Hawk's Nest: Recalling a crazy 2003 major season

By John HawkinsJuly 29, 2013, 12:51 pm

You want weird? Let’s go back 10 years to golf’s oddest row of ducks: the 2003 major championships. Collectively, we’re talking about John, Paul, George and Wacko – a season when rhyme and reason were replaced by Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel.

With the PGA Championship returning to Oak Hill CC next week, it’s worth revisiting the succession of strangeness a decade ago. The 2003 Masters was one of the most highly anticipated tournaments I’ve ever covered, the debut of extensive course modifications by former Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson. Everyone expected the so-called “Tigerproofing” to kill any remaining chances for the game’s shorter hitters.

It rained all week. Golf’s grandest competitive stage was playing at about 7,800 yards. And Mike Weir, who would rank 68th on the PGA Tour in driving distance that year, won in a playoff over Len Mattiace, who ranked 153rd. Hootie must have thought he didn’t move the tees back far enough. Two additional alterations would soon follow.

Conventional wisdom missed the cut at Augusta National, but things couldn’t have gone more to form at the ’03 U.S. Open. The day before play began, veteran caddie Joe LaCava told me no course setup catered to a player more than Olympia Fields did to Jim Furyk, and Furyk won rather easily on a dull, somewhat unmemorable week. Logic reigns. At least for about a month.

The summer of ’03 featured perhaps the biggest back-to-back major stunners in golf history. Ben Curtis didn’t just win the British Open. He beat Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Davis Love III and Thomas Bjorn, who basically gave away the tournament. One could argue, however, that Micheel’s victory at the PGA was even more astonishing.

Curtis triumphed on a bouncy, pot-luck Royal St. George’s – controlling the ball on some holes was virtually impossible. Anybody could win that week, and anybody did. Micheel outlasted Chad Campbell on a much fairer test. The rough at Oak Hill was far more menacing than at most PGA’s, and if you didn’t drive it in the fairway, you had little chance of hitting the elevated greens or making par.

It was the kind of meat-and-potatoes test you’d expect Woods to thrive upon. He wound up T-39, his worst finish at a major in 28 starts as a pro. Tiger did win five other tournaments in 2003, but it was the first year he’d failed to claim a big trophy since 1998. Back then, those stretches were referred to as “slumps,” and Eldrick Almighty didn’t approve of that word.

It just so happens that ’03 remains the only full year Woods was without a swing coach. His relationship with Butch Harmon had ended the previous summer, and if Hank Haney served as a pair of eyes out at Isleworth, he didn’t officially join Camp Tiger until the spring of ’04. Seeing how reliant Woods has been in regard to on-site counsel, perhaps it’s no coincidence 2003 failed to meet his imperial standards.

Phil Mickelson had the worst season of his career in ‘03. It’s the last year in which he failed to win an event of any kind – the only other time it happened was in 1999. Lefty’s streak of 10 consecutive years with at least one victory is by far the longest on Tour. In 2003, however, he was a distracted player whose wife, Amy, endured serious medical issues during the birth of their third child that March.

Both mom and baby made it through labor, but with three kids under the age of 4, Mickelson didn’t always look like a guy who wanted to be at a golf tournament. His year ended in dismal fashion with an 0-5 record in the Presidents Cup, which led to a rededication to golf heading into ’04 and his first major title four months later.

So here we are, midway into the back nine of 2013. Woods has returned to the top in the Official World Golf Ranking. Mickelson has regained the No. 2 position by virtue of his British Open triumph, and the three guys who rented the No. 1 spot while Woods rebuilt his life all find their careers in a mild crisis.

Luke Donald can’t win a tournament. Lee Westwood can’t win a major. Rory McIlroy is a mess. Pro golf is a star-driven enterprise, dependent on its superstars to move the mainstream needle. Thanks to the two best players of the last 30 years, the needle is alive and moving in 2013.

WHAT TO EXPECT at Oak Hill? Beats me. Campbell, who finished two shots behind Micheel in ’03, is a low-ball, right-to-left player whose flight wouldn’t seem suitable on a course with dramatic terrain. The greens are deceivingly difficult, yet Micheel’s putting numbers were awful across the board the year he picked up his lone Tour victory.

I’ve been saying it on my live chats all year: this is the major Woods would seem to have the best chance of winning. Heavy rain July 3 caused significant flooding of the grounds, forcing a shutdown of both courses and knocking down a large tree that guarded the right side of the eighth green.

A majority of Oak Hill’s bunkers were also damaged by the storm, but that stuff can be fixed, and there shouldn’t be any effects of Mother Nature’s wrath when the big boys arrive. Rain leads to thicker rough, however, and it will be interesting to see how PGA setup man Kerry Haigh has the mowers set for next week.

I don’t keep specific notes on such things, but Sahalee (1998) and the ’03 gathering were the toughest PGAs to play if you missed a fairway, but again, I’m not sure how that factors in to who will play well and who won’t.

My short list of favorites:

Matt Kuchar (15-1). A tie for second in Canada is probably the perfect result nearing a major. Mickelson won the week before claiming the British, but it rarely happens. Why mess with the golf gods if you don’t really have to?

Jason Day (18-1). You can look at the fact that he has one victory in 130 career starts – or the fact that he continues to make noise at the majors. A closing 77 felled him at Muirfield, but Day drives it a mile and ranks 21st on Tour in putting. Nice combo.

Tiger Woods (20-1). He’s 14 over par on the weekend at the last two majors and looks out of sorts the minute things go wrong, regardless of where he stands. Why is he on my list? Plenty of red shirts left in the closet.

Dustin Johnson (20-1). Strong enough to hit greens from any rough. Long enough to hit gap wedges in from the fairway. He plays well this time of year, and like Kuchar, the T-2 in Canada doesn’t hurt.

Adam Scott (22-1). His only top-10s in 2013 have come at the WGC in Miami, the Masters and British. Has developed a big-game mentality and drives it well enough to use the big stick whenever he wants. That shipment of confidence has finally arrived.

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Watch: Jesper hits rock, flies bridge, makes par

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 20, 2018, 5:18 pm

It's not often you'll hear an accomplished professional declare that he made one of his greatest par saves on a par-3 course. But Jesper Parnevik can - and did - make that claim.

Playing the Top of the Rock layout on Day 2 of the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge, Parnevik's tee shot at the 130-yard sixth, his 15th hole of the day, flew the green. It bounced off a rock, caromed over a bridge and landed on dry land. He then chipped over the bridge, but underneath a tree limb, and got his ball within 15 feet from the hole. He then converted the putt.

What made the par save more impressive was the fact that his partner, Jeff Maggert, had already hit his tee shot in the water during the fourball portion of the event. And in a team event, you just can't drop shots.

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McIlroy on winning the Masters: 'It'll happen'

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 4:16 pm

Nearly two weeks after letting a shot at a green jacket slip through his grasp, Rory McIlroy remains confident that he'll still someday find a way to capture what for him has become golf's most elusive prize.

McIlroy had a spot alongside Patrick Reed in the final pairing at the Masters, and he insisted that all the pressure was on his counterpart who was seeking his first career major title. But from his first wobbly tee shot, it was clear that McIlroy was feeling plenty of heat himself as he looked to round out the final leg of the career Grand Slam on a course where he has come up barely short a number of times in recent years.

McIlroy started the day three shots behind Reed, but he never challenged once the pair hit the second nine as Reed beat Rickie Fowler by a shot while McIlroy fell into a tie for fifth, six shots off the pace.

"I got onto that first tee, and I was quite nervous. Even though I was three behind, I still felt like there was a little bit of pressure there for some reason," McIlroy told CNN's Shane O'Donoghue. "I just couldn't get into my rhythm like I could the first three days."

Given time to reflect, McIlroy has adopted a positive outlook on his week in Augusta: another chance to contend on a major stage, another sign that his game is, for the most part, where he wants it to be heading into a busy summer stretch.

For McIlroy, the disappointment was not in failing to win major No. 5, it was in his inability to make Reed work for it during the early stages of their round together as McIlroy failed to mount much of a challenge after missing a 4-foot eagle putt on the second hole that would have given him a share of the lead.

"I was just disappointed that again I didn't put any pressure on the leader. I guess that was my thing," McIlroy said. "If I had just put a little pressure on, it might have been a different outcome."

Instead, McIlroy left with a respectable yet unsatisfying result from the season's first major for the fifth year in a row. Left to wait another 11 months before his next crack at a green jacket, his belief is unwavering that he'll one day join Reed among the tournament's decorated list of champions.

"Look, it'll happen. I truly believe it'll happen," McIlroy said. "I play that golf course well enough. I've five top-10s in a row, I've given myself a chance. It didn't quite work out. But just, the more I keep putting myself in those positions, sooner or later it's going to happen for me."

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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.