Garcia, Leishman share Masters lead after Day 1

By Doug FergusonApril 12, 2013, 1:25 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Sergio Garcia might have written himself off too quickly at the Masters.

When last seen walking off the course at Augusta National, the impetuous Spaniard was moping about his bad luck at this tournament and said last year it was increasingly evident he would never be fitted for a green jacket.

Garcia matched his best score at the Masters on Thursday, a 6-under 66 with no bogeys on his card, to share the lead with Marc Leishman of Australia. And he still wasn't entirely happy, although this time with good reason. He hit the ball so well his score could have been so much better.

''To tell you the truth, if I manage to make a couple of the putts that kind of stayed around the lip, I could have been probably 7 or 8 under par through 10,'' Garcia said. ''It was that good. And it wasn't like I was hitting pitching wedge every single time. I was hitting 4-irons and 5-irons and 6-irons, so it wasn't that easy.''

It sure felt easy for several players in a gentle opening round – even for an eighth-grader.


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Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old from China and youngest to compete in a major in 148 years, played well beyond his age and holed a 15-foot putt from just off the 18th green for a respectable round of 73 and a reasonable chance of making the cut.

Tiger Woods wasn't far off as he began his quest for a fifth green jacket. Wild at the start, including a tee shot that knocked a cup of beer out of a spectator's hand, Woods settled into a groove and opened with a 70 as his girlfriend, Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn, watched on a few holes.

In his four Masters wins, Woods has never opened with a score lower than 70. His key is not to shoot himself out of the tournament.

''It's a good start,'' he said. ''Some years, some guys shot 65 starting out here. But right now, I'm only four back and I'm right there.''

Garcia and Leishman had a one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson, who has a game that fits perfectly for Augusta and he finally brought it. Johnson hit a 9-iron for his second shot on the par-5 13th and made a 15-foot eagle putt, and he smashed his drive on the par-5 15th and hit pitching wedge just through the green for an easy birdie.

Fred Couples, the 53-year-old wonder at his favorite major, made bogey on the 18th and still was in the large group at 68. There were a dozen rounds in the 60s, and nearly half the field shot par or better. Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson recovered from a rough start by running off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine to salvage a 71, while Rory McIlroy had a 72.

Woods said he struggled with the slower pace of the greens, and so did defending champion Bubba Watson, who opened with a 75.

''They're soft and they are slow, and consequently we have 45 people at par or better,'' Mickelson said. ''But that means I've got to change my whole mindset and just get after these pins, because the ball's not running like it used to and I'm giving this course way too much respect because of my past knowledge.''

It's not about respect for Garcia. Augusta National is the ultimate love-hate relationship, and Thursday was a rarity. He loved it.

Garcia began his round with an approach that danced by the hole and left him a tap-in birdie. He rolled in a 20-foot birdie on the par-3 sixth, and then shot up the leaderboard with a pair of tough, downhill putts from 8 feet on the ninth and 15 feet on the 10th.

''It's obviously not my most favorite place,'' he said. ''But you know, we try to enjoy it as much as we can each time we come here. Sometimes it comes out better than others, but today it was one of those good days. Let's enjoy it while it lasts.''

That was a far different attitude than last year on the weekend, when he went from one shot out of the lead going into the third round to back in the pack with a 75. He told Spanish reporters that day he had been trying his entire career to win a major and ''I don't feel capable of winning. ... After 13 years, my chances are over. I'm not good enough for the majors. That's it.''

Not so fast.

Garcia struggled off the tee on the back nine, and he three-putted for par at the 13th. He also made tough par saves on the 11th and 17th for his first bogey-free round at the Masters since 2002.

''The last eight holes mean a lot that I kept my composure, even though I didn't hit it as well as I did the first 10 holes,'' he said.

Composure is everything to Garcia, a 33-year-old who still acts like a kid. Only three weeks ago, he hit a tee shot at Bay Hill that settled on a large branch in a tree. Garcia climbed the tree, played a remarkable backhanded shot to the fairway and then jumped some 10 feet to the ground. He withdrew a few holes later when the rain arrived.

He smiles. He sulks. And he always says what he's thinking, which sometimes get him trouble. Garcia doesn't regret his comments at Augusta last year, only that he didn't choose his words carefully. He chalked it up to frustration, but says he is trying just as hard as he did when he was 19 and challenged Woods at Medinah in the 1999 PGA.

''Every time I tee it off, I try to play as well as I can, hope that my best that week is really, really good,'' Garcia said. ''And if I manage to do that, I will have a chance at winning. If my best is not that good, then, I'll struggle a little bit. Today, my best was pretty good. And I'm looking forward to doing the same thing the next three days.''

Guan only wants to enjoy himself, and as he sat in Butler Cabin for an interview, the Chinese teen looked composed. Guan said his goal for the week was to enjoy himself, and even a score two shots better than the defending champion didn't change that.

''I think I'm pretty focused on golf,'' Guan said. ''It's made me do pretty good so far.''

Woods has higher goals. He has gone five years without winning a major, and his last Masters title was in 2005. With three PGA Tour wins and the No. 1 ranking, he is the overwhelming favorite this week.

He picked up birdies on a pair of the par 5s, and made a short birdie putt on the sixth hole. The greens befuddled him, though, and it hurt him toward the end of the round. Woods missed a 6-foot par putt on the 14th, a 5-foot birdie putt on the 15th and a 12-foot birdie attempt on the 17th.

''The biggest challenge today was just the speed of the greens,'' Woods said. ''They just weren't quite there.''

Leishman was the first player to post at 66, a moderate surprise considering he missed the cut in his only Masters appearance in 2010, and he had failed to break 70 in his last nine rounds on the PGA Tour dating to the first week in March.

The turning point was four straight birdies in the middle of the back nine, finishing with a long putt on the 16th.

''I don't know how far that was, but it was in a different zip code,'' Leishman said. ''That happens when you have a good day, and you've just got to make the most of it.''

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.


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There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.


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“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?


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“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”