A Masters with endless possibilities

By Doug FergusonApril 7, 2011, 2:53 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – On the far end of the course Wednesday, near the only palm tree at Augusta National, Lee Westwood rolled long putts across the fourth green as he practiced alone on a quiet afternoon before the Masters.

Spotting two familiar faces in the crowd, he looked over with a grin and said, 'Lost? Bar closed?'

Through the pines and dogwoods, down a steep slope toward the 16th green, players stopped on the edge of the 16th green to the fans' delight and tried skipping shots across the pond and onto the green. On what might be the only day of booing, Graeme McDowell got an earful when his shot sank before it got halfway across the water.

It sure didn't feel like the day before the first major of the year.

But then, Augusta National has a way of putting players at ease with its sheer beauty, when the Masters is more about azaleas and jasmine and enjoying a special place than trying to win a green jacket.

That figures to change on Thursday.

'The Masters has a fear factor, and that's the best thing about this golf course,' three-time champion Nick Faldo said Wednesday.

Phil Mickelson will try to join some exclusive clubs when he tees off in the opening round as the clear favorite in the first major of the year. Never has Lefty had so much at stake at one tournament.

He can go to No. 1 in the world for the first time in his career. He can join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer as the only players with at least four green jackets. And he can become only the fourth player to win the Masters in consecutive years.

To show how much he's ready, Mickelson poured in 18 birdies last weekend to win the Houston Open. And when he arrived at the Masters, one of the first visits he made was to a back specialist.

'This week is the one week where I swing the absolute hardest,' Mickelson said. 'I've been working out for it. I saw a back specialist just to make sure that my back hangs in there. It feels terrific, but I've been working on it for some time to make sure it's strong enough to withstand the rotational speed that I'm going to be trying to apply this week. Because it's a big advantage if you can move it out there.'

Woods, no longer the betting favorite at Augusta for the first time since 1999, is more concerned with a shorter club – his putter. It has kept him from winning the Masters twice in the last four years, and kept him from contending since his return to golf a year ago.

Even so, they remain the two dominant forces.

'The Masters will always start with Tiger and Phil,' said Robert Allenby, who will play with Woods the first two rounds. 'Their record here and the way they play Augusta make them the two to beat.'

The difference this year: They have some company.

PGA champion Martin Kaymer is No. 1 in the world and will try to win his second straight major. He considers the favorite to be Luke Donald, who beat Kaymer in the Match Play Championship earlier this year. Then there's Westwood, who has been no worse than third in four of the last five majors. Throw in the likes of Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney, Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey, and the smallest field of any major suddenly has a long list of contenders.

Some of that is a new generation arriving. Some of that is Woods no longer standing in their way.

'In the past, a lot of guys used up a lot of energy thinking about Tiger and what he's doing. Now they're doing their own thing and thinking about what they're needing to do,' Faldo said. 'There's genuinely 20 guys who could win this. I'm hoping we have a dozen guys coming down the back nine Sunday with a shot.'

What had been considered a wide open Masters became slightly more narrow with Mickelson's win last week in Houston. And while Woods has gone 17 months without a win, Nicklaus won't rule him out.

'They both are going to play well,' Nicklaus said. 'But there are other guys who will do the same.'

The names he mentioned all had one trait – they hit the ball high and long, always a good combination at Augusta. But with a forecast for sunshine the rest of the week, which will make the course fast and firm and shorter than its 7,435 yards, there has been more talk about the short game than usual this week.

'You don't have to be a big hitter to win here,' Mickelson said. 'If you're short game isn't sharp, you really need to strike it exceptionally well. I don't know if it's really possible, because the penalty for a slight miss-hit is in an area where you have be on your short game. So anybody – whether you are long or short – if you're on your short game, you have a good chance.'

Faldo mentioned Donald, who is one of a half-dozen players who can go to No. 1 with a win this week. Donald is at No. 4, and along with his win at the Match Play, he has finished out of the top 10 only twice over the last seven months.

'I've never felt more confident coming in here,' Donald said. 'I've prepared well. I've been very diligent in what I need to do. I've been hitting a lot of chips. Now I've just got to do it.'

As always, that's always the hard part at the Masters.

Even as the No. 1 player in the world, Woods has gone five Masters without winning, the longest drought of his career. And while Mickelson looked as tough as ever to beat last week in Houston, this is Augusta.

'I find the golf course very intimidating,' Padraig Harrington said. 'There's a lot of pressure on the golf course. You can hit a good shot and make birdie, and hit a bad shot on the same hole and make double bogey. As much as I find it intimidating, I've got to believe it suits my game. I have a good short game, a good mental game. I like the idea it's pressure.

'As much as I'm suffering, everyone else must be suffering, too.'

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Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage


Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

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Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.


Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

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Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.


NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage


Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:30 pm

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.

Scoring:

TV Times (all times ET):

Wednesday
4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)