Struggling in the Amen Corner

By Jason SobelApril 10, 2014, 11:04 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – It should serve as a pleasant coincidence that Augusta National’s exposed three-hole stretch known as Amen Corner was given that moniker by a man named Wind.

But the world’s best golfers probably won’t feel any better realizing their tossing and turning in the middle of the night was induced by a golf writer.

OK, so it wasn’t one of our brethren who designed the infamously brutal holes or set them up to be slightly more difficult than getting a membership here, but Herbert Warren Wind did give it a name, which you could argue led to an aura, which led to an intimidation factor, which led to a whole bunch of strugglin’ 'round Amen Corner on Thursday.

Three by three, they arrived at White Dogwood, Golden Bell and Azalea – more recognizably known as the 11th, 12th and 13th holes – buoyed by optimism established during the first 10. And more often than not, three by three they left, bewildered and bemused by a devious trio that ruined more than a few blossoming rounds.

Miguel Angel Jimenez was defying his 50 years once again, in sole possession of the lead until he played these holes in 3 over. Defending champion Adam Scott enjoyed a standing ovation on the 12th tee, then promptly deposited his shot into Rae’s Creek. Jason Dufner carded an inexplicable quadruple bogey on 13.

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Fred Couples was on the leaderboard when he dropped a shot in Amen Corner. Same goes for Brandt Snedeker. Louis Oosthuizen, too.

“It was like [the wind] didn't want to make up its mind," said Steve Stricker, who shot 72, but played the holes in 2 over. "You hit and you hope you guessed right.”

If a golfer’s ability to adapt on the fly and roll with the punches on these holes sounds like a jazz musician constantly adjusting to the free form of the music, there’s good reason for the correlation. Back in 1958, Wind first introduced the nickname to describe where so many of the course’s pratfalls occur. He named it after a mid-1930s jazz record by a group led by Mezz Mezzrow called “Shoutin' at Amen Corner.” Years later, it was found that the record never existed, but the label has withstood here amongst the tall pines.

The pen is mightier, indeed.

Through the decades, from 1942 until now, the 11th and 12th have been the second- and third-hardest holes on the course. (The preceding 10th is the hardest.) The par-5 13th is the second-easiest, but in the opening round, even that one was no picnic.

“The wind is swirling down there and it's kind of all over the place today,” explained Jimmy Walker, who bogeyed the 11th and 13th, but still posted a 2-under 70 in his first career Masters round. “So definitely, you've got to watch it.”

The details are pretty gory.

In the opening round, the 11th hole played as the course’s toughest, averaging 4.474 strokes per player. Only 60 percent found the fairway and a mind-numbingly low 30 percent hit the green in regulation.

The 12th wasn’t much easier, playing as the second-toughest for the day. It yielded an average score of 3.423 with only 43 percent hitting the green on the par 3 and nine double bogeys or worse.

The 13th, as usual, offered a bit of a reprieve around Amen Corner, but even the second-easiest hole had 13 scores of over par for the day.

“I hit some good shots there,” said Rickie Fowler, who was one of very few players to post three pars on the three holes.  “I feel like you can pick up a solid half-shot for sure and maybe one, depending upon what the field averages. But you make some pars around there and get some birdies on 13, you play Amen Corner under par for the week, that's definitely an advantage.”

Playing ‘em in even par on Thursday? That was good for a stroke advantage over the field of .608.

Meanwhile, the prevailing theme of the day is that conditions are only going to get tougher – especially at the exposed holes which are exposing holes in players’ games.

“I imagine it's going to get a little bit firmer and faster as we continue to play,” Stricker suggested. “So it's going to even make things even more challenging and more difficult.”

Unlike the phantom record from nearly a century ago, there may not have been much shouting in Amen Corner on this day. No, the reactions were usually left to quieter mumblings and grumblings over a stretch of holes that once again confounded some of the game’s best players.

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Woods, Leishman, Fleetwood grouped at Northern Trust

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 10:55 pm

While 125 players qualified for The Northern Trust this week, only 120 have decided to tee it up at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. Here's a look at a few of the marquee, early-round tee times where players are grouped via FedExCup standing and Tiger Woods makes his first start since a runner-up performance at the PGA Championship (all times ET):

7:54 a.m. Thursday, 12:55 p.m. Friday: Tiger Woods, Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood

Woods starts the postseason at No. 20 in the points race, with a great chance to advance to the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time since 2013. He'll look to pad his point total this week in the Garden State, making his return to competition after a week off following a strong showing at Bellerive. He'll play the first two rounds with Leishman, who has two runner-up finishes this season, and Fleetwood, who nearly caught Brooks Koepka at the U.S. Open.

8:05 a.m. Thursday, 1:06 p.m. Friday: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka

There should be no shortage of eye-popping drives from this trio, who comprise the top three in the season-long points race heading into the playoffs. Johnson holds the No. 1 spot in both the world rankings and the FedExCup, having won three times since January, while Thomas will look to become the first player to go back-to-back in the playoffs and Koepka hopes to add to a career year that already includes two majors.

8:16 a.m. Thursday, 1:17 p.m. Friday: Webb Simpson, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau

Simpson got back into the winner's circle in impressive fashion at The Players Championship, and he heads into the playoffs off a T-2 finish last week at the Wyndham Championship. Molinari cruised to victory at the Quicken Loans National before his major triumph at Carnoustie, while DeChambeau's win at the Memorial highlighted his season that brought him to the cusp of a Ryder Cup berth.

12:44 p.m. Thursday, 7:43 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Beau Hossler, Byeong-Hun An

Normally featured among the points leaders at this point in the season, Spieth heads into the playoffs at No. 43 in the standings, sandwiched between a pair of players whose best results came in playoff losses. Hossler has had a quietly strong season that was highlighted by a runner-up to Ian Poulter in overtime at the Houston Open, while An lost a playoff to DeChambeau at the Memorial.

12:55 p.m. Thursday, 7:54 a.m. Friday: Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau

There will be four green jackets among this group, as the reigning Masters champ is joined by a pair of Ryder Cup hopefuls in Mickelson and Finau. Lefty broke a lengthy victory drought with his WGC-Mexico win in March but has largely slowed this summer, while Finau notched top-10 finishes in each of the first three majors to enter the discussion for possible picks for Paris.

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Randall's Rant: Too much Tiger for his own good?

By Randall MellAugust 20, 2018, 10:00 pm

We could be getting a dose of way too much Tiger Woods.

Yeah, that’s difficult to fathom, given how good his return to the game has been on so many levels, but the man might be too close to winning for his own good right now.

I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, and I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but a reasonable person has to wonder how playing the next three weeks in a row – five of the next six weeks – will affect Woods’ surgically fused spine.

That isn’t to say Woods is actually going to end up playing that much, but it looms as a real possibility.

In fact, dating back to the WGC Bridgestone, it’s possible he could be amid a run of playing seven times in the last nine weeks.

My sacroiliac joint is throbbing at the thought.

Beginning with The Northern Trust this week, Woods is committed to the first three legs of the FedExCup Playoffs, and it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t play the final leg at the Tour Championship if he qualifies.

It’s impossible to imagine he won’t be among Jim Furyk’s four captain’s picks to play the Ryder Cup.

So if Woods continues this streak of strong play, what’s going to give?

We hope it isn’t his back.

Or his neck.

Or his knees.

Only Woods and his doctors really know how much the 42-year-old can take physically, but there is more to lose than to gain by overdoing it now.

Yeah, the FedExCup Playoffs are great fun, more meaningful with each passing year, but it’s all about the major championships now for Woods.

Competitively, it’s all that matters.

Nobody but the most anal Tiger fans are going to remember how many FedExCups he won, but we’re all going to remember how many majors he won.

We’re all going to remember him resuming his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus, if that’s where his summer tease is taking us, with Woods’ T-6 at The Open last month and his second-place finish at the PGA Championship two weeks ago.

Whether you are a Woods fan or not, how can you not want to see a historic chase of Jack as Tiger’s last chapter?

The game soars to yet another level with that.

A legion of young, new fans come pouring into the game even if Tiger only gets to 17 major championship titles.

So while the FedExCup Playoffs give us a postseason in golf, make Player of the Year chases more interesting and Ryder Cup captain’s picks more intriguing, they are a mere prelude for Tiger.

The playoffs give him another chance to get ready for next year’s Masters.

They give him a chance to win something before heading to Augusta National.

They give him another chance to rebuild his closing skills.

Woods doesn’t have to win the overall FedExCup to do that.

And he doesn’t have to play every event he commits to playing. He’s 20th in FedExCup points right now. He can get to the Tour Championship without playing all three of the legs leading there.

The tough spot for Woods is withdrawing from a FedExCup event. It’s trickier for him. With all the extra tickets sold when he commits, with all the excitement his anticipated arrival creates, it feels like a broken promise when he backs out.

Yeah, other players WD before big events for reasons beyond injury, but they don’t create the massive disappointment Woods creates.

For somebody invested in wanting to see Tiger vs. Jack reprised, it’s a lot easier to live with seeing Woods pull out of a FedExCup Playoff event to rest than to see him WD from one with an injury.

There’s more excitement in the prospect of seeing a lot of Woods in the majors next year than seeing too much of him now.

Here’s hoping somebody helps Tiger gets his FedExCup Playoff dosage right. His pain could be golf’s pain.

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Watch: Marshawn Lynch's golf game could use some work

By Grill Room TeamAugust 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

NFL star running back Marshawn Lynch is pretty great at driving golf carts, but from the looks of a video that surfaced this weekend, his golf prowess starts and ends there.

"Beast Mode" was in attendance at Klay Thompson's charity event in San Francisco on Sunday, and luckily the Golden State Warriors shooting guard caught Lynch's swing on camera - because it is a sight to behold.

Dressed in a traditional golf hoodie, the former Super Bowl champion who has been thrilling fans with his raw athleticism and power on the gridiron for more than a decade showed off a swing that would make Charles Barkley blush.

Lynch was not questioned about the swing by members of media afterwards, although there's a pretty good chance you already know how he would've answered.

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Stenson (elbow) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 5:41 pm

Former FedExCup champ Henrik Stenson will start his postseason on the sideline, as he withdrew on Monday from The Northern Trust because of an elbow injury.

Stenson captured the season-long title back in 2013, when he won two of the four playoff events. At 50th in the current points standings, he's assured of a spot next week at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship and likely to make the field at the 70-man BMW Championship the following week.

A PGA Tour official confirmed that Stenson cited the elbow injury as the reason for his withdrawal. He was bothered by an injured elbow last month that led him to withdraw from the Scottish Open and limited his prep for The Open, where he tied for 35th.

The 42-year-old defended his title last week at the Wyndham Championship, tying for 20th place after shooting a 6-under 64 in the final round.

"It's fine, I can practice and I can play without any problems as of now, but I can't really go after it in the gym fully," Stenson told reporters last week in Greensboro. "The main thing that we can play and practice without having any problems there, so it's getting better."

The intrigue around Stenson's decision grows when the context of the Ryder Cup is taken into consideration. The Swede has represented Europe in the biennial matches four times, but he's currently 16th in both the European Points and World Points lists with only two weeks remaining in the qualification window.

Even before skipping this week's event in New Jersey, Stenson appeared likely to need a pick from captain Thomas Bjorn, who will round out his 12-man roster with four selections on Sept. 5. Other notable players who are not currently in position to qualify include Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Russell Knox, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Thomas Pieters.

Stenson becomes the fifth player to withdraw from this week's field, which does not feature alternates and is now down to 120 players. Rory McIlroy opted to rest up this week, while Patrick Rodgers is skipping the tournament to attend a wedding. Both Rickie Fowler (oblique) and Bud Cauley (June car accident) withdrew because of injury.