The Games Two Masters

By Randall MellApril 4, 2011, 6:34 pm

While Phil Mickelson is back in winning form with his victory in Houston, Tiger Woods still seems lost.

The Masters, however, could be Woods' true north. It could be his way back.

Working his way through the labyrinth that is Augusta National, immersing his wits in the business of unlocking the course’s secrets one more time, there’s the possibility he finds himself along the journey.

There’s the possibility he finds his game as he makes his way through so many triumphant memories.

There’s even the possibility he rediscovers his greatness.

Yes, major championship pressure, severe conditions like we’ll see at Augusta National, they work to exacerbate what’s wrong with a player’s game, but it can work the other way. If you don’t believe it, ask Jack Nicklaus. He says returning to Baltusrol for the U.S. Open in 1980 snapped him out of the worst slump of his career.

“I wasn’t very happy going to the U.S. Open,” Nicklaus said. “But you just keep working at it, and you keep doing things, and all of a sudden, something kicks in. I think that’s what will happen with Tiger.”

Nicklaus plummeted to 71st on the PGA Tour money list in 1979. He said his confidence was as low as it had ever been, and he re-worked his swing starting the ‘80 season. Though he wasn’t very satisfied with his progress going to Baltusrol, something happened in his return there. Baltusrol is where Nicklaus broke Ben Hogan’s 72-hole U.S. Open scoring record when he won in 1967.

Nicklaus needed to rediscover his greatness all those years ago, and he did so at Baltusrol in ‘80. He set the U.S. Open scoring record for a second time.

“I shot 63 in the first round and missed a little putt for 62 on the last hole,” Nicklaus said. “All of a sudden, I said, 'Hey, maybe this is my time to start doing it the right way again.’ All of a sudden your mind turns around.”

Woods hasn’t had much success trying to find his game on his favorite venues since he made his return to golf from his well-documented personal woes at last year’s Masters. He’s struggled at Firestone, Torrey Pines, Dubai, Doral and Bay Hill, but Augusta National is different. No venue rewards those who know its secrets more than Augusta National.

“There’s no other major where knowledge of how to play that golf course comes into play more,” Woods said. “That’s why you see so many repeat winners there.”

With Woods having won four green jackets, nobody's won more Masters titles except Nicklaus, who won six.

There’s just one other contender in this year’s Masters’ field who knows the mysteries of Augusta National as well as Woods. That’s Mickelson, winner of three green jackets.

So while there’s the possibility Woods finds his game trying to win the Masters, there’s also the compelling possibility he finds Mickelson in his path.

With Mickelson winning Sunday at the Shell Houston Open, Ladbrokes makes him a 7-to-1 favorite to win the Masters. Woods is 10-to-1. Nearly all the bookmakers now list Mickelson as the favorite.

It isn’t just Mickelson’s victory in Houston; it’s the sense that Mickelson owns more Masters magic now.

“I feel like a kid when I play Augusta,” Mickelson said. “It gets me rejuvenated, energized, and I just really look forward to practicing hard and working and playing golf. There's something very spiritual about Augusta for me.

“It reminds me of when I was 10 years old watching Seve Ballesteros win in 1980 and saying to my mom, 'I want to win that tournament. I want to be like that and win that event'.”

Woods may have won more Masters titles than Mickelson, but it’s been awhile since Woods has won a green jacket. He hasn’t won at Augusta National since 2005.

Mickelson’s the defending champ. He’s emboldened with the fresh memory of his 6-iron through the trees at the 13th in last year’s final round, with the memory of his victorious hug with his wife, Amy, in her first public return to the game after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

For all those years, Woods loomed as the man blocking Mickelson’s dreams. Now, Mickelson looks like he’s standing in Woods’ way. Mickelson even jumped in front of Woods in the world rankings for the first time in 14 years.

Bookmakers don’t set odds based on who they think is going to win an event. They base them on their gauge of what they believe bettors are thinking.

Golf fans are losing faith in Woods. The betting lines say so.

But Nicklaus isn’t.

“I still think he’ll break my record,” Nicklaus said.

Woods said he found comfort in that faith.

“That's something that is very humbling,” Woods said. “I respect the heck out of Jack, and what he's done and the person he is. And for him to still believe that I can still play top-notch golf, it certainly is a confidence-booster, there's no doubt.”

Back in ’97, after foundering with a 40 on his first nine in his first Masters as a pro, Woods found greatness. He found it on the way to a record 12-shot Masters rout.

If Woods is ever going to rediscover his greatness, Augusta National feels like the place.

But Woods may have to get through Mickelson this time to find it.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

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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: