Italy sends record 3 players to the Masters

By Associated PressMarch 26, 2010, 4:51 pm

ROME – While the return of Tiger Woods will be the focus of the Masters, Italian fans will have a different storyline to follow.

For the first time, three Italians have qualified to play at Augusta National next month. Edoardo and Francesco Molinari will become the first brothers to participate in the same Masters since Jumbo and Joe Ozaki in 2000. Also, 16-year-old Matteo Manassero – the British Amateur champion – will become the youngest golfer ever at the Masters.

“Having two professionals plus an amateur is really something historic,” Francesco Molinari said in a recent phone interview from his home in London. “Not that long ago something like this happening was unthinkable.

“There will certainly be more people watching the Masters on TV in Italy, maybe even people who don’t play golf, or are just starting to play. We’re hoping more people become passionate about the sport and start playing golf.”

Golf is a minor and still mostly exclusive sport in Italy, which only last year crossed the threshold of 100,000 players. The only real champion the country has produced is Costantino Rocca, who lost a British Open playoff to John Daly at St. Andrews in 1995 and beat Tiger Woods in a singles match at the 1997 Ryder Cup.

“It’s great to see three Italians playing in a major, especially the Masters,” Rocca told The Associated Press. “It fills me with pride.”

The Molinaris recall watching Rocca play in the final pairing with Woods at the 1997 Masters, which Woods won by 12 shots.

Then the brothers got a firsthand look at Woods when Edoardo played in his first Masters in 2006 as the U.S. Amateur champion, who is traditionally paired with the previous year’s winner for the opening two rounds.

“I have a lot of great memories from that week. The only thing I would have liked to change was my score,” Edoardo – who failed to make the cut – said in an e-mail to the AP. “I’m hoping to do better this year.

“In 2006 I was still an amateur and my game certainly wasn’t at the level it’s at now. It’s really tough to play well the first time there because the course is so difficult and there are some very particular holes that require a lot of experience.”

Francesco caddied for his brother at Augusta in 2006 but has never played Augusta.

“I remember a lot of my brother’s shots from 2006, which could be helpful,” he said.

Francesco also remembers some of Woods’ shots from four years ago. While he was doing his best to help his brother, Francesco was also watching Woods closely.

“For a first-year professional, having the chance to watch Tiger was an incredible experience,” he said. “I learned a lot of things.”

The Masters invites the top 50 in the final world ranking of the year. Francesco finished 2009 at No. 38 and Edoardo was 48.

In November, the Molinaris became the first brothers to win the World Cup of Golf, giving Italy its first title in the team event with a one-stroke victory over Sweden and Ireland in Shenzhen, China.

The victory made the front page of the football-focused national sports newspaper, the Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Becoming world champion in any sport is always something special,” Francesco said. “For everyone – even the people who don’t follow the sport in question.”

The Molinaris’ breakthrough didn’t happen overnight, though, and that stands in sharp contrast to the way Manassero followed up his British Amateur win with a 13th-place finish in the British Open, playing solidly the first two rounds at Turnberry alongside 59-year-old runner-up Tom Watson.

Manassero who won’t turn 17 until eight days after the Masters, meaning he’ll break the previous record for the youngest player at Augusta – Tommy Jacobs, who was 17 years, 1 month, 21 days when he competed in 1952.

“It’s always nice to break records, but I don’t feel any pressure,” Manassero said.

Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, who played his first Masters last year at age 17, saw Manassero in the British Open last year at Turnberry and considers him a “great, great player.” Ishikawa had already won pro events before his first trip to the Masters, but he recalled being excited to be there and expects the Italian teenager to feel the same.

Manassero said he would like to make the cut, although he’s not creating any specific goals for himself. That follows the advice that the 53-year-old Rocca gave him a few weeks ago.

“Manassero is 16 years old, so nobody should tell him he’s got to do well or that he has to win,” Rocca said. “It should be a fantastic experience for him and he should take it seriously, but without any pressure. He should try and learn how to play that course.

“I explained a few things to him. That some holes might require three putts, and that it’s better to use all three, otherwise you’re going to need five.”

Manassero’s naturally low trajectory is a perfect fit for windy links courses, where he’s had his biggest successes so far. Augusta National is the opposite. It is known for its ultra-fast, undulating greens that put a premium on high approach shots.

“I’ve seen him play and he can also hit it high,” Rocca said. “He’s got a real feeling for the ball. Of course he can’t expect to score 10 under or 5 under. Considering this is his first year playing there, he should try and steal some secrets about the course and ask how to play certain greens.”

Manassero will have his national team coach, Alberto Binaghi, as his caddie at Augusta. Tradition will put him with defending champion Angel Cabrera of Argentina the first two days. And who will be the third?

“Tiger maybe. Why not? Or (Phil) Mickelson,” Manassero said.

Even with all the pressure and attention Woods will face in his first tournament back after a sex scandal?

“Sure, there’s no problem – he’s still Tiger,” Manassero said.

After the Masters, Manassero will make his pro debut at the Italian Open in May. Without sponsors for now, he still wears his national golf team shirt, clarifying that it’s not the shirt for Italy’s national football team.

Football, of course, remains Italy’s top sport by a large margin. Come April, though, the Masters is sure to gain some viewers in Italy.

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McCarthy wins Tour Championship by 4

By Associated PressSeptember 24, 2018, 2:14 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Denny McCarthy won the season-ending Tour Championship on Sunday to earn fully exempt PGA Tour status and a spot in the Players Championship.

McCarthy closed with a 6-under 65 for a four-stroke victory over Lucas Glover at Atlantic Beach Country Club. The 25-year-old former Virginia player earned $180,000 to top the 25 PGA Tour card-earners with $255,793 in the four-event Tour Finals.

''It's been quite a journey this year,'' McCarthy said. ''The PGA Tour was tough to start out the year. I stuck through it and got my game. I raised my level and have been playing some really good golf. Just feels incredible to finish off these Finals. So much work behind the scenes that nobody really sees.''

McCarthy finished at 23-under 261.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, closed with a 69. He made $108,000 to finish seventh with $125,212 in the series for the top 75 players from the 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.

Jim Knous earned the 25th and final card from the four-event money list with $41,931, edging Justin Lower by $500. Knous made a 5-foot par save on the final hole for a 71 that left him tied for 57th. Lower missed an 8-footer for birdie, settling for a 69 and a tie for 21st.

''It was a brutal day emotionally,'' Knous said. ''I wasn't quite sure how much my performance would affect the overall outcome. It kind of just depended on what everybody else did. That's pretty terrifying. So I really just kind of did my best to stay calm and inside I was really freaking out and just super psyched that at the end of the day finished right there on No. 25.''

The top-25 finishers on the regular-season money list competed against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. Sungjae Im topped the list to earn the No. 1 priority spot of the 50 total cards.

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LaCava pushed Woods to work on bunker game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 1:52 am

ATLANTA – Last week as Tiger Woods prepared to play the season finale at East Lake he sent a text message to his caddie Joey LaCava that simply asked, what do I need to do to get better?

Although when it comes to Woods his proficiency is always relative, but LaCava didn’t pull any punches, and as the duo completed the final round on Sunday at the Tour Championship with a bunker shot to 7 feet at the last the two traded knowing smiles.

“We had a talk last week about his bunker game and I said, ‘I’m glad you kept that bunker game stuff in mind,’” LaCava said. “I told him he was an average bunker player and he worked at it last week. There were only two bunker shots he didn’t get up-and-down, I don’t count the last one on 18. He recognized that after two days. He was like, ‘What do you know, I’m 100 percent from the bunkers and I’m in the lead after two days.”

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

For the week, Woods got up-and-down from East Lake’s bunkers seven out of nine times and cruised to a two-stroke victory for his first PGA Tour title since 2013. That’s a dramatic improvement over his season average of 49 percent (100th on Tour).

“His bunker game was very average coming into this week,” LaCava said. “I said you’ve got to work on your bunker game. If you had a decent bunker game like the Tiger of old you would have won [the BMW Championship].”

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For Woods, is this only the beginning?

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 1:42 am

If this is Tiger Woods nine months into a comeback, wait until he actually shakes the rust off.

This was supposed to be the year he kicked the tires, to see how his body held up after all those knives digging into his back.

To see if a short game could truly be rescued from chunks and skulls.

To see if a 42-year-old living legend could outfox the kids.

On the final breath of the PGA Tour season, it was Tiger Woods who took ours away.

Playing alongside Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club – and one group behind the current World No. 1 and eventual FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose – Woods bludgeoned the field and kneecapped Father Time. 

It was Dean Smith and the Four Corners offense.  Emmitt Smith moving the chains. Nolan Ryan mowing them down.

And all of a sudden you wonder if Phil Mickelson wishes he’d made alternate Thanksgiving plans.

Even if everybody saw a win coming, it was something else to actually see it happen, to see the man in the red shirt reach another gear just one more time.

Win No. 80 reminded us, as Roger Maltbie once said of Woods when he came back from knee surgery in 2009: “A lot of people can play the fiddle. Only one guy is Itzhak Perlman.”

It wasn’t long ago that Tiger Woods seemed headed toward a disheartening final chapter as a broken man with a broken body.

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

He would host a couple of tournaments, do some great charity work, shout instructions into a walkie talkie at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and call it a career.

There would be no Nicklaus 1986 Masters moment, no Hogan Mystique at Merion.

He would leave competitive golf as perhaps both the greatest to ever play the game and its greatest cautionary tale.

Willie Mays with the New York Mets. Muhammad Ali taking punishment from Larry Holmes.

But then Brad Faxon and Rickie Fowler started whispering at the end of 2017 that Tiger was healthy and hitting the ball hard. 

There was that hold-your-breath opening tee shot at the Hero World Challenge, a bullet that flew the left bunker and bounded into the fairway.

Rollercoaster rides at Tampa and Bay Hill, backward steps at Augusta and Shinnecock, forward leaps at The Open and the PGA.

He switched putters and driver shafts (and shirts, oh my!) and seemed at times tantalizingly close and maddeningly far.

That he even decided to try to put his body and game back together was one of the all-time Hail Marys in golf.

Why go through all of that rehab again?

Why go through the scrutiny of having your current game measured against your untouchable prime?

Because you’re Tiger Woods, is why, because you’ve had way more wonderful days on the golf course than poor ones, despite five winless years on the PGA Tour.

Suddenly, Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins is in jeopardy and Jack Nicklaus, holder of a record of 18 major championships, is at the very least paying attention.

Woods has put the golf world on notice.

It won’t be long until everyone starts thinking about the 2019 major schedule (and you’d better believe that Tiger already is).

The Masters, where he has four green jackets and seven other Top 5 finishes. The PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he won in 2002 by 3. The United States Open at Pebble Beach, where he won in 2000 by 15.

The Open at Royal Portrush, where his savvy and guile will be a strong 15th club.

But that’s a talk for a later date.

Tiger is clearly still getting his sea legs back.

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Nonfactor McIlroy mum after lackluster 74

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2018, 1:04 am

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy didn’t have anything to say to the media after the final round of the Tour Championship, and that’s understandable.

McIlroy began the final round at East Lake three shots behind Tiger Woods. He finished six back.

McIlroy closed in 4-over 74 to tie for seventh place.

In their matchup, Woods birdied the first hole to go four in front, and when McIlroy bogeyed the par-4 fourth, he was five in arrears. McIlroy went on to make three more bogeys, one double bogey and just two birdies.

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy was never a factor on Sunday and ultimately finished tied for 13th in the FedExCup standings.

The two rivals, Woods and McIlroy, shared plenty of conversations while walking down the fairways. On the 18th hole, Woods said McIlroy told him the scene was like the 1980 U.S. Open when people were shouting, “Jack’s back!”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t have the tight pants and the hair,’” Woods joked. “But it was all good.”

It’s now off to Paris for the upcoming Ryder Cup, where Woods and McIlroy will again be foes. It will be McIlroy’s fifth consecutive appearance in the biennial matches, while Woods is making his first since 2012.