A Masters of Fate and Fortune

By Rich LernerApril 14, 2011, 12:02 am
AUGUSTA, Ga. – The tinkling piano strains had barely faded from the traditional CBS open when Tiger Woods turned the final round of the 75th Masters into a full-blown rock opera; the Phantom no more.

And while Tiger got going, the kid got stage fright.

Gary Player wisely cautioned in an appearance on “Live From” more than two hours before the last pairing teed off that it’s what’s inside a player that wins majors. He said we wouldn’t know about Rory McIlroy until late in the afternoon, when there’s nowhere to hide, not even between the cabins far from view at No. 10.

Through 54 holes it had all looked so good. The endless and desperate search for a new love to replace Tiger appeared to be at an end. Rory was a perfect match. He’s nice and not threatening. He signs autographs and amiably handles interviews. And he’d arrive just as Tiger did, at 21 clad triumphantly in a green jacket.

Sadly, even pathetically, there will not be another Tiger. Rory, gifted as he is, turns out to be another in a long line of young hopefuls who must suffer and learn.

Adam Scott knows. He was Rory once. Now he’s the Masters champion. Alright, he’s not the Masters winner, but in just about any other year, 12 under with birdies at 14 and 16 and a clutch par putt at 17 is good enough to win.

Birdies at 17 and 18 to finish 12 under are usually good enough to win. Jason Day didn’t.

Five birdies in a row from 12 through 16 to get to 10 under are usually good enough to win. Geoff Ogilvy didn’t.

An all time chip-in three at the 72nd hole to get to 10 under is usually good enough to win. Luke Donald didn’t.

That’s because Charl Schwarztel uncorked a closing stretch as remarkable as any in history. If Woods or Phil Mickelson had done the same, there’d be no debate. The 2011 Masters would’ve instantly been labeled the best Masters ever. Yes, better than 1986, which is still my favorite because it was the greatest Sunday by the greatest player and no one saw it coming. But this one isn’t far behind.

Guys invariably spit the bit, choke, come unglued at majors and more are lost than won. But Sunday from the opening bell was an epic display of clutch and scintillating golf by a half-dozen players on a golf course perfectly set up for a battle royal.

TIGER WOODS: Tiger has delivered two moments since his world unraveled in November 2009 where you thought, “that’s it, that’s old Tiger, he’s back.”

The first was the three-wood he sent out over the Pacific Ocean and carved back to Pebble’s 18th green on Saturday of the U.S. Open last year.

The second was the eagle at No. 8 Sunday at the Masters. And in that instant, you remember that this is what Tiger was put on this planet to do. Not to be the nicest guy in the room or the one who signs the most autographs, but the guy who ignites a fury you feel in football, letting loose that maniacal scream and the vicious right-hand fist chop that could’ve dropped George Foreman in his prime.

And then he buried the par putt on the ninth. He’d eviscerated the 7-shot deficit. Just like Old Tiger.

But as colleague Brandel Chamblee pointed out, New Tiger has demons like every other golfer, those demons that were once scared witless of Old Tiger and didn’t dare knock on his door. Old Tiger doesn’t three-putt the 12th. He might pull the 7-iron at 13, but Old Tiger finds a way to get it up and down for birdie.

Old Tiger never, ever misses the putt for eagle at 15.

So in 18 holes we witnessed this battle between Old and New Tiger. Yes, he can still will the ball into the hole. He still possesses the insane talent needed to hit the second shot to eight, to shoot 31 going out with a bogey. But on the second nine he struggled to make crucial putts. He didn’t have the signature supreme confidence to finish it off.

As for the post-round interview in which Tiger short-answered the CBS reporter, some people wondered why he has to be so coldhearted. It’s because he’s never learned to switch off the competitive burn, especially when he’s running as hot as he was having blown the Masters. And some of the best ever were also the toughest, most hard-boiled customers – Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Ray Floyd, Tom Watson, Curtis Strange, Hale Irwin and Jack Nicklaus. Yes Jack. Barbara softened Jack.

There aren’t a whole lot of sweethearts at the top of the heap in sports. Michael Jordan could be nasty. Arrogance can be appealing when it’s backed up.

Could Tiger use a week in charm school? Maybe. But he’d probably skip it to work on his putting.

In any event, the galleries at Augusta didn’t appear to be as hung up on getting warmth from Tiger. They wanted heat, the kind of scorched earth heat that he generates when he’s playing explosive golf. Who doesn’t want to watch a great athlete at his best?

He’s not there yet, but he’s getting closer.

RORY MCILROY: Rory’s collapse was the most crushing since Greg Norman blew a 6-shot lead in 1996. And like Greg, Rory handled the embarrassment with admirable grace. He didn’t pout or duck the press.

As a result, Rory is a sympathetic figure. Crowds will pull for him as fervently as they pulled for Phil through all his travails.

True, Sergio once had the public’s affection at 21, but eventually became a brooding sort. Could the same happen to Rory? You never know, but at present Rory gives off a vibe of being humble and likeable.

Will Rory win majors? Sergio is now 30 and hasn’t, and we were sure at 21 he would. We do now know Rory’s not the next Tiger because Tiger would never have shot 80 at 21. Tiger ran away and hid at 21.

True, Rory is supremely talented. But Rory is now scarred and flawed. Of course, so too was Tom Watson. He blew the 1974 U.S. Open at Winged Foot with a final-round 79 and went on to win eight majors. Hogan almost quit the game before winning nine.

CHARL SCHWARTZEL: Not unlike other major winners over the last few years, Charl Schwarztel wasn’t the popular guy that everyone wanted. He wasn’t in the original script just as many of the recent major winners weren’t. Stewart Cink instead of Tom Watson at the 2009 British Open, Lucas Glover instead of Phil Mickelson or David Duval at the 2009 U.S. Open and Martin Kaymer instead of Dustin Johnson at last year’s PGA Championship all immediately come to mind.

And invariably when someone does win a major, we’re quick to suppose that the floodgates will open and he’ll win multiple majors. But Davis Love III, David Duval, David Toms, Jim Furyk, Michael Campbell, Glover and Cink are all stuck on one major.

Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Kaymer and now Schwartzel are the latest meteors who may or may not stick. It’s getting harder because the pool of potential major winners is so deep and they’re coming from just about every corner of the globe. When China’s investment in golf begins to bear fruit in another decade or so, it will be even tougher.

Golf is, as you’ve heard repeatedly, unquestionably wide open.

Wide open was never more wildly entertaining than it was at the 2011 Masters.

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Davies wins by 10 on 'best ball-striking round'

By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 1:53 am

WHEATON, Ill. - Laura Davies immediately recognized the significance of having her name inscribed on the first U.S. Senior Women's Open trophy.

It might be a long time before anyone secures the title as emphatically as Davies did.

Davies went virtually unchallenged in Sunday's final round of the inaugural USGA championship for women 50 and older, claiming the title by 10 strokes over Juli Inkster.

''It's great seeing this (trophy) paraded down for the very first time and I get my name on it first, you know?'' Davies said. ''This championship will be played for many years and there will only be one first winner - obviously a proud moment for me to win that.''

The 54-year-old Davies shot a 5-under 68 to finish at 16-under 276 at Chicago Golf Club.

It was the English player's 85th career win, and she felt the pressure even though her lead was rarely in danger.

''I haven't won for eight years - my last win was India, 2010,'' Davies said. ''So that's the pressure you're playing under, when you're trying to do something for yourself, prove to yourself you can still win.

''So this ranks highly up there. And obviously it's a USGA event. It's hard comparing tournaments, but this is very high on my list of achievements.''

A 7-under 66 Saturday provided Davies with a five-shot lead over Inkster and what she said would be a sleepless night worrying about the pressure.

Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open

The World Golf Hall of Famer widened her advantage early Sunday when she birdied the par-5 second hole and Inkster made bogey. Davies said a par she salvaged at the 10th was another turning point.

''It wasn't the greatest hole I ever played, but I think that, to me, was when I really started to think I might have one hand on the trophy and just had to get the other one in there.''

Inkster shot an even-par 73. England's Trish Johnson also shot 73 to finish third, 12 shots back.

''I mean, she was absolutely spectacular this week,'' Johnson said about Davies. ''I've played against her for 35 years. Yesterday was the best I have ever seen her play in her entire career.

''She just said walking down 18 it was best ball-striking round she ever had. Considering she's won 85 tournaments, that's quite some feat.''

Danielle Ammaccapane was fourth and Yuko Saito finished fifth. Martha Leach was the top amateur, tying for 10th at 6-over 298.

Davies plans to play in the Women's British Open next month, and called this win a confidence-booster as she continues to compete against the younger generation. She finished tied for second at the LPGA's Bank of Hope Founders Cup earlier this year.

''You build up a little bit of momentum, and a golf course is a golf course,'' Davies said. ''Sometimes the field strength is a little bit different, but in your own mind if you've done something like this, 16 under for four rounds around a proper championship course, it can't do anything but fill you full of confidence.''

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Romo rallies to win American Century Championship

By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:42 am

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev. - Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo rallied from four points back to win his first American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe on Sunday.

Romo, who retired after the 2016 NFL season and is now an NFL analyst, had 27 points on the day to beat three-time defending champion Mark Mulder and San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, the the leader after the first two rounds.

''It's a special win,'' said Romo, who had finished second three times in seven previous trips to the annual celebrity golf tournament at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. ''It feels like you're playing a tournament back home here. The day felt good for a lot of reasons.''

Romo tapped in for par, worth one point, on the 18th hole to finish with 71 points, three ahead of Mulder, the former major league pitcher. He then caught a flight to Berlin, Wis., where he was to compete in a 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament on Monday.

The American Century Championship uses a modified Stableford scoring system which rewards points for eagles (six), birdies (three) and pars (one) and deducts points (two) for double bogeys or worse. Bogeys are worth zero points.

Pavelski had a 7-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th that could have tied Romo, but it slid by. He finished with 66 points, tied for third with Ray Allen, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 7.

Full-field scores from the American Century Championship

''It feels like nothing went in for me today,'' Pavelski said. ''But I couldn't ask for more than to have that putt to tie on the last hole.''

Romo plays as an amateur, so his $125,000 first-place check from the $600,000 purse will go to local charities and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, the primary charitable arm of title sponsor American Century Investments.

Rounding out the top five were Trent Dilfer, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, and former tennis player Mardy Fish. Each had 62 points.

Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, who fell out of contention with a mediocre round Saturday, jumped into Lake Tahoe amidst much fanfare after losing a bet to his father, Dell. The elder Curry jumped into the lake last year, so he negotiated a 20-point handicap and won by two points.

Other notable players in the 92-player field included John Smoltz, the MLB hall of Fame pitcher who two weeks ago competed in the U.S. Senior Open and finished 10th here with 53 points; Steph Curry, who finished tied for 11th with retired Marine and wounded war hero Andrew Bachelder (50); actor Jack Wagner (16th, 47 points); Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (tied for 18th, 44 points); actor Ray Romano (tied for 71st, minus-26 points); comedian Larry the Cable Guy (tied for 77th, minus-33 points); and former NBA great Charles Barkley, who finished alone in last with minus-93 points.

The tournament drew 57,097 fans for the week, setting an attendance record for the fourth straight year.

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Singh tops Maggert in playoff for first senior major

By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:10 am

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. - Vijay Singh birdied the second playoff hole to beat Jeff Maggert and win the Constellation Senior Players Championship on Sunday.

Singh knocked in a putt from about 2 feet after a nearly perfect approach on the 18th hole at Exmoor Country Club, giving an understated fist pump as the ball fell in. That gave him his first major title on the PGA Tour Champions to go with victories at the Masters and two PGA Championships.

Singh (67) and Maggert (68) finished at 20-under 268. Brandt Jobe (66) was two strokes behind, while Jerry Kelly (64) and defending champion Scott McCarron (71) finished at 17 under.

Maggert had chances to win in regulation and on the first playoff hole.

He bogeyed the par-4 16th to fall into a tie with Singh at 20 under and missed potential winning birdie putts at the end of regulation and on the first playoff hole.

His 15-footer on the 72nd hole rolled wide, forcing the playoff, and a downhill 12-footer on the same green went just past the edge.

Full-field scores from the Constellation Energy Senior Players

The 55-year-old Singh made some neat par saves to get into the playoff.

His tee shot on 17 landed near the trees to the right of the fairway, and his approach on 18 wound up in a bunker. But the big Fijian blasted to within a few feet to match Maggert's par.

McCarron - tied with Maggert and Bart Bryant for the lead through three rounds - was trying to join Arnold Palmer and Bernhard Langer as the only back-to-back winners of this major. He came back from a six-shot deficit to win at Caves Valley near Baltimore last year and got off to a good start on Sunday.

He birdied the first two holes to reach 18 under. But bogeys on the par-4 seventh and ninth holes knocked him off the lead. His tee shot on No. 7 rolled into a hole at the base of a tree and forced him to take an unplayable lie.

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Davies a fitting winner of inaugural USGA championship

By Randall MellJuly 15, 2018, 11:26 pm

Laura Davies confessed she did not sleep well on a five-shot lead Saturday night at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

It’s all you needed to know about what this inaugural event meant to the women who were part of the history being made at Chicago Golf Club.

The week was more than a parade of memories the game’s greats created playing in the USGA’s long-awaited showcase for women ages 50 and beyond.

The week was more than nostalgic. 

It was a chance to make another meaningful mark on the game.

In the end, Davies relished seeing the mark she made in her runaway, 10-shot victory. She could see it in the familiar etchings on the trophy she hoisted.

“I get my name on it first,” Davies said. “This championship will be played for many years, and there will only be one first winner. Obviously, quite a proud moment for me to win that.”

Really, all 120 players in the field made their marks at Chicago Golf Club. They were all pioneers of sorts this past week.

“It was very emotional seeing the USGA signs, because I've had such a long history, since my teens, playing in USGA championships,” said Amy Alcott, whose Hall of Fame career included the 1980 U.S. Women’s Open title. “I thought the week just came off beautifully. The USGA did a great job. It was just so classy how everything was done, this inaugural event, and how was it presented.”

Davies was thankful for what the USGA added to the women’s game, and she wasn’t alone. Gratefulness was the theme of the week.

Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open

The men have been competing in the U.S. Senior Open since 1980, and now the women have their equal opportunity to do the same.

“It was just great to be a part of the first,” three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner Hollis Stacy said. “The USGA did a great job of having it at such a great golf course. It's just been very memorable.”

Trish Johnson, who is English, like Davies, finished third, 12 shots back, but she left with a heart overflowing.

“Magnificent,” said Johnson, a three-time LPGA and 19-time LET winner. “Honestly, it's one of the best, most enjoyable weeks I've ever played in in any tournament anywhere.”

She played in the final group with Davies and runner-up Juli Inkster.

“Even this morning, just waiting to come out here, I thought, `God, not often do I actually think how lucky I am to do what I do,’” Johnson said.

At 54, Davies still plays the LPGA and LET regularly. She has now won 85 titles around the world, 20 of them LPGA titles, four of them majors, 45 of them LET titles.

With every swing this past week, she peeled back the years, turned back the clock, made fans and peers remember what she means to the women’s game.

This wasn’t the first time Davies made her mark in a USGA event. When she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1987, she became just the second player from Europe to win the title, the first in 20 years. She opened a new door for internationals. The following year, Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann won the title.

“A lot of young Europeans and Asians decided that it wasn't just an American sport,” Davies said. “At that stage, it had been dominated, wholeheartedly, by all the names we all love, Lopez, Bradley, Daniel, Sheehan.”

Davies gave the rest of the world her name to love, her path to follow.

“It certainly made a lot of foreign girls think that they could take the Americans on,” Davies said.

In golf, it’s long been held that you can judge the stature of an event by the names on the trophy. Davies helps gives the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open the monumental start it deserved.