First Impressions

By Randall MellApril 8, 2010, 12:27 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – They’ve left their footprints all over Augusta National without playing the course.

Now they want to leave their marks here.

They want to make history at the Masters.

Brian Gay, Francesco Molinari and Bill Haas are among 17 players who will be teeing it up Thursday in their first Masters. All three of them enjoyed up-close-and-personal introductions to the venue that didn’t include hitting shots. They’re hoping their unique connections to the place will help them join Fuzzy Zoeller as the only players to win the Masters the first time they played it (outside, of course, Horton Smith, who won the inaugural event in 1934).

Gay, 38, a three-time PGA Tour winner, spent a formative part of his youth growing up in Louisville, Ga., 40 miles south of Augusta. His mother is a native Georgian. He believes he was 9 years old when his parents took him to his first Masters. He’ll never forget asking Andy Bean for an autograph at the second tee box during a practice round and Bean waving him out onto the course to sign it.

Molinari, 27, joins his older brother, Edoardo, 29, as the first brother tandem to play the Masters since Jumbo and Joe Ozaki played together 10 years ago. The Italian siblings are close. They won the World Cup together last year. When Edoardo claimed a spot in the 2006 Masters after winning the U.S. Amateur, Francesco caddied for him. It was a special experience given they played with Tiger Woods for the first two rounds with Woods as defending champ.

Haas, 27, will become the fifth member of his extended family to play in the Masters. By winning the Bob Hope Classic in January, Haas earned his Masters invite. He joins his father, Jay, his uncles Jerry Haas and Dillard Pruitt, and his great uncle, 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby, in the family line of Masters participants.

For Gay, this Masters is a hard-earned reward. He made it via four different qualifying categories. He made it as a Tour winner last year, through his world ranking, through his Tour Championship appearance and through his place among the top 30 on the final PGA Tour money list last season.

“It’s great, because I’ve missed it almost every way you can miss it,” Gay said.

Twice, Gay missed qualifying for the Masters by one spot on the PGA Tour money list.

“Missed by a couple dollars, really,” Gay said.

The Masters used to invite the U.S. Walker Cup team, but Gay made the team after Augusta National officials dropped the custom.

Gay came one match victory away from earning his way to the Masters through the U.S. Amateur.

“It’s exciting to make it,” Gay said. “Being from the south, growing up in the area, being the first tournament I ever went to see, the Masters was always the tournament for me.”

The downside this week is that Gay tweaked a back injury on the practice range, but he’s playing through it. He’s even writing a diary for the Augusta Chronicle.

Francesco Molinari earned his way to the Masters by making the top 50 in the world rankings at the end of last year. His brother, Edoardo, earned his second trip by also cracking the top 50. Francesco’s currently No. 41 in the world, Edoardo No. 35.

“We both wanted to be here together one day, and now we’re here and we are both playing quite well,” Francesco said. “It’s really a dream come true.”

They both arrive with momentum. Francesco tied for fourth at the European Tour’s Andalucia Open in his last start with Edoardo tying for second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in his.

Francesco has been motivated to make it here ever since he caddied for Edoardo in that ’06 Masters. He wasn’t just inspired by his brother. He was inspired watching Woods play alongside his brother. Edoardo laughs at the memory of Francesco on his bag during any pause in play.

“I would look over, and I would see Francesco with a golf club in his hand, imagining he was hitting a shot,” Edoardo said. “I think he has a lot of fond memories of that Masters that will help him here.”

Haas is on familiar turf. His father, Jay, played in 22 Masters. Bill thinks he was 6 or 7 the first time he came with his father to watch a Masters. He caddied for his father here when he was in high school.

“I was here pretty much every year he made it when I was growing up,” Bill said. “I have a bunch of memories watching him play. It’s a dream come true to play here, but, honestly, I don’t know if I really dreamed it for myself as a kid. I always dreamed of my father winning it and didn’t think much about even playing in it.”

This special trio will be looking to strengthen their unique connections to the course in their first Masters.

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.

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Playoff streaks in jeopardy for Garcia, Haas

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:12 pm

Since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007, only 13 players have managed to make the playoffs each and every year. But two of the PGA Tour's stalwarts head into the regular-season finale with work to do in order to remain a part of that select fraternity.

Sergio Garcia has rarely had to sweat the top-125 bubble, but the Spaniard enters this week's Wyndham Championship 131st in the current standings. Left with even more work to do is former FedExCup winner Bill Haas, who starts the week in Greensboro 150th.

Garcia got off to a strong start in the spring, sandwiching a pair of top-10 finishes in WGC events around a fourth-place showing at the Valspar Championship. But quality results largely dried up after Garcia missed the cut at the Masters; he has made only two cuts in 10 Tour starts since April, including early exits in all four majors.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Garcia has some history at Sedgefield Country Club, having won this event in 2012 to break a lengthy U.S. victory drought. He also finished fourth in 2009 but hasn't played the Donald Ross layout since a T-29 finish as the defending champ in 2013.

It's been a difficult year for Haas both on and off the course, as the veteran was involved as a passenger in a car accident on the eve of the Genesis Open that killed the driver. He returned to action three weeks later in Tampa, and he tied for seventh at the RBC Heritage in April. But that remains his lone top-10 finish of the season. Haas has missed 11 cuts including three in a row.

While the bubble will be a fluid target this week at Sedgefield, Garcia likely needs at least a top-20 finish to move into the top 125 while Haas will likely need to finish inside the top 5.

One of the 13 playoff streaks is assured of ending next week, as Luke Donald has missed most of the year with a back injury. Other players to qualify for every Tour postseason include Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Charles Howell III, Charley Hoffman and Ryan Moore.

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Airlines lose two sets of Olesen's clubs in 10 days

By Grill Room TeamAugust 15, 2018, 7:50 pm

Commercial airlines losing the golf clubs of a professional golfer is not exactly a groundbreaking story. It happens.

But European Tour pro Thorbjorn Olesen is on quite the roll, losing two sets of clubs and five suitcases in the span of 10 days.

Olesen, the reigning Italian Open champ, claimed his primary set of golf clubs were lost last week. Having little faith they'd be found before this week's Nordea Masters, he decided to bring his backup set for the event in Sweden.

A veteran move by the 28-year-old, unless, of course, those clubs were lost too. And wouldn't you know it:

After pestering the airlines with some A+ GIFs, Olesen was reunited with at least one of his sets and was back in action on Wednesday.

He also still plans on giving his golf bag away to some lucky follower, provided it's not lost again in transit. Something he's no longer taking for granted.

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Podcast: Brandel compares Tiger and Hogan's comebacks

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 15, 2018, 6:48 pm

Tiger Woods on Sunday at Bellerive recorded his seventh runner-up finish in a major and his first in nine years.

A favorite guest of the Golf Channel Podcast, Brandel Chamblee joins host Will Gray to compare and contrast Tiger's return to competitive golf with that of Ben Hogan and Babe Didrikson Zaharias in the 1950s.

Chamblee also discusses Brooks Koepka's major dominance, Bellerive as a major venue, Tiger and Phil as Ryder Cup locks, and who else might be in line to receive Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn's remaining captain's picks.

Finally, Brandel shares what it was it was like to qualify for the Senior Open Championship and compete for a major title on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Listen here: