Crenshaw winding down long, emotional Masters journey

By Rex HoggardApril 8, 2015, 7:56 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – In the spring of 1972 Ben Crenshaw was poised to play his first Masters when he received an immediate introduction to the Augusta National way.

“I had pretty long hair and [chairman Clifford] Roberts just reeled me in,” Crenshaw recalled earlier this week.

“He was talking to me and he had a great monotone voice. And he said, ‘You know, Ben, Texans have done really well in this tournament. Jackie Burke, Jimmy Demaret, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan.’ He said, ‘I’ve spent a lot of time in Texas. Sold a few oil leases. Sold some clothes down on the coast.’ He goes, ‘By the way, we have a barbershop on the grounds.’ Just like that. It was great. I went immediately and Mr. Johnson was the barber.”

Forty-four springs have passed since that wide-eyed 20-year-old amateur first drove down Magnolia Lane. And yet as Crenshaw embarked this week on his swansong tour of the course that has defined his career, he was still learning lessons about the former fruit nursery.

All the nuances, all the subtle strategies of a golf course that continually evolves while maintaining a sense of self, is what has inspired Crenshaw for more than four decades.

“You're required to do so much on this golf course,” he said. “You're required to think. I've always thought that you cannot win this tournament playing safe. You've got to take chances.”

Crenshaw announced last April that this would be his final Masters, figuring on Tuesday when he spoke with the media, “I've probably stayed too long.”

For the 63 year old, the new Augusta National is simply too much golf course and he’s failed to make a cut at the Masters since 2007. So, like the place that means so much to him, he is stepping down in subtle style.

There were no tears when he spoke with the media – although it seems likely they will come when he makes his final stroll up the 18th fairway, whenever that occurs.

Like the other former champions, Crenshaw is a direct connection to the game’s past.

In 1972, when Crenshaw made his debut, Thursday’s honorary starters were Jock Hutchison and Freddie McLeod. He watched Jack Nicklaus win his final Masters in 1986 and Woods win his first in ’97.

He’s also made a good share of his own history amid the azaleas and dogwoods.

Crenshaw clipped Tom Watson by two shots in 1984 for his first green jacket, but it was that second victory in ’95 that has established itself as one of the most memorable Masters moments.

On the eve of that tournament Crenshaw was back home in Austin, Texas, to attend the funeral of Harvey Penick, who first taught Gentle Ben the game at 6 years old.

Twenty-four hours later an admittedly emotional Crenshaw teed off with few, if any, expectations. He was fresh off missing the cut in three of his last four events and hadn’t broken 70 in two months on the PGA Tour. And, of course, there was the loss of Penick, which weighed heavily on him.

But with Carl Jackson on the bag, his caddie for all but four of his Masters starts, Crenshaw took a share of the 54-hole lead and birdied two of his last three holes for one-stroke victory over Davis Love III.

Following the final putt he collapsed in Jackson’s arms, his face in his hands and his emotions, as they always are, on his sleeve.

“Harvey was like a second father, and a wonderful teacher and a great person. To have played that well that week is beyond my comprehension,” Crenshaw recalled.

“I didn't harbor any thoughts about winning the tournament that week until I got into the tournament and started playing well, and my confidence got up. But to have won my favorite tournament for his memory will always be my best moment.”

Crenshaw taught generations how to play Alister MacKenzie’s gem, and not just Jordan Spieth and Brandt Snedeker, who have become frequent practice round partners over the years.

“That was the message to me,” said Nick Faldo when asked about Crenshaw’s legacy. “It’s not the highlight holes, it’s gutting out putts and shots that miss the highlight reel like he did in ’95.”

On Wednesday, Crenshaw tested the waters of a ceremonial golfer, replacing Arnold Palmer, who has been slowed recently by a dislocated shoulder, in the traditional group with Nicklaus and Gary Player in the Par 3 Contest.

Augusta National chairman Billy Payne also suggested that the club has something special planned for Crenshaw’s farewell, “I suspect we will see a very nice ending to Ben's round. I don't want to give away anymore secrets.”

In a rare moment of uncertainty for a man who has become the definition of conviction, Crenshaw was asked what he will do after this final turn at Augusta National.

Following a few moments of uncertainty he finally allowed, “Might just find a place in the grandstands on 15 and just sit there, I don't know.”

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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”