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Monday Scramble: Another Masters to remember

By Will GrayApril 9, 2018, 4:30 pm

Patrick Reed gets a breakthrough win, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth run out of steam, Rory McIlroy falters, Sergio Garcia channels Roy McAvoy and more in this week's Masters edition of Monday Scramble:

Patrick Reed, Masters champ. Start getting used to it.

Reed wasn't the sentimental favorite among the patrons Sunday at Augusta National, but in the end he was a deserving winner after outlasting an elite field in one of the most anticipated majors in recent memory.

A three-shot lead entering the final round proved to be just enough, as Reed scraped in a 4-footer for par on the final green to avoid the playoff dramatics seen at Augusta National a year ago.

Reed is a complicated figure, and he won't win any popularity contests among Tour players. But those aren't the type of victories that drive him. Dating back to his two national titles at nearby Augusta State and his attempts to Monday qualify his way onto the Tour in 2012, Reed has been laser-focused on topping the best in the world inside the ropes at every possible turn.

It's a bravado that earned him the nickname Captain America in recent Ryder Cups, and now it's earned him a green jacket and etched his name in the history books.

1. As any Masters enthusiast can tell you, sometimes good breaks are required to become a champion. Reed caught a few on Sunday, but he also made the most of his opportunities.

The most memorable will likely be his approach to the 13th hole, which caught up on the bank instead of tumbling into the water, just as Fred Couples' ball did on the previous hole 26 years ago. Instead of facing a possible bogey, Reed salvaged par.

There were also putts that appeared to be racing past the hole: first on No. 3, which caught the lip and dropped for a much-needed birdie, and again on No. 17, when his ball still rolled 6 feet past after catching a piece of the hole.

But there was nothing lucky about the way he steeled his nerves to sink the par putts on his final two holes, nor the birdie putts he buried on Nos. 12 and 14 to ensure that he always stayed one step ahead of a hard-charging field.

2. If the club ever erects a statue to commemorate this year's event, it might be Reed's helicopter finish.

Known for a sharp and sometimes inaccurate draw, Reed found a way to incorporate a fade into his game this week with an unorthodox finish that seemed reminiscent of Arnold Palmer's famed follow-through. While the optics were jarring, the results were clear.

Reed found 33 of 42 fairways through the first three rounds while amassing a three-shot cushion, keeping his ball in play and feasting on the par-5s. Don't be surprised to see a few players on the tournament practice area next year working on their sawed-off finishes.

3. If green jackets were awarded for bookend performances, Spieth would have cruised to a fourth major title.

Spieth put questions of putting woes to rest with an opening-round 66 to take a two-shot lead and remind everyone that few can channel their game for a particular venue like he can at Augusta National. That sentiment was alive and well Sunday, as Spieth scorched the grounds with nine birdies over his first 16 holes to improbably grab a share of the lead after starting the day nine behind Reed.

While he'll likely rue his closing bogey, a pulled tee shot that caught a tree and turned a Sunday-record 64 into simply a memorable 64, it's those middle days that did more to derail his title chances.

Spieth stumbled out of the gates Friday, playing his first two holes in 3 over, and never got on track. While many players took advantage of soft conditions during the third round, he could only muster a 71.

As a result, he'll enjoy Reed's preferred menu at next year's Champions Dinner rather than another opportunity to serve up some Texas barbecue.

4. After holing out for bogey on No. 18, Spieth was seen taking a long look at the leaderboard propped up next to the final green. As it turns out, that was the only time he glanced at a leaderboard all day.

After the round, Spieth explained that at no point during his Sunday surge did he take stock of where he stood in the tournament, despite the fact that he actually drew even with Reed after a huge birdie on No. 16 that stirred the echoes of Royal Birkdale.

"I had no idea," Spieth said. "When I finished and I looked at the board I could have been in the lead by two and I could have been down four. And neither one would have surprised me."

5. Sunday turned out to be another reprisal of a familiar scene: Rickie Fowler, waiting in the wings to congratulate a major champ. But this one felt far different than previous iterations.

Midway through the final round, Fowler's title chances appeared to have stalled despite the fact that Reed had failed to distance himself from the field. Fowler seemed a few holes away from another respectable showing in a major, but one that on paper might imply he had a better shot at the title than he actually did coming down the stretch.

But somewhere near the turn, Fowler flipped a switch. He closed with six birdies and five pars, including a 2 on the tricky 12th and a closing birdie that bore the look of a major champion.

This was Fowler's ninth career top-10 finish in a major, and his third runner-up. But somehow this one, more than his previous efforts, made it seem like his breakthrough is just around the corner.

6. Another runner-up likely tightened Fowler's grip on the title of Best Player Without a Major, but at age 29 he still has time on his side.

Fowler is still four years younger than Phil Mickelson was when he finally broke through at the 2004 Masters, and the two men now have the same number of major top-10s (nine) at this point in their career. And in the wake of another close call, Fowler wasted little time in shifting the focus to the U.S. Open.

"I am ready to go win a major," he said. "But this was kind of the first major week that I understood that, and knew that, and felt that."

7. It was another Sunday to forget for Rory McIlroy at Augusta National.

After playing his way into the final pairing, McIlroy's confidence was overflowing in media sessions where he insisted that all the pressure was on Reed and that he would simply try to "spoil the party." But after sending his opening tee shot toward Aiken, S.C., it was clear that McIlroy was feeling plenty of heat himself as he tried to close out the career Grand Slam.

A short eagle putt on the second hole would have erased the three-shot gap he faced to start the round, but it slid by the right side. McIlroy hit a disastrous wedge on the next hole en route to bogey and never got closer than two shots the rest of the way.

Emotionally deflated, he signed for a 2-over 74 that beat only four players during the final round.

Entering the day, McIlroy insisted that he had "learned a lot" from the 2011 Masters, when he squandered the 54-hole lead and memorably got lost in the cabins lining the 10th hole. But he failed to put that knowledge to use on a day when a 4-under 68 - seemingly well within his capabilities - would have forced a playoff.

"I'll sit down and reflect over the next few days and see what I could have potentially done better," McIlroy said. "I played some great golf yesterday. I just didn't continue that golf into today."

McIlroy will be back next year for another shot at the tournament that has eluded him the most, and after five straight top-10s there's plenty of reason to believe he'll contend again. But as the likes of Weiskopf, Norman and Els can attest, a spot in the champions' locker room is guaranteed for no one.

8. It was a decidedly mixed bag for Tiger Woods as he made his return to the Masters for the first time since 2015.

Woods received plenty of hype on the heels of three straight top-12 finishes entering the week, but he opened with a 1-over 73 and never contended for a fifth green jacket.

Still, Woods did enough to make the cut, finally breaking par Sunday with a 3-under 69 to grab a share of 32nd place. It's a far cry from where he hopes to be, but still an achievement in the eyes of a man who just a few months ago wondered if he'd ever return to Augsuta National for anything beyond Tuesday's dinner.

"I struggled with obviously controlling the shape (of my irons)," Woods said. "Can't control the shape. Can't control the distance. And it was one of those weeks in that regard."

9. It was a similar tale of hype and anticipation gone awry for three-time winner Phil Mickelson.

Unlike Woods, Mickelson got off to a strong start and even was within a shot of the lead early in the second round. But his closing stretch Friday was nothing short of disaster, and after opening the third round in a driving rain with a triple bogey (including a whiff) it seemed like Lefty wanted to be anywhere but one of his favorite venues.

Mickelson finished T-36, one shot behind Woods, marking the fifth time in the last six years he has finished outside the top 20. Mickelson will turn 48 in June, and while he remains in the midst of a strong season highlighted by his win last month in Mexico he's all too aware of the fact that his chances to contend in majors are dwindling.

"I put a little bit too much pressure on myself in the majors now," Mickelson said, "because I know that I don't have a ton of time to win them, especially U.S. Opens."

10. The 13th hole at Augusta National proved so pivotal to Sergio Garcia's victory last year that he and wife Angela named their first child Azalea in honor of the picturesque par 5. This time around, his title defense came to an abrupt halt at the hands of Firethorn.

Garcia did his best Tin Cup impersonation during the opening round, sending five straight balls into the pond that sits in front of the green on the par-5 15th. On what is typically a birdie hole - and one he eagled last year during the final round - Garcia left with an octuple-bogey 13, tying for the highest score on any hole in Masters competition.

"It's the first time in my career where I made a 13 without missing a shot," said Garcia, who apparently has made multiple 13s in his career. "I hit a lot of good shots, and unfortunately the ball just didn't want to stop."

Garcia finished the week at 15 over, ahead of only two amateurs among the group of players who missed the cut. But as the Spaniard can likely attest, there's no better place to lick your wounds after an embarrasing hole or an early exit than the champions' locker room at Augusta National.

No player experienced more highs and lows this week than Masters debutant Tony Finau.

Finau went viral during Wednesday's Par 3 Contest, when he dislocated his ankle in graphic fashion while celebrating an ace, only to pop it back into place himself like it was no big deal.

Finau's playing prospects appeared in doubt, but he limped his way to an opening-round 68 and stayed on the fringe of contention into the weekend. A closing 66, highlighted by six straight birdies on the second nine, gave him a top-10 finish and secured an invite to next year's event.

Finau is one of the most well-liked players on Tour, and it was great to see him bounce back from potential adversity. But next year he'll do well to keep the celebrations to a few high-fives with his kids.

This week's award winners ... 

Golden Cub: G.T. Nicklaus. Were it not for Spieth's putt on 16 Sunday, the biggest roar of the week might have been reserved for Jack Nicklaus' 15-year-old grandson, who stepped to the tee on the final hole of the Par 3 Contest and promptly made an ace. His grandfather, the one with six green jackets, immediately called it his favorite Augusta moment.

Opening the Gates: Augusta National. In Fred Ridley's first meeting with the media as chairman, he announced the creation of the Augusta National Women's Amateur Championship, with the final round played the Saturday prior to the Masters. It's about time women got a crack at the most famous layout in golf under tournament conditions.

Countdown to Paris: With Reed's win, all four major titles now belong to Americans between the ages of 24-27. It's the first time in the modern era that all four have been won by four different players age 27 or younger.

Age Is But a Number: Tom Watson, who at 68 years young shot 6 under for nine holes to take top honors at the Par 3 Contest. Watson retired from the Masters in 2016, but he clearly hasn't lost his touch with the wedges.

Happy Trails: Mark O Meara. After missing the cut with rounds of 78-81, the 1998 champ announced that this would be his 34th and final Masters appearance as a competitor.

Racking Up the Crystal: Doug Ghim. The U.S. Amateur runner-up was the only amateur to make the cut, and he left with plenty of commemorative crystal highball glasses after recording three eagles - the most in the field. It was made all the more memorable by having his dad, Jeff, on the bag.

Still Got It: Jeff Knox. Augusta National's quiet assassin comes out of hiding as a "non-competing marker" only when an odd number of players make the cut. That meant a third-round tee time alongside Paul Casey, when Knox was the only player in the field to birdie the difficult 11th hole.

Captain's Got Jokes: In the wake of Reed's victory, Tiger Woods took to Twitter to congratulate him - and note that, at worst, he has assured himself of a captain's pick for the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia, when Woods will make his debut as captain.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Alex Noren. The Swede seemed to be flying under the radar after a number of strong performances this spring, but he missed the cut for the second straight year after rounds of 74-79. Sigh.

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U.S. Amateur playoff: 24 players for 1 spot in match play

By Associated PressAugust 15, 2018, 1:21 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer and Daniel Hillier were tied at the top after two rounds of the U.S. Amateur, but the more compelling action on Tuesday was further down the leaderboard.

Two dozen players were tied for 64th place after two rounds of stroke play at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. With the top 64 advancing to match play, that means all 24 will compete in a sudden-death playoff Wednesday morning for the last spot in the knockout rounds.

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They'll be divided into six foursomes and start the playoff at 7:30 a.m. on the par-3 17th at Pebble Beach, where Tom Watson chipped in during the 1982 U.S. Open and went on to win.

The survivor of the playoff will face the 19-year-old Hillier in match play. The New Zealander shot a 2-under 70 at Spyglass Hill to share medalist honors with the 18-year-old Hammer at 6 under. Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas who played in the 2015 U.S. Open at age 15, shot 68 at Spyglass Hill.

Stewart Hagestad had the low round of the day, a 5-under 66 at Pebble Beach, to move into a tie for 10th after opening with a 76 at Spyglass Hill. The 27-year-old Hagestad won the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur and earned low amateur honors at the 2017 Masters.

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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open

Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)

Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

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"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."