard.'
 
If Sunday was any indication, the anticipation for this Masters will be higher than ever.

Framed by a brilliant blue sky, the setting sun cast tall shadows by the end of the day, a gorgeous weather pattern that is expected to continue until the green jacket is awarded a week from now.
 
The ground felt firm to the foot. The greens already were lightning quick.
 
The Masters has not had these kind of dry, firm conditions since the fabled golf course was revamped two years ago, adding some 300 yards to put a higher premium on accuracy off the tee.
 
Maybe the length won't be that big of a deal if the ball rolls forever once it lands. Maybe the greens will be impossible to hold if they are as hard as bricks come Thursday.
 
No one really knows.
 
'If it stays dry like this, it will be a lot different,' said Verplank, one of the shorter hitters. 'I think it will bring a lot more people into the tournament. It gives a guy like me a better chance to get the ball down the fairway.'
 
Tiger Woods has been predicting a winning score of around even par in dry, fast conditions.
 
Ernie Els raised his eyebrows when asked recently about baked greens and swirling winds.
 
'We haven't seen the course dry since all the changes in length,' he said. 'Hopefully, we won't.'
 
Adding to the drama, as if Augusta National needs any, is the unusually high number of players who are on top of their games coming into the first major.
 
There have been 14 winners in 14 tournaments this year, although two of them - Heath Slocum at Tucson and Zach Johnson in the BellSouth Classic down the road in Atlanta on Sunday - did not qualify for the Masters.
 
Woods, Els, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and defending champion Mike Weir all have won this year, while Campbell and Adam Scott have shown they are ready to start contending in the majors.
 
There could be a spectacular showdown this week among the top players.
 
Or, it could be a matter of survival.
 
'The greens already are extremely fast, and a slight shade of blue,' Howell said. 'I'm sure as the week goes on, they may turn to a nice shade of brown, which means they will get faster and harder. It will be neat to see it that way. I've just seen it dark green.'
 
Rain has been a fixture at Augusta National since the changes for the 2002 tournament. Woods crushed his opposition that year, watching them trip over themselves in a reckless pursuit of his lead. He won at 12-under 276.
 
Last year, rain washed out the first round Thursday, and players had to squeeze in 54 holes over two days. It dried out by the weekend, and Weir beat Len Mattiace in a playoff after both finished at 7-under 281.
 
Scores figure to be even higher if the contoured greens become harder to hold.
 
'You're going to have to use a lot of imagination, more than if it's softer,' Howell said. 'Because then, you just blast your driver, hit iron in there, go at a lot more flags. When it's firm and fast, you have to have a lot more discipline and a lot more imagination.'
 
Most players believed after the 2002 changes that the field of potential winners narrowed even more. A long course figured to suit the long hitters, especially in soft conditions, although that theory took a hit last year.
 
Weir is not short off the tee, although no one would mistake him for a power player. Mattiace ranked 153rd in driving distance last year on the PGA Tour, although he turned in a Nicklausian charge on the back nine to shoot 65 and get into the playoff.
 
Verplank believes the changes brought more guys into the mix, and firm conditions will only add to the number.
 
'You've got to hit a straight tee ball,' said Verplank, who was 173rd in driving distance last year but was 23rd in driving accuracy. 'You wouldn't think having extra length would help a guy like me. But I had never made a cut here until they lengthened the golf course and made it harder than hell.
 
'I finished around 40th two years ago, and then I go 5 under on the weekend and finish in the top 10.'
 
Both know better than to make any predictions - whom it might favor, what kind of score it takes to win. About the only thing anyone can agree upon is that it won't be easy.
 
Related links:
  • Full Coverage - The Masters Tournament
  • Masters Photo Gallery
  • Tee Times
  • Arnold Palmers 50th Masters
     
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    Rose tries to ignore scenarios, focus on winning

    By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:59 am

    ATLANTA – No one has more to play for than Justin Rose on Sunday at the Tour Championship.

    The Englishman will begin the day three strokes behind front-runner Tiger Woods after a third-round 68 that could have been much worse after he began his day with back-to-back bogeys.

    Winning the tournament will be Rose’s top priority, but there’s also the lingering question of the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus, which he is currently projected to claim.


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    “The way I look at tomorrow is that I have many scenarios in play. I have the FedExCup in play. I have all of that to distract me,” Rose said. “But yet, I'm three back. I think that's my objective tomorrow is to come out and play good, positive golf and try and chase down the leader and win this golf tournament. I think in some ways that'll help my other task of trying to win the FedExCup. It'll keep me on the front foot and playing positive golf.”

    Although there are many scenarios for Rose to win the season-long title, if Woods wins the Tour Championship, Rose would need to finish fifth or better to claim the cup.

    There’s also the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to consider. Rose overtook Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world with his runner-up finish at the BMW Championship two weeks ago. He will retain the top spot unless Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Johnson win the finale and he falls down the leaderboard on Sunday.

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    McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods

    By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:29 am

    ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.

    Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.

    “I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”


    Projected FedExCup standings

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    For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.

    The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.

    McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.

    “I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”

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    Glover trails Straka at Web.com Tour Championship

    By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2018, 12:19 am

    ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Web.com Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.

    With the top 25 earners in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.

    ''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''

    Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Web.com Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.

    ''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''


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    Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.

    ''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''

    Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.

    McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.

    The series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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    Woods' dominance evokes an old, familiar feeling

    By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:14 am

    ATLANTA – It felt so familiar – the roars, the fist pumps, the frenzied scramble to keep up with a leaderboard that was quickly tilting in Tiger Woods’ direction.

    For the handful of players who were around when Woods made a mysterious and maddening game seem simple, it was like old times, times that weren’t necessarily good for anyone not named Tiger.

    “I’m kind of nostalgic,” admitted Paul Casey, who turned pro in 2000, when Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes, one of his nine PGA Tour victories that year.

    Casey’s 66 on Day 3 at the Tour Championship vaulted him into a tie for sixth place, but as the Englishman quickly vetted the math he knew those numbers were nothing more than window dressing.

    “Sixty-four is my best on a Sunday which puts me at 11 [under], so if he’s 12 I need to shoot my career best in the final round and he needs to do something very un-Tiger-like,” Casey laughed. “I think I’m just posturing for position.”

    Casey wasn’t giving up. In fact, given that he outdueled Woods earlier this year to win the Valspar Championship he could have hedged his comments and left the door cracked however slightly. But he’s seen, and heard, this too many times to allow competitive necessity to cloud reality.

    On Saturday at East Lake, Tiger Woods was his best version. Throughout this most recent comeback he’s offered glimpses of the old guy, the guy whose name atop a leaderboard echoed through locker rooms for the better part of two decades. After starting the day tied for the lead with Justin Rose, Tiger quickly separated himself from the pack with a birdie at the first.

    He added another at the third and by the time he birdied the seventh hole, his sixth birdie of the day, he’d extended that lead to five shots and was sending an unmistakable message that reached well beyond the steamy confines of East Lake.


    Projected FedExCup standings

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    Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    This was what so many had waited for. This was the Tiger that Casey and others grew up dreading, a machine that never misses iron shots and makes clutch putts look like tap-ins.

    “The crowds were electric,” said Rose, who was paired with Woods. “He was running the tables there. He was hitting good shots and making the conversion putts.”

    Woods did come back to earth after his blistering start, playing his final 10 holes in 1 over par, but that did little to change the mood as the season moved to within 18 holes of the finish line.

    He would finish with a round-of-the-day 65 for a three-stroke lead over Rose and Rory McIlroy. The next closest players were a dozen strokes back, including Casey at 5 under par who didn’t need to be reminded of Woods’ 54-hole conversion rate.

    There are no guarantees in sports but Tiger with a 54-hole lead has been about as close to a lock as one will find this side of Las Vegas. He’s 42-for-44 when going into the final round with the outright lead and the last time he blew a 54-hole lead was at the 2009 PGA Championship.

    Of course, he hasn’t had a 54-hole lead since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Truth is, he hasn’t had much of anything since ’13 when his dominance was sidetracked by an ailing back. As intimidating as Woods’ play has been this week there was an unmistakable sense of, let’s call it curiosity.

    Asked if Woods’ lead felt different than it may have a decade ago, Rose’s response was telling. “Maybe,” he allowed after a pause. “It's a little more unknown now. Obviously his history, his statistics from this point are impeccable. They're incredible. But he's human, and there's a lot on it for him tomorrow, as well as the rest of us.”

    Rose wasn’t trying to trick himself into thinking the impossible was possible, although many have when they’ve found themselves in similar positions, it was simply the truth. Woods has had multiple chances this season to complete the comeback and he’s come up short each time.

    It was a poor iron shot off the 72nd tee at the Valspar Championship and an even worse drive a week later at Bay Hill’s 16th hole. It was a misplayed chip late on the back nine at The Open and a collection of missed putts at the PGA Championship, although in his defense it’s unlikely anyone could have caught Brooks Koepka at Bellerive.

    Nor was Rose being disrespectful. It’s simple math, really, and Woods’ body of work to this point, although wildly impressive considering how far he’s come in 12 months both physically and competitively, paints a clear picture. Given multiple chances to break through the victory ceiling he’s failed to deliver the way he did before injury and multiple back procedures.

    “I've felt very comfortable when I got into the mix there at Tampa even though it was very early in my start to this year. And because of that, I felt comfortable when I got to Bay Hill, (and) when I grabbed the lead at The Open Championship,” Woods said. “Things that didn't really feel abnormal, even though it's been years, literally years, since I've been in those spots, but I think I've been in those spots enough times that muscle memory, I guess I remembered it, and I felt comfortable in those spots.”

    In many ways the script couldn’t have been written any better for Woods. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs and the bases are loaded for the 14-time major champion. Hero time, his time.

    He’s been here so many times in his career and succeeded more times than not, and this new, reimagined version has the ultimate chance to complete what would arguably be the greatest comeback in sports history.

    The ultimate test still remains, but for 18 holes on Saturday it felt so familiar.