One Thinking Man's Favorites

By John HawkinsApril 1, 2011, 4:14 pm
Last year’s Masters featured many of the competitive elements that define the tournament’s illustrious history – things we might have taken for granted before course changes at Augusta National eliminated many of the Sunday roars.

Former club chairman Hootie Johnson wanted to make the old ballyard tougher, and in doing so, he transformed Bobby Jones’ masterpiece into a venue that reduced the value of creative shotmaking and all but eliminated assorted angles of attack.

Johnson’s successor, Billy Payne, has gently restored the design principles that made Augusta National golf’s premiere stage. Back-nine scoring certainly was abundant in 2010, which led to a riveting duel between two of the game’s best players.

Phil Mickelson’s two-stroke triumph over Lee Westwood was made most memorable by the 6-iron Mickelson slashed off the pine straw just right of the 13th fairway, a spectacular act of bravado that showcased the risk-reward factor on perhaps the finest par-5 ever built.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods' worst finish as a professional at the Masters is T-22, in 2004. (Getty Images)

After three straight Masters with a final result shaped largely by the failures of those who didn’t win, the '10 version was a compelling beauty. Although Mickelson hasn’t won since claiming that third green jacket, although he has contended at a tournament of any size just twice since, he enters next week’s festivities as the co-favorite (with Tiger Woods) at odds of 8-to-1. Perhaps the bookies know something we don’t, but on the eve of the year’s first major, it is difficult to envision either superstar rediscovering their brilliance in such timely fashion.

For all Woods has accomplished in his career, he hasn’t won a Masters since 2005 – just before the third and final series of alterations to the course. No question, you have to drive the ball straighter now than before Johnson embarked on his toughen-it-up quest, which was popularly known as “Tigerproofing” when it began after Woods’ victory in 2002. Conventional wisdom told us Tiger would only dominate the Masters to a greater extent after Hootie’s handiwork, but then, few could have imagined him becoming so erratic with his driver, which has basically been the case since 2004.

Unless you’re Angel Cabrera, whose lucky bounce carried him to victory in a playoff in 2009, you can’t win a green jacket from the trees anymore. That said, the 8-1 odds on Woods almost seem preposterous.

Here’s a glance at one thinking man’s favorites – a reflection of the golf’s shifting competitive landscape and the ongoing struggles of the games two biggest names:

Lee Westwood (12-1): He has found his way onto virtually every big leaderboard for the better part of three years, and at some point, he’ll get his hands on that elusive first major. Tremendous ballstriker, not the world’s tightest short game.

Dustin Johnson (16-1): Everybody knows he hits it a mile, but Johnson factors consistently because he holes putts and doesn’t fritter away strokes inside six feet. Do they have a green jacket big enough for those shoulders?

Rory McIlroy (16-1): Too talented not to win a couple of Masters, he owns the most complete game among today’s young giants. Cold putter cost him at last year’s PGA.

Martin Kaymer (20-1): An efficient, workmanlike player who has plenty of length to conquer Augusta National. Winning that aforementioned PGA seems to have vaulted him mentally. Recognition has been good to him.

Mickelson (20-1): One senses a lack of interest this spring, as Lefty has his eyes on the bigger prize. He has arrived at Augusta National in less-than-ideal form before, then won. Nobody on earth holes more mid-range putts. Can spray it around the lot and still hang around.

Ian Poulter (25-1): The shortest hitter among the bunch listed here, he also plays from the fairway more than the rest. A tenacious competitor with excellent big-game instincts. It doesn’t hurt that he makes putts on Sundays, either.

Paul Casey (25-1): Has made steady progress at the majors since melting in the final-round heat at the 2007 U.S. Open. A streaky putter with prodigious length, he also hits a high ball, which never hurt anyone at Augusta National.

Nick Watney (30-1): Swing coach Butch Harmon loves his ability to shape the ball with his driver, and a much-improved putter has turned him into the game’s hot young star. Collapsed with third-round lead at last year’s PGA. From adversity, success often grows.

Woods (30-1): He hasn’t played back-to-back quality rounds in forever, and there are times when he looks nothing like the greatest player who ever lived, but hey, he’s still Tiger Woods. Hasn’t putted well at the majors in recent years. How about a 3-wood off the tee if the driver is misbehaving?

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Goat visor propels Na to Colonial lead

By Will GrayMay 25, 2018, 1:29 am

Jason Dufner officially has some company in the headwear free agency wing of the PGA Tour.

Like Dufner, Kevin Na is now open to wear whatever he wants on his head at tournaments, as his visor sponsorship with Titleist ended earlier this month. He finished T-6 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in his second tournament as a free agent, and this week at the Fort Worth Invitational he's once again wearing a simple white visor with a picture of a goat.

"I bought it at The Players Championship for $22 with the 30 percent discount that they give the Tour players," Na told reporters. "It's very nice."

Perhaps a change in headwear was just what Na needed to jumpstart his game. Last week's result in Dallas was his first top-35 finish in his last six events dating back to February, and he built upon that momentum with an 8-under 62 to take a one-shot lead over Charley Hoffman after the first round at Colonial Country Club.

While many sports fans know the "GOAT" acronym to stand for "Greatest Of All Time," it's a definition that the veteran Na only learned about earlier this year.

"I do social media, but they kept calling Tiger the GOAT. I go, 'Man, why do they keep calling Tiger the GOAT? That's just mean,'" Na said. "Then I realized it meant greatest of all time. Thinking of getting it signed by Jack (Nicklaus) next week (at the Memorial)."

Marc Dull (Florida State Golf Association)

Golden: Dull rude, caddie 'inebriated' at Florida Mid-Am

By Ryan LavnerMay 25, 2018, 1:03 am

Jeff Golden has offered more detail on what transpired at the Florida Mid-Amateur Championship, writing in a long statement on Twitter that Marc Dull’s caddie was “inebriated” before he allegedly sucker-punched Golden in the face.

In a story first reported by, Charlotte County Police responded to a call May 13 after Golden claimed that he’d been assaulted by his opponent’s caddie in the parking lot of Coral Creek Club, where he was competing in the Mid-Am finals. Golden told police that the caddie, Brandon Hibbs, struck him because of a rules dispute earlier in the round. Hibbs denied any involvement, and police found no evidence of an attack.

Golden posted a 910-word statement on the alleged incident on his Twitter account on Thursday night. He said that he wanted to provide more detail because “others have posed some valid questions about the series of events that led to me withdrawing” from what was an all-square match with two holes to play.

Golden wrote that both Dull and Hibbs were rude and disruptive during the match, and that “alcohol appeared to be influencing [Hibbs’] behavior.”

Dull, who caddies at Streamsong Resort in Florida, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I’ve never seen an opposing caddie engage in so much conversation with a competitor,” Golden wrote. “On the eighth hole I had become extremely frustrated when my opponent and caddie were talking and moving. I expressed my disappointment with their etiquette to the rules official in our group.”

On the ninth hole, Golden informed the official that he believed Hibbs had broken the rules by offering advice on his putt. Golden won the hole by concession to move 2 up at the turn, and Hibbs removed himself from the match and returned to the clubhouse.

Golden wrote that after the penalty, the match “turned even nastier, with more negative comments from my opponent on the 10th tee.” He added that he conceded Dull’s 15-foot birdie putt on No. 10 because he was “sick of the abuse from my opponent, and I wanted the match to resemble what you would expect of a FSGA final.”

Though there were no witnesses to the alleged attack and police found little evidence, save for “some redness on the inside of [Golden’s] lip,” Golden wrote that the inside of his mouth was bleeding, his face was “throbbing” and his hand was also injured from bracing his fall. X-rays and CT scans over the past week all came back negative, he said.

Golden reiterated that he was disappointed with the FSGA’s decision to accept his concession in the final match. He had recommended that they suspend the event and resume it “at a later time.”

“The FSGA has one job, and that’s to follow the Rules of Golf,” Golden wrote. “Unfortunately, there’s no rule for an inebriated ‘ex-caddie’ punching a player in a match-play rain delay with no witnesses.”

Asked last week about his organization’s alcohol policy during events, FSGA executive director Jim Demick said that excessive consumption is “highly discouraged, but it falls more broadly under the rules of etiquette and player behavior.”

Dull, 32, was back in the news Wednesday, after he and partner Chip Brooke reached the finals of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. They lost to high schoolers Cole Hammer and Garrett Barber, 4 and 3.

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D. Kang, M. Jutanugarn in four-way tie at Volvik

By Associated PressMay 25, 2018, 12:50 am

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Amy Olson crossed paths with her coach, Ron Stockton, on her walk to the 18th tee at the Volvik Championship.

''Make it another even $20,'' Stockton said.

The coach was already prepared to give his client $35 for making seven birdies - $5 each - and wanted to take her mind off the bogey she just had at 17.

Olson closed the first round with a 6-under 66, putting her into the lead she ended up sharing later Thursday with Moriya Jutanugarn , Caroline Masson and Danielle Kang.

Do small, cash incentives really help a professional golfer?

''Absolutely,'' said Olson, who graduated from North Dakota State with an accounting degree. ''He'll tell you I'm a little bit of a hustler there.''

Olson will have to keep making birdies - and petty cash - to hold her position at Travis Pointe Country Club.

Jessica Korda, Minjee Lee, Nasa Hataoka, Lindy Duncan, Morgan Pressel, Megan Khang and Jodi Ewart Shadoff were a stroke back at 67 and six others were to shots back.

Ariya Jutanugarn, the Kingsmill Championship winner last week in Virginia, opened with a 69.

The Jutanugarn sisters are Korda are among six players with a chance to become the LPGA Tour's first two-time winner this year.

Moriya Jutanugarn won for the first time in six years on the circuit last month in Los Angeles.

''What I feel is more relaxed now,'' she said. ''And, of course I like looking forward for my next one.''

Olson, meanwhile, is hoping to extend the LPGA Tour's streak of having a new winner in each of its 12 tournaments this year.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

She knows how to win. It just has been a while since it has happened.

Olson set an NCAA record with 20 wins, breaking the mark set by LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, but has struggled to have much success since turning pro in 2013.

She has not finished best finish was a tie for seventh and that was four years ago. She was in contention to win the ANA Inspiration two months ago, but an even-par 72 dropped her into a tie for ninth place.

If the North Dakota player wins the Volvik Championship, she will earn a spot in the U.S. Open at Shoal Creek in Alabama. If Olson finishes second or lower in the 144-player field, she will enjoy an off week with her husband, Grant, who coaches linebackers at Indiana State.

''I'll make the best of it either way,'' she said.

Olson was at her best in the opening round on the front nine, closing it with four birdies in a six-hole stretch. Her ball rolled just enough to slowly drop in the cup for birdie on the par-3, 184-yard 13th. She had three birdies in five-hole stretch on the back, nearly making her second hole-in-one of the year at the par-3, 180-yard 16th. A short putt gave her a two-stroke lead, but it was cut to one after pulling and misreading a 6-foot putt to bogey the 17th.

Even if she doesn't hold on to win the tournament, Olson is on pace to have her best year on the LPGA Tour. She is No. 39 on the money list after finishing 97th, 119th, 81st and 80th in her first four years.

''Two years ago, I started working with Ron Stockton and whenever you make a change, it doesn't show up right away,'' Olson said. ''That first year was tough, but we've turned a corner and I've just found a lot of consistency in the last year. And, it's a lot of fun to go out there and play golf a little more stress free.''

Stockton helped her stay relaxed, walking along the ropes during her morning round.

''Maybe some people feel a little more pressure when their coach is there,'' she said. ''I'm like, 'Great. If he sees the mistake, he knows what can go wrong and we can go fix it.' So, I like having his eyes on me.''

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Club pro part of 6-way tie atop Sr. PGA

By Associated PressMay 25, 2018, 12:04 am

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Nevada club professional Stuart Smith shot a 5-under 66 on Thursday for a share of the first-round lead in the Senior PGA Championship.

Smith closed his morning round with a double bogey on the par-4 18th, and Scott McCarron, Tim Petrovic, Wes Short Jr., Barry Lane and Peter Lonard matched the 66 in the afternoon.

One of 41 club pros in the field at Harbor Shores for the senior major, Smith is the director of golf at Somersett Country Club in Reno.

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

McCarron won the Senior Players Championship last year for his first senior major.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer is skipping the event to attend son Jason's high school graduation, and Steve Stricker is playing the PGA Tour event in Texas.