Hawk's Nest: Separating Masters fact from fiction

By John HawkinsApril 14, 2014, 3:00 pm

Think of this week’s Hawk’s Nest as a lie-detector test – an honest attempt to separate fact from fiction as defined by the 78th Masters. An interesting golf tournament? Perhaps, but without a nuclear-bomb dose of drama down the stretch, the 2014 edition falls into the middle of the pack on my list of memorable majors.

Just five of the world’s top 20 players entered the weekend with a realistic chance of factoring, which left us with a ballroom full of Cinderellas and minimal star power, which isn’t exactly a sexy combination at Augusta National. Hey, Rory McIlroy teed off in Saturday’s first group in the company of a non-competing marker – who beat him by a stroke – then shot a 69 Sunday to grab one of the cheapest T-8s of all-time.

Where is the Dude in the Red Shirt when you really, really need him?

This Masters was basically the opposite of last year’s offering: a snoozer until the final hour, when things suddenly began exploding with excitement. So let’s just sift through the aftermath and closely examine the head-on collision between perception and reality.

The Masters doesn’t start until Sunday’s second nine. It’s a longtime adage that pays homage to the tournament’s compelling nature, but for the first time since 2008, the final result was dictated largely by what happened on the first nine. Bubba Watson picked up two strokes on Jordan Spieth at the par-5 eighth, two more at the par-4 ninth, and just like that, the golf gods threw it into cruise control.

Watson made eight pars and one birdie on the back – and was never seriously threatened. His closing 69 was two strokes better than anyone who teed off in the final 10 groups; the other 19 guys combined to shoot 28 over par. Among the seven players who finished in red figures, Miguel Angel Jimenez had the best final nine (33), but he’d fallen too far back to inflict any serious suspense.

Somebody dumped a bucket of cold water on the fireworks, which can happen when a couple of Masters rookies are trying to chase down a guy who hits it 350, can shape his ball either way and is wriggling in all his 5-footers. Oh, well. Thanks for watching, folks.

Spieth is the game’s best young player. An hour into my live chat Sunday afternoon, you could have sworn the young Texan was going to win by six, slip his arms into the emerald blazer and head straight to the World Golf Hall of Fame. Not so fast, hombre. Spieth’s first two drives Sunday were misses to the left – I’ve covered this tournament enough to know what that can mean.

It’s a long walk to the clubhouse, however, and much to Spieth’s credit, he began playing some brilliant golf. The hole-out from the bunker at the fourth. The tee shot that stopped 3 feet below the pin at the par-3 sixth. The testy downhiller for birdie at the seventh. At that point, with Spieth leading by two, the 78th Masters quietly shifted into a match-play mode.

Having missed the fifth fairway with a 3-wood, the kid chose the same club off the par-5 eighth. Had he become distrustful of his driver? Spieth sent a nice, straight play 10 yards left of the fairway bunkers. Bubba whipped out that pink gorilla stick and launched one halfway to Interstate 20. The same thing basically happened at the ninth, where Watson’s massive length advantage allowed him to play a much shorter hole than his opponent.

Augusta National has always been a second-shot golf course. When those second shots are struck with short irons, the greens become easier to negotiate, but back to the original point – Spieth ranks 107th on the PGA Tour in driving distance in 2014. He’s not exactly short, but he’s almost 20 yards behind McIlroy and 28 shorter than Bubba, at least according to the statistics.

“His drive on 13, I’ll never forget,” Spieth said of Watson’s 376-yard clout over the river and through the woods bordering Raes Creek. “I thought it was out of bounds, 70 yards left, and it was perfect.”

Size does matter, particularly at the biggest events, where scoring opportunities are often confined to one’s ability to overpower the par 5s. As much as I love Spieth’s fight, as sure as I am that he’ll win a major in the next few years, he hasn’t won a premium-field event. McIlroy, who turns 25 next month, has won two majors by eight shots apiece and five premiums overall. Case closed. For now.

Fred Couples is amazing. Imagine this scenario: Mr. Comfort Zone makes another inspiring run at the 2015 Masters, then chooses not to play in the 2016 tournament because the anchored-putter ban prevents him from shaking in a 4-footer. How sad would that be? What about the ageless Bernhard Langer, who nudged Couples by two shots in the Geritol Ball Division (Jimenez led all seniors at 4 under) and hasn’t used a normal putter since he was 6 months old?

I have become maddeningly conflicted by the pros and cons of the pending ban. A huge proponent when it was first announced, I find myself coming up with more and more reasons why the game will only hurt itself by instituting such an abolition. No one should expect the USGA and R&A to change its position just because a couple of geezers make some noise during the second week in April, but this tournament just wouldn’t be the same without the Freddie Factor.

Watson’s second shot at the 15th was a ridiculous risk. He led by three with his ball in the left rough, his path to the green greatly hindered by one of former Masters chairman Hootie Johnson’s tree plantings. The safe play? Punch it down the fairway to a favorable distance and hit a wedge onto the shallow putting surface.

Not Bubba. “I had 181 [yards] to the front and that’s the only number I was worried about,” he said. “I told my caddie [Ted Scott], ‘You tell me what to do. If you want me to lay up, I’ll lay up.’ I hit a low 6-iron, choked up and cut it a little bit.”

Even my man Brandel Chamblee was impressed: “Nobody hits that shot at 15 through the trees. Nobody.”

I’ve looked at the replay five or six times, and yes, it was a very daring decision. From a wide-angle perspective, however, the alternative was no bargain, either, given how many players struggled with the half-wedge third shot into 15 from an ultra-tight, downhill lie.

It killed Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson in the second round, and with 3 ½ holes to play, I don’t think Watson wanted anything to do with a finesse shot, given the circumstances. His lead was big enough to justify taking the chance, and if you watch the replay, you can see how laying up wouldn’t have been all that simple.

“I was trying to hit it in the [right greenside] bunker, but you know me,” Bubba added, “I wanted to get it a little closer to the pin, so I cut it a little bit [more] without telling my caddie.”

Scott must have loved hearing that, but then, we’re talking about a player who hooked a gap wedge 30 yards onto the 10th green to win a sudden-death playoff two years ago. By comparison, this was a piece of cake.

Bubba can’t handle the pressure. You can’t win two Masters in three years while struggling to clear your throat, but Watson is a jumpy, high-strung horse. His first green jacket in 2012 was followed by a stretch of relatively listless play – his victory at Riviera two months ago ended a 22-month drought.

“It took me a year or so to get adjusted [and realize] that I’m not really that good,” he admitted Sunday night. “I’ve got to keep practicing.”

He’s obviously being modest, but for all his talent, Bubba’s fluctuating concentration levels are what keep him from winning more often. I think he performs better under immense competitive duress because he really bears down, fueled by a fear of failure that simply isn’t as persistent at lesser tournaments.

“Last year was rough with the pressure of trying to prove himself,” Scott said. “But this year, his attitude has been great. It’s been a lot of fun to work for him this year.”

My chats all weekend were sprinkled with negative comments about Watson’s on-course demeanor – too many to pass off as mere coincidence. I’ll be the first to admit that those forums aren’t exactly the most credible source of public opinion, although Bubba’s ruffled feathers have been on national display in both victory (Riviera) and defeat (Hartford) over the last eight months.

Scott took the blame for the loss in Connecticut last summer, but the fact of the matter is, the lanky lefty is a demonstrative dude, which is not a felony. Oh, and by the way? Spieth was the one slamming clubs and yelling at himself down the stretch Sunday evening. Some people want their golfers to double as choirboys. Others might admire the competitive fire.

Larry Mize is five shots better than Dustin Johnson. Never mind that Mize closed with a pair of 79s to finish dead-last among those who played 72 holes. Or that Johnson missed the cut at a tournament many think he should be eating for breakfast. Only at Augusta National can you find such a humbling dichotomy among the game’s top-tier performers.

Sandy Lyle and Mike Weir stick around through the weekend; Mickelson and Luke Donald don’t. It’s a crazy and somewhat forgettable storyline, but relevant in that the Masters is the one event that really doesn’t give a damn who you are or how much money you’ve won lately.

Even the boring ones are pretty interesting. If nothing else, this Masters seemed to prove it.

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Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 17, 2018, 9:54 pm

Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET

Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.

“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.



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Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 8:31 pm

Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.

She wondered if there would be resentment.

She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”

PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.

Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.

She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.

Fans have been stopping her for autographs.

“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”

Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.

He waved Lincicome over.

“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”

Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.

“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.

Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.

Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.

“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.

Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.

Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.

Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.

What are Lincicome’s expectations?

She would love to make the cut, but . . .

“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.

“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”

Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.

Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.

As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.

“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”

Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.

The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.

“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”