Personalized preview to the 78th Masters

By Jason SobelApril 9, 2014, 5:31 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – I’m done. I literally can’t preview this week’s Masters Tournament any more. I’ve written about four-time champion Tiger Woods lying in a comfortable position at home. I’ve written about three-time champion Phil Mickelson dying to get into a comfortable position on the leaderboard. I’ve written about aging veterans and bright-eyed first-timers. I’ve written about trees that are alive and trees that are dead and what the grass looks like where the dead trees used to be. I’ve made predictions, then made predictions about my predictions. And if I have to do this any longer, I’m going to start making predictions about those, too.

Now It’s your turn. I’m tapping out. Time to leave the confines of the press room for a leisurely stroll across golf’s coolest campus. But I’ll leave this final preview column in your capable hands. As my editor often advises: Don’t screw it up.

This year’s Masters is bound to be one of the most __________ (exciting/boring/Tiger’s not playing, so I refuse to acknowledge its existence) editions of the tournament in recent years. It will begin with honorary starters Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player on Thursday morning at exactly __________ (7:40 a.m. ET/whenever they damn feel like it).

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Expect the golf course to be playing __________ (extra long, because of the early-week rain/fast and firm, because it’s dried out by now/harder than advanced trigonometry, because it’s Augusta National). And don’t be surprised if __________ (Angel Cabrera/Fred Couples/my EA Sports avatar) is in contention early, because he always plays well here.

But there are also 24 __________ (rookies/first-timers/nobodies) competing this week. This is because of the __________ (parity/randomness/freakin’ snoozefest) that has occurred on the PGA Tour so far. I mean, even an __________ (unheralded/unassuming/unknown … like, seriously, I’ve never heard of him) guy like __________ (Joost Luiten/Stephen Gallacher/Sergio Garcia) could potentially __________ (win/contend/ruin my Sunday).

More than likely, though, the final round will be all about the __________ (big names/players who have won before/guys they won’t stop showing on TV, even though they’re way out of contention). Among the players who can overtake Woods for No. 1 in the world this week are __________ (Adam Scott/Henrik Stenson/Jason Day/TIGER IS THE GOAT AND NOBODY WILL EVER OVERTAKE HIM EVER AND IF YOU DON’T AGREE WITH ME YOU’RE A HATER!!!).

The oddsmakers’ favorite is Rory McIlroy, who was __________ (leading/having a heart attack) going into the back nine three years ago, when he promptly hit a tee shot __________ (left of the trees/left of the cabins/left of Georgia). After a down year in 2013, he appears ready to challenge again because __________ (he’s comfortable with his Nike equipment/he’s secure in his love life/he’s ridiculously good at golf). If he wins this week that will give him three __________ (legs of the career Grand Slam/more majors than Sergio).

Hopefully, the defending champion, Scott, will be in contention again, because he’s so __________ (classy/talented/good-looking that even my wife won’t mind watching all weekend). I heard he served __________ (Moreton Bay Bugs/ants or something/Fosters, mate!) for his Champion’s Dinner, which must have made __________ (Arnie squirm/Jack laugh/Gary insist on knowing the caloric intake).

As for another past champion, Phil Mickelson has a chance to win his fourth title this week, which would tie __________ (Arnold Palmer/Tiger Woods/Greg Norman during his nightly REM sleep). Funny story: During a Tuesday practice round, he lost a $1 wager to a patron when he __________ (couldn’t get up and down from the second cut/picked the Cubs to win the World Series). If he wins again this week, let’s hope in this celebration he actually __________ (jumps a little higher/jumps a little/jumps).

Let’s also hope this week’s tournament isn’t marred by __________ (rules controversies/rules hilarities) like last year. As you probably remember, 14-year-old Guan Tianlang was given a penalty for being __________ (too slow/too young/too close to John Paramor) and Woods was given a reprieve from an incorrect drop because Augusta officials __________ (invoked Rule 33-7/wanted ratings).

Times have certainly changed here over the years. Augusta National now has __________ (female members/wireless Internet/a few attendees who will yell “Baba Booey” before getting yanked off the course). But some things remain the same. We’ll always refer to spectators here as __________ (patrons/lucky stiffs) and instead of tickets they’re called __________ (badges/eBay bonanzas).

It will all come to a culmination on Sunday, when the player with the lowest score will be given __________ (a green jacket/a lifetime membership into golf’s most exclusive club/a reason to finally call his high school girlfriend and gloat). We don’t know who that player will be, but he’ll undoubtedly be __________ (emotional/relieved/on Letterman the next night).

One thing we do know? Once again, this week will be a tradition unlike __________ (any other/the first three months of this boring season/the one where we watch Tiger win majors).

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”