Masters Turning into the Tiger and Phil Show

By Associated PressApril 3, 2007, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Daybreak at Augusta National brought together the two most prominent figures at the Masters, the first showdown of the week between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
OK, so it was only Tuesday. And it lasted only a split second.
Woods showed up on the first tee and looked back toward the putting green in Mickelson's direction.
Tiger Woods and Mark O
Tiger Woods played with 1998 champion Mark O'Meara Tuesday. (WireImage)
'Let's go,' he said.
He was talking, of course, to Mark O'Meara, who picked up his golf balls and joined his buddy for a practice round.
It is easy to exaggerate the rivalry of Woods and Mickelson, especially at the Masters. Snapshots on late Sunday afternoon the last few years have been Mickelson slipping the green jacket on Woods, or vice versa. And while there are 97 players in this year's tournament, at times it seems as though there are only two.
Woods won in 2001 -- oddly enough, the only time he has played with Mickelson in the final group at the Masters -- and in 2002. Mickelson won his first major at the Masters in 2004. Woods answered with a playoff victory in 2005, Mickelson won in a walk in 2006.
It is reminiscent of the early 1960s, when Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus traded green jackets.
'I hope not,' Mickelson said, 'because that would mean what I don't want it to mean this week.'
Woods is favored to continue the cycle this week based on recent history outside of the Masters. He already has won twice this year, in the Buick Invitational and the CA Championship at Doral, and he is going for his third straight major championship.
The days leading up to the opening round Thursday are mostly about memories, not only of his 12-shot victory 10 years ago when Woods became the youngest Masters champion, but all the putts he missed last year in a desperate attempt to win one for his ailing father, who died three weeks after the tournament.
'Last year was a lot more difficult than I was letting on, because I knew that was the last tournament he was ever going to watch me play,' Woods said. 'I just wanted to win one for his last time, and didn't get it done, and it hurt quite a bit.'
Happier memories come from 10 years ago, when he walked into his father's arms after a watershed moment in golf. Woods obliterated the course and his competition, finishing at 18-under 270, a score that probably won't be touched for a long time considering how much Augusta National has been super-sized since then (from 6,925 yards to 7,445 yards).
Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus saw it coming after a practice round with Woods the year before, Woods' last as an amateur.
'We both marveled at the way he was playing, and how good we thought he was,' Palmer said. 'Let's just be up front about it. He hasn't disappointed us. If he puts his whole life into the future of his game like he has to this point, there's no telling what he might do.'
Mickelson, however, presents a serious obstacle to Woods at Augusta National, if he is not already an equal.
Woods is 2-up in green jackets, but Mickelson has a more consistent record over the last 10 years. Lefty hasn't finished out of the top 10 at the Masters since 1998, while Woods has had three years since that year when he never seriously contended.
Proof for Mickelson came in 2003, his worst season on the PGA TOUR. He still only finished two shots behind.
'It's certainly a course that I feel comfortable on and have played well here, whether I've played well going in or not,' Mickelson said. 'I remember in '03, I was playing terrible and was able to finish third. And when I've entered it playing well, like last year, I've been able to win. It's a course I feel very good on.
'But so does Tiger,' he quickly added. 'He plays this course very well. He's very tough to beat out here.'
It's hard to take inventory of Mickelson's game at this point. He was unstoppable at Pebble Beach, where he missed only one fairway in the final round. He was leading at Riviera until a bogey on the 18th hole, which led to a playoff loss to Charles Howell III.
Mickelson played a practice round two weeks ago and, despite missing putts inside 15 feet on the last three holes, shot 65. He ate lunch, played nine holes in the afternoon and shot 31. But at Doral and Bay Hill, his scoring suffered.
Woods has not been unbeatable in recent weeks. Sure, he won for the third straight year at Torrey Pines (his seventh straight PGA TOUR victory) and for the third straight year at Doral, but his putting cost him at Dubai, Bay Hill and Match Play.
His biggest concern at Augusta National, naturally, is with the flat stick.
'I just have to get the speed of these a little bit better,' he said. 'They have changed every day. Come Thursday, they are always a little bit different. They just turn the vacuums on these greens and suck all the moisture.'
As much as Woods and Mickelson have dominated the Masters this decade (for trivia buffs, it was Mike Weir who interrupted their reign by winning in 2003), they rarely go head-to-head. The only occasion was in 2001, when Woods won by two.
Of the U.S. majors, the Masters has the most players who have won at least three times -- Nicklaus, Palmer, Woods, Gary Player, Nick Faldo, Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret.
'Once you figure it out, you see the same guys up there at the top of the board,' Woods said. 'Phil has been up there many a times, and once he won a few years ago, all of a sudden it gave him the confidence to do it again last year.'
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    Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

    By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

    There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

    Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

    She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

    It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

    Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

    "It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

    Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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    Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

    By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

    Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

    “I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

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    Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

    “It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

    The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

    “All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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    Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

    He picked up his clubs three times.

    That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

    This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

    Not that he was concerned, of course.

    Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

    “It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

    At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

    “I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

    Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

    Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

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    “There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

    Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

    In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

    That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

    “He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

    “I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

    Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

    Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

    So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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    Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

    By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

    Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

    Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    “I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

    Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

    He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

    “I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

    “With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”