Beauty and the Beast

By Rex HoggardApril 7, 2010, 2:10 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – As a rule, PGA Tour types are not normally prone to bouts of anxiety save for the occasional three-putt or a particularly glacial pro-am, and one would normally not consider Augusta National, the picture of southern hospitality, a hostile environment.

But there are looming dangers amid the National’s flora and fauna, time bombs waiting to implode even the most neatly crafted Sunday charge. It’s why sports psychology is a growth industry on Tour and why players hold the course in such high esteem.

Exactly which hole haunts you depends on the player. For some the fear factor depends on recent history, for others it’s the shifting winds of Amen Corner, while for Phil Mickelson it boils down to genetics.

“There's a lot of them (to fear),” Mickelson said. “For me, the hardest shot out here is 16. A lot of guys would disagree with that. Because I'm left-handed and my shot dispersion, with water short left and that hill on the right is a very difficult shot for me. I have to hit a perfect shot to get it in the right section.”

Lefty’s history backs up that theory. He played the hole in 2 over last year when he finished fifth and in 2008, when he also finished fifth, he was 3 over on the weekend, a run that included a rally-killing double bogey in Round 3. By comparison, in 2006 when he won he was 1 under for the week at the 170-yard par 3.

But for most of the polled, at least those who play from the other side of the golf ball, opinions varied, from the approach shot at the 11th, to the tee shot at the 12th and third shot at the 15th hole.

On paper the par-3 12th is the most-demanding. It ranks as the second-hardest on the course since 1942 with a 3.3 stroke average and has been the site of more heartbreaks and heroics than a high school prom.

“We played (the 12th) today and it's 140 yards and we thought it was a little into the wind. If I was the first guy to hit there, I probably would have hit a little 8-iron, and as I watched my other two guys, it ended up being a little 9-iron,” Steve Stricker said. “That's a scary shot to be hitting when you're not quite sure what club it is.”

But more than any of Augusta National’s collection the 12th has taken its pound of flesh from green jacket hopefuls. Mickelson took double there last year to stymie his Sunday back-nine charge and Fred Couples’ famously defeated gravity on the bank when he won in 1992.

In a stretch of reason and logistics, the 12th also is where many former champions say the Masters is won or lost.

“It’s just so tough with the wind and stuff,” said Larry Mize, who birdied the hole in Round 4 on his way to victory in 1987. “If that doesn’t get your heart in your throat nothing will.”

Predictably No. 11, the winding par 4 that has been stretched to 505 yards, is part of any “Augusta’s Scariest” conversation. Faldo won two green jackets there in OT, Raymond Floyd lost one in H2O, and by the numbers (4.29) it ranks as the third-most demanding since ’42.

“The second shot at 11 is pretty darned scary, not to mention it's 50 yards longer than it used to be,” Stewart Cink said. “So it's a long shot. It's not a very wide-open shot. And if you miss, then your next shot is also not very fun.”

Maybe the surprise of the list was the third shot at the par-5 15th. It is a shot, one scribe joked, that used to be a putt for the likes of Nicklaus and Palmer, back before officials added what amounts to the total yardage of a stout par 4 to Bobby Jones’ masterpiece.

In 2006 about 30 yards were added to the hole and, perhaps most influential, a “second cut” of rough was added to the entire course in 1999. The new real estate made it a three-shot hole for all but the longest of the long while the “second cut” made it harder – particularly when combined with this year’s new rule regarding grooves – to put precise spin on an uber-demanding approach.

“It just scares you, that third shot,” Cink sighed.

Matt Kuchar concurred. “It seems like it’s scarier hitting an 80-yard shot in there than it is a 210-yard shot. It’s not too different than the 17th at (TPC) Sawgrass. Short is bad, long is bad. Just bad.”

Sawgrass’ 17th seems to be an apt comparison, but if players tee off at the Players Championship thinking about the island green, they spend weeks, if not months, mulling Augusta National’s time bombs, where history, recent and otherwise, has taken a toll on the collective consciousness.

“I've been there on (No. 12) where the first guy up hits it all the way over the bunker up into the hillside up into the bushes and the next guy gets up and hits it into the water,” Stricker said. “It's kind of a guessing game at times.”

It can also be an unnerving game subdued somehow by the tranquility of Amen Corner. But only for a moment.

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Slump over? Sergio had 'very positive week' in Portugal

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:14 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Sergio Garcia’s late commitment to the Portugal Masters may have given him the boost he needed for the Ryder Cup.

After failing to qualify for the PGA Tour’s FedExCup playoffs, Garcia told European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn that he’d add the European Tour event in Portugal if he were selected to the team as a wildcard pick.

Garcia made good on his promise, and last week he tied for seventh – his best worldwide finish since March.

“I was very pleased the way I played,” he said. “I think I played very, very nicely throughout the whole week, which was nice. It felt like it was a very positive week.”

There hadn’t been many positive weeks throughout the year for Garcia, who has slipped from 10th to 28th in the world rankings. The 2017 Masters champion missed the cut in all four majors and struggled with inconsistency.

Still, Garcia was selected to the European team, and Bjorn often cited Garcia’s intangibles – his familiarity with foursomes, his presence in the team room – in justifying his pick.

Even Garcia conceded Wednesday that his selection had more to do with experience than form.

“That’s probably, to be totally honest, one of the reasons why the vice captains and the captain decided to have me on the team,” he said, “not only for what I can bring on the golf course, but what I can bring outside.”

Garcia may have found the spark that his game desperately needed. Six of his past eight rounds have been in the 60s, and he has shot a combined 27 under par during those two starts.

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McIlroy: Tiger is just one of 12 at Ryder Cup

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 7:59 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Tiger Woods might be the biggest star in golf, but Rory McIlroy views him as just one of 12 this week at the Ryder Cup.

“We’re not looking at any individuals,” he said Wednesday. “We’re just trying to beat the U.S. team. It’s great what he did on Sunday. But to focus on one player is silly, especially when I might not even see him this week at any point this week because I mightn’t be on the course with him or play against him. …

“We’re looking to beat the U.S. team. We’re not looking to just beat Tiger Woods.”

McIlroy had a front-row seat to Woods’ first victory in more than five years on Sunday. Playing in the final group at the Tour Championship, McIlroy struggled with his driver en route to a final-round 74 and disappointing tie for seventh.

Asked whether there was any element of intimidation at East Lake, McIlroy replied: “That East Lake rough was really tough, yeah. That was the most intimidating part about it. Started hitting a few drives left and right early, and I didn’t actually have quite a good view from the trees on Sunday. I couldn’t really see what was happening too much.”

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U.S. captures Junior Ryder Cup

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 26, 2018, 12:29 am

The U.S. defeated Europe, 12 ½ to 11 ½, in the Junior Ryder Cup at Golf Disneyland at Disneyland Paris.

Rachel Heck, 16, of Memphis, Tenn., clinched the winning half-point on the 18th hole with a 12-foot birdie putt that halved her match with Annabell Fuller, 16, of England.

"It was the most incredible experience of my life," said Heck, a Stanford commit who last week made the cut in her second LPGA major, the Evian Masters.

Michael Thorbjornsen, 16, of Wellesley, Mass., the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, drove the green on the 315-yard 18th hole, the ball stopping within 5 feet of the pin. His eagle putt completed 2-up win over 15-year-old Spaniard David Puig and ensured that the U.S. would retain the Junior Ryder Cup, as the defending champion needs only a tie (12 points) to maintain possession of the trophy.

Singles results

Match 1 - Lucy Li (USA) def. Amanda Linner (EUR), 4 and 3

Match 2 — Rasmus Hojgaard (EUR) def. William Moll (USA), 1 up

Match 3 —  Ingrid Lindblad (EUR) halved Rose Zhang (USA)

Match 4 – Nicolai Hojgaard (USA) def. Canon Claycomb (USA), 4 and 2

Match 5 — Yealimi Noh (USA) def. Emma Spitz (EUR), 3 and 2

Match 6 —  Ricky Castillo (USA) def. Eduard Rousaud Sabate (EUR), 3 and 1

Match 7 – Emilie Alba-Paltrinieri (EUR) def. Erica Shepherd (USA), 2 up

Match 8 — Michael Thorbjornsen (USA) def. David Puig (EUR), 2 up

Match 9 – Alessia Nobilio (EUR) def. Alexa Pano (USA), 2 and 1

Match 10 —  Robin Tiger Williams (EUR) def. Cole Ponich (USA), 2 and 1

Match 11 – Annabell Fuller (EUR) halved Rachel Heck (USA)

Match 12 — Conor Gough (EUR) def. Akshay Bhatia (USA), 1 up

 

TOUR Championship Final Round Becomes Most-Watched FedExCup Playoffs Telecast Ever and Most-Watched PGA TOUR Telecast of 2018

By Golf Channel Public RelationsSeptember 25, 2018, 6:48 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., (Sept. 25, 2018) – NBC Sports Group’s final round coverage of the TOUR Championship on Sunday (3:00-6:19 p.m. ET) garnered a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 7.8 million average viewers, as Tiger Woods claimed his 80th career victory, and his first in five years. The telecast’s TAD was up 212% vs. 2017 (2.5m). Television viewership posted 7.18 million average viewers, up 192% YOY (2.46m) and a 4.45 U.S. household rating, up 178% vs. 2017 (1.60). It also becomes the most-watched telecast in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs (2007-2018) and the most-watched PGA TOUR telecast in 2018 (excludes majors).

Coverage peaked from 5:45-6 p.m. ET with 10.84 million average viewers as Woods finished his TOUR Championship-winning round and Justin Rose sealed his season-long victory as the FedExCup champion. The peak viewership number trails only the Masters (16.84m) and PGA Championship (12.39m) in 2018. The extended coverage window (1:30-6:19 p.m. ET) drew 5.89 million average viewers and a 3.69 U.S. household rating to become the most-watched and highest-rated TOUR Championship telecast on record (1991-2018).

Sunday’s final round saw 18.4 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports Digital platforms (+561% year-over-year), and becomes NBC Sports’ most-streamed Sunday round (excluding majors) on record (2013-’18).

Sunday’s lead-in coverage on Golf Channel (11:54 a.m.-1:25 p.m. ET) also garnered a Total Audience Delivery of 829K average viewers and posted a .56 U.S. household rating, becoming the most-watched and highest rated lead-in telecast of the TOUR Championship ever (2007-2018). Golf Channel was the No. 2 Sports Network during this window and No. 7 out of all Nielsen-rated cable networks during that span.

 This week, NBC Sports Group will offer weeklong coverage of the biennial Ryder Cup from Le Golf National outside of Paris. Live From the Ryder Cup continues all week on Golf Channel, surrounding nearly 30 hours of NBC Sports’ Emmy-nominated live event coverage, spanning from Friday morning’s opening tee shot just after 2 a.m. ET through the clinching point on Sunday. The United States will look to retain the Ryder Cup after defeating Europe in 2016 (17-11), and aim to win for the first time on European soil in 25 years, since 1993.

 

-NBC Sports Group-