Great Expectations

By Rex HoggardApril 6, 2011, 10:27 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Three hundred and sixty five days ago, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne launched a volley that, depending on your point of view, was either long overdue or way overboard.

“With fame and fortune comes responsibility, not invisibility . . . Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children,” the chairman’s metaphorical finger waged at Tiger Woods, who was emerging from a self-induced exile and a scandal that had ballooned out of control for months.

On Wednesday there was no such indignation from the chairman. “We are eager to once again witness the masterful play of our invitees, hopefully once again accompanied by the enthusiastic roars of our patrons reverberating through these Georgia pines,” Payne said during his Wednesday “State of the Masters” address.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods has his eyes on a fifth green jacket. (Getty Images)
What a difference a year makes.

If the chairman’s tone is a barometer of what to expect from the season’s first major, patrons far and wide may want to preset their TiVos.

History doesn’t follow a script. For every Woods and Ben Hogan there’s a Y.E. Yang and Jack Fleck waiting to buzz kill, but if attention to detail counts for anything, and no one does minutia like Augusta National, the subtext of Payne’s media meet-and-greet was that of great expectations.

For the first time since Woods clipped the field by a dozen to collect the first of four green jackets in 1997, he is not the favorite. That honor belongs to Phil Mickelson, not that either player seemed to care much what the bookmakers believe.

“Doesn’t matter,” Woods said. “You still have to play the golf tournament, right?”

That April 1997 was also the last time Lefty was ranked ahead of Woods is either serendipity or simple math. You decide. That Mickelson, who won his third Masters last year in an emotional walk-off, seems closer to Jack Nicklaus’ record of six greens jackets than Woods is not as convoluted.

In the great Masters match between Woods and Mickelson, the big left-hander may be 1 down but there’s no ignoring the notion that he’s birdied three of the last seven holes to at least make a match of it.

On Tuesday, Mickelson was asked how he would “Phil proof” Augusta National. No chance. “I’m certainly not going to voice that,” he laughed. Truth is anything short of making him play from the other side of the ball is going to be pointless. There’s a reason why the members of Mickelson’s inner circle refer to Augusta National as “Phil’s playground.” Few, if any, major championship courses fuel Mickelson’s swashbuckling style like Augusta.

Ditto for Woods. Although he’s extended his winless run at the Masters to five years – by comparison the longest drought for Nicklaus prior to 1975 was also five years – it’s not as though he’s an AARP card away from a spot in Thursday’s ceremonial two-ball with Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

Woods has not finished worse than sixth since his last Masters victory (2005) and, by most accounts, is two decent putting rounds away from wins in 2007 and 2008. More importantly, however, he’s confident. Whether it’s misplaced poise remains to be seen, but the coy answer Woods gave when asked if he felt ready to win sounded circa 2006.

“Mm-hmmm,” he nodded.

For a player who excels at word economy, the exchange spoke volumes.

Some said a Woods victory in his first tournament back last year would have set karma back 100 years, but, at least on the eve of this year’s tournament, the statute of limitations appears to have run out on that dark cloud.

For the first time in more than a decade the list of potential winners runs well beyond the top of the marquee.

With six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking, Europe’s 11-year victory schnied seems destined to end. World No. 2 Lee Westwood came within three early Sunday bogeys of that coveted first major last year, while few have played better than Graeme McDowell and No. 1 Martin Kaymer, although the German has yet to see a weekend in three trips down Magnolia Lane.

The game’s youth also has crashed a party long believed to be the undisputed realm of the veteran. So much so, the powers trotted out Gen Y’ers Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day together on Thursday, reminding the golf world that the PGA Tour did not invent “featured pairings.”

Under the towering oak behind Augusta National’s clubhouse one could read between the buzz words. Players and caddies talked of “lush” fairways – translation: bring on the bombers; and favorable forecasts – birdie makers required, others need not apply. Sound familiar?

Under the cloud of Woods’ comeback and Mickelson’s health concerns at home the green jackets, with an assist from Mother Nature, turned up the volume last year, drowning out the background clutter with a cacophony that rattled the pine trees for at least one Sunday afternoon.

If anyone is up for an encore it is Augusta National.

One observer late Monday afternoon was flummoxed by the viewing stand behind the new tournament practice tee that looked as if it had been there for decades, not months.

“It’s how they do things,” one longtime swing coach figured. “They add a little hump or bump to a green, it’s so subtle that you think you’re losing your mind.”

At Augusta National, even change seems strangely familiar. It may be a different year, and a vastly different backdrop, but it’s hard to imagine a different ending.

Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard
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Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

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Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.

Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

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Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:30 pm

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)