Thursday, April 30, 2009

Could a Tiger-Phil thing be brewing?

I know it's not yet cocktail hour on Thursday but this edition of the Quail Hollow Championship -- the one with the short rough and perfect conditions -- has the potential to be pretty special.

It helps when Tiger Woods opens with a 65 that was beautiful to watch. He holed a mile of putts -- 78 feet, 11 inches worth to be precise -- made a couple of Tiger-worthy saves and looked like a man intent on putting the Masters behind him.

Now here comes Phil Mickelson, suddenly 4-under par on the front nine, trying to play his way into the scrum at the top of the board. Talking to Mickelson after his pro-am round Wednesday, he was almost bubbly he was so enthusiastic.

I know, a lot will happen over the next couple of days -- Padraig Harrington is moving up the board as I write this -- but could there be a Tiger-Phil showdown on the way?

Maybe this is the week.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Players surprised by lack of rough at Quail

The twist to this year's Quail Hollow Championship -- beyond the name change -- is the course set-up.

Specifically, the rough -- or lack thereof.

Club and tournament officials decided to go with two-inch rough this year which should encourage aggressive play by players who miss fairways, provided their shots aren't far enough off line to skitter through the rough and into pine straw. It's a deviation from previous years when the rough was thicker, taking away the opportunity to play at some greens if players caught bad lies in the thick stuff.

Jim Furyk said the rough is the shortest he can remember playing anywhere other than Harbour Town. Not that it's a bad thing.

"If they get these greens firm and fast, I don't think it matters if there's rough out there or not, it's going to be really difficult," Furyk said. "But it definitely a lot different set-up than we've seen in the past."

Tiger Woods echoed the sentiment, saying he's never seen the rough this short at Quail Hollow.

"It just means that it's going to run," Woods said. "I've never seen the fairways this fast before. Balls that are hit borderline on the fairway aren't going to stay in the fairway and they're going to run. Then guys who land the ball in the rough are actually going to run into the pine needles."

A nice day for Tiger and friends

Let's see...Tiger Woods eagled the fifth hole and the seventh hole Wednesday morning during his Quail Hollow Championship round with Peyton Manning and club president Johnny Harris...

And Harris played like he owned the place, staying right around par and hitting it within a foot of the hole for a birdie at the par-3 13th -- after Tiger had stuffed his tee shot to within six feet of the hole...

And Manning had his own moments to remember, pitching in for a par from off the green at the 13th, among them.

With a large gallery following them, the Woods-Manning-Harris pairing had a relaxed feeling throughout, helped by the fact they were among the pro-am leaders as they stacked one birdie on top of another.

It was good fun for players and the people watching.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's Lefty, DLIII and AK together at Quail

How's this for star power in a threesome:
Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III and Anthony Kim.

They're paired together in the first two rounds of the Quail Hollow Championship, which begins Thursday. The Mickelson-Love-Kim pairing will play at 12:50 p.m. on Thursday off No. 1 and again at 7:40 a.m. on Friday at No. 10.

Tiger Woods will play in the opposite draw, teeing off at 7:40 a.m. Thursday on the 10th tee with Jim Furyk and David Toms then going again at 12:50 p.m. on Friday off the first tee.

Other pairings have Camilo Villegas, Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington together Thursday at 12:40 p.m. off the first tee and at 7:30 a.m. Friday off No. 10. New Masters champion Angel Cabrera is paired with Retief Goosen and Charles Howell III at 7:40 a.m. Thursday off No. 1.

Take a peek inside the TaylorMade truck

Santa has his workshop.

TaylorMade has its workshop.

It's parked behind the tennis courts at Quail Hollow this week and it looks like something the army would send into someplace you don't want to go. It's big and black with studded wheels and a military motif.

Instead, it's a state-of-the-art workplace for the latest and greatest golf equipment.

And it's not a bad place to hang out, if you like flat-screen TVs, a serious sound system and more golf clubs than Golf Galaxy.

It's where players drop in during the early part of the week to tweak their wedges or get new grips put on or, if serious attention is required, get a new driver.

There's a video posted on our site showing what it's like in there and it's an equipment junkie's Disneyland. There are drawers and drawers of clubheads and shafts and everything else you need to make a club.

TaylorMade's new R9 driver, loaded with movable weight technology, is the hottest thing going and what's really impressive is how quickly they can make a new one in the trailer.

Under the gun, they can build players a new driver in less than two minutes.

The TaylorMade guys can give their players exactly what they want. If it doesn't produce, it's not the equipment's fault.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tiger and Peyton Manning to play pro-am together

Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning will play together in the Wednesday pro-am at the Quail Hollow Championship and they won't waste any time getting started.

The Woods-Manning pairing, which will include one more amateur, will tee off Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. on the first tee.

It's Manning's second Quail Hollow appearance. He played with Sergio Garcia two years ago.

Tickets for the tournament are no longer available.

-- Tee times for Wednesday

Five questions as Quail Hollow week begins

Five early-week questions as Quail Hollow Championship week begins:

1. When will Tiger Woods arrive?
I'm guessing he'll show up sometime Tuesday afternoon and play nine holes. He's done it that way before. He used to be the first guy off on Tuesday mornings but now that he's more familiar with Quail Hollow, I'm thinking it's a later arrival.

2. Will Tiger be paired with Peyton Manning in the Wednesday pro-am? That would be pretty good wouldn't it? We'll find out later, though I've heard there will be an announcement today of a special pro-am pairing.

3. What's going on at Quail Hollow today?

Some guys are playing practice rounds and there's a small pro-am that begins at 11 a.m. Bill Haas, Danny Lee, Webb Simpson, Rich Beem, Charles Warren and Brendon de Jonge are among the pros participating.

4. Other than the name change this year, is much different at the tournament?

The logo and color scheme -- things are navy and copper now -- have changed but pretty much everything else is as it was. The row of corporate hospitality chalets along the 18th fairway is slightly smaller and a few other things have been downsized slightly. Otherwise, things are just as they have been.

5. Why isn't Kenny Perry playing in the Quail Hollow Championship?

Perry earned a new legion of fans with his play at the Masters but he's taking this week off to serve as grand marshal of the Kentucky Derby along with his father. A native Kentuckian, Perry said he's never been to the Derby. I'll bet he gets a huge ovation.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Peyton Manning set for Quail pro-am

Peyton Manning is returning to Charlotte -- but without the shoulder pads.

Manning, the 2008 NFL MVP, will play in the Wednesday pro-am at the Quail Hollow Championship, an event he's played in previously.

It will be interesting to see who Manning is paired with in the pro-am, though there's been no announcement about that. Manning played with Sergio Garcia the last time he participated in the pro-am.

Three-time Nextel Cup driver Jimmie Johnson, driver Michael Waltrip, former NBA great Julius Erving and ESPN's Chris Berman are also scheduled to play in the Wednesday pro-am.

Quail Hollow close to perfect this year

Quail Hollow may never have been in better condition than it will be for the PGA Tour's visit next week.

It's nearly perfect.

Tee to green with a thick but manageable crop of rough, the golf course is in superb condition. The decision to more than triple the amount of rye grass overseed applied last fall has paid off beautifully.

The rough will be about two inches high, not deep enough to force pitch-out golf for players that miss the fairway but significant enough to make approach shots into greens more difficult to control.

If the weather cooperates, the course will play firm and fast the way club and tournament officials want it to play. The greens got a heavy dose of water on Wednesday night but won't get much more as the tournament approaches.

Tour officials are likely to go for a more difficult set-up on Thursday and Friday then back off a bit on the weekend to encourage more aggresive scoring. As always, they'll move the tees up on the short par-4 eight and 14th holes a few times but never play both holes up on the same day.

They're also likely to play a shorter tee on the par-3 17th hole once or twice during the tournament. It's still a tough shot with the green running slightly away from the players but the difference in hitting a 4-iron and a 6 or 7-iron into the green is substantial.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wadkins gets deserved Hall of Fame spot

It's about time.

Lanny Wadkins, one of the best players of his generation, has been elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame, it was announced today.

Wadkins won 21 times on the PGA Tour, including the 1977 PGA Championship and the 1979 Players Championships.

Beyond that, Wadkins played a significant role in the emergence of the Ryder Cup into a major championship-level event. Wadkins played with an emotional fire that was never far from the surface.

At his best, Wadkins was fearless on the course and could be a spectacular iron player. He came across as cocky in many eyes but he was a special talent who deserves the honor he's now receiving.

Before turning pro, Wadkins was a two-time All-American at Wake Forest. He also won the 1970 U.S. Amateur championship.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dr. J and Double J to play Quail pro-am

The Wednesday pro-am at the Quail Hollow Championship will have a dose of star power beyond the PGA Tour stars competing.

Three-time Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will play in the 18-hole pro-am as will former Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip.

Julius Erving will also play in the pro-am for the first time as will ESPN announcer Chris Berman.

Tickets for the Wednesday pro-am are available at http://www.qhchampionship.com/ or at the tournament kiosk in Southpark mall.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mickelson, Immelman Commit to Quail Hollow

Phil Mickelson and Trevor Immelman are the latest high-profile golfers to officially commit to play in the Quail Hollow Championship next week.

The addition of Mickelson, the second-ranked player in the world, gives the tournament nine of the top 15 in the current world rankings.

That number will increase if, as expected, Tiger Woods and Geoff Ogilvy, commit later this week.

Mickelson has three top-10 finishes in five starts at Quail Hollow while Immelman lost the 2006 championship to Jim Furyk in a sudden-death playoff.

Other top-15 players already in the field include Sergio Garcia (No. 3); Padraig Harrington (No. 6); Vijay Singh (No. 8); Camilo Villegas (No. 10); Robert Karlsson (No. 11); Steve Stricker (No. 12); defending champion Anthony Kim (No. 13); and Furyk (No. 14).

Daily tickets are sold out for Saturday and nearing a sellout for Friday and Sunday. Weekly grounds passes and practice-day packages are available at www.qhchampionship.com or at the event kiosk in Southpark Mall.

Waiting on Tiger and Phil

By Friday at 5 p.m., everyone who's going to play in next week's Quail Hollow Championship will have to officially commit.

That means Tiger Woods (likely), Phil Mickelson (certainly) and Geoff Ogilvy (probably) should add their names to an already impressive list of players headed here next week.

Even without Tiger, Phil and Ogilvy, the tournament has official commitments from new Masters champion Angel Cabrera, Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh, Padraig Harrington, Zach Johnson, Robert Karlsson, defending champion Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas, Ian Poulter, Adam Scott, Davis Love III, Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Rocco Mediate and the one and only Boo Weekley.

Aside from major championships (and overseas events that offer big appearance money), Woods typically doesn't commit until the last minute. That's been his policy and it's not likely to change this week. The vibes, however, are good about Woods returning to the tournament he won two years ago.

Mickelson's camp has said he's coming. It's just a matter of making it official. Ogilvy is also expected to join the party.

That's a strong lineup.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rory Leaves, Gay Arrives, Price Returns

A week before the Quail Hollow Championship arrives, let's take a whirl around the Front Nine:

1. STILL A KID

After finishing the Verizon Heritage early Sunday afternoon, 19-year-old Rory McIlroy (above) walked toward the scoring trailer and, upon seeing a familiar face, raised his hands over his head and said, "I'm going home!"

It has been a whirlwind three weeks for the Irish teen, he finished tied for 19th in the Shell Houston Open, tied for 20th in the Masters and a disappointing tied for 58th in the Heritage.

"It's been great," McIlroy said before heading overseas. "Enjoy coming here. I love the way of life, the climate, the courses. But three weeks is more than enough for me."

McIlroy said he plans to take this week off, playing some tennis and soccer at home with friends, getting away from golf for a while.

Though he liked Harbour Town, McIlroy said he wasn't as sharp as he'd have liked here.

"I think (the Masters) got the best of me," McIroy said. "I wasn't there this week. I burned a lot of energy at Augusta but I still tried to play my best here."

McIlroy said he will re-evaluate whether to play the week after the Masters next year, assuming he's in the field.

He has also put off joining the PGA Tour, preferring to base himself on the European Tour, at least for the time being.

Asked if it's true he may get his bushy black hair trimmed when he gets home, McIlroy wasn't saying.

"I might do it," he said. "We'll see."

2. GET TO KNOW HIM

If you weren’t quite sure who Brian Gay (left) was before his blowout victory at the Verizon Heritage, you have an idea now.

And you’ll probably get more familiar with him as the season plays out.

Gay’s personality is as understated as his fashion-forward clothes are loud, and he’s comfortable with that. While the attention has focused on other guys, Gay has steadily moved up in class.

He’s not the type to overpower long courses but at certain places – Harbour Town was ideal for him just as Colonial should be – Gay’s precise ballstriking and sharp short game make him dangerous. Don’t be surprised if he wins again this year.

3. THE MASTERS, FINALLY

The win at Hilton Head stamped Gay’s ticket to the Masters next year and, like so many others, it fulfills a lifetime dream.

The child of a military family, Gay grew up in Georgia and Alabama and attended his first Masters before he was 10 years old. He’s been to the tournament several times and had chances to play Augusta National but never has.

“I said I’d never go play it until I got in the tournament,” Gay said Sunday. “I figured I’d wait and play my way in.”

Consider it done.

4. PRICE IS FINALLY RIGHT

It’s surprising that it took Nick Price two years on the Champions Tour before winning his first tournament – and it wasn’t the prettiest thing when it happened.

Price won the Outback Pro-Am Sunday near Tampa with a final round that included three double-bogeys and one bogey offset by seven birdies. Not exactly classic stuff but it got the job done.

“Things are supposed to get easier when you get older,” Price said after his victory. “They’re getting harder.”

Price is one of the great gentlemen in the game and was the No. 1 player in the world for a time. He struggled with his game before hitting the Champions Tour because, like others, he tried to find some extra distance and wasn’t the same player.

Now that he’s finally won again, maybe he’ll start stacking them up.

5. THE ENVELOPE PLEASE

The World Golf Hall of Fame will announce its new class this week during the Champions Tour visit to Savannah, Ga.

Lanny Wadkins seems likely to get in with Doug Ford a possibility. On the international side, Jose Maria Olazabal deserves a spot.

6. TICKET UPDATE

Daily tickets for Saturday’s round at the Quail Hollow Championship have sold out and Friday and Sunday tickets are close to being gone.

Weekly badges are still available as are practice packages which are good Monday through Wednesday. With a handful of high-profile commitments expected this week, tickets will probably go fast.

The new ticket booth at Southpark Mall has been a great success. Tickets are also available at www.qhchampionship.com.

7. SO CLOSE TO A SLAM

When Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst lost the ACC women’s individual championship Sunday in a playoff with Wake Forest’s Natalie Sheary, it prevented her from winning the title each of her four years at Duke.

Blumenherst, the three-time national player of the year, has struggled at times this season but has played much better recently. In a program blessed with exceptional talent for years, Blumenherst has set a new standard.

8. THE LIST

Double-digit victories on the PGA Tour since 1998:

  • 2000 U.S. Open 15 strokes Tiger Woods
  • 2006 BellSouth 13 strokes Phil Mickelson
  • 2003 Bay Hill 11 strokes Tiger Woods
  • 2000 WGC-NEC 11 strokes Tiger Woods
  • 2009 Verizon 10 strokes Brian Gay

9. THE LAST WORD

"They like to goof off and hoot and holler just like I do." -- Boo Weekley (above), on why he's so popular with spectators

Friday, April 17, 2009

Love is in the air -- again

This just in – Davis Love III is in contention at the Verizon Heritage golf tournament.

There’s a shock, huh?

Love has won five tartan jackets at Harbour Town through the years and, while he doesn’t need another one in his closet, he’d love to have it because it would give him another chance to win a green jacket.

After pushing to get back into the top 50 in the world rankings before the Masters to earn an invitation to Augusta, Love was there until he missed the cut at Bay Hill, dropping him out and leaving him with last weekend free.

He doesn’t want it to happen again. The quickest way to get into next year’s Masters is to win at Harbour Town this week, getting an automatic spot next April at Augusta.

“I know I can win,” Love said Friday after shooting a 4-under par 67 that put him in the top five on the leader board.

“I just have to keep playing well, win one, relax and play. This place helps me do that. I realized after Bay Hill I was trying to accomplish things on the golf course rather than just playing the golf course…The things that sound easy are sometimes the hardest to do.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Haas tradition continues at Hilton Head

As if I didn’t have enough reminders about getting older, I got another Thursday at Harbour Town.

There were many days when I’d catch up with Jay Haas to talk to him about his round that day or something else.

On Thursday, it was Jay’s son, Bill, I was talking to in the same place where I so often talked with his father.

Bill, who was born in Charlotte, played golf at Wake Forest and lives in Greenville, S.C., is in his fourth full season on the PGA Tour. He’s been successful but hasn’t yet had the breakthrough moment many of us expected he’d have had by now.

He knows it and he’s an as anxious as anyone for it to happen.

Maybe this is the week.

Haas shot a 3-under par 68 in the first round that put him on the leader board, a good start on a course where it can go sideways in a hurry.

“It’s a place I come to where I’m not so concerned about how I play. It’s more of a fun week,” Haas said, standing outside the clubhouse.

“This is where my parents met. I came here every year as a kid, either on spring break or they just took me out of school. So I come here not as concerned about how I’m playing. Maybe that’s a good thing.”

A year ago, Haas was really down on himself and his game during a stretch where he missed six straight cuts.

Things aren’t going much better right now but Haas feels differently.

“My attitude needs to improve to being more positive and being more patient,” he said. “I think I’m learning that slowly. I wish I could learn it faster.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It's Boo talking about bugs

Taking a mid-week tour around the Back Nine, Harbour Town style:

1. AND YOU SMELL FRESH, TOO

There is one thing wrong with the Verizon Heritage at Harbour Town – the no see ‘ums.

They’re little biting bugs that can make life miserable for players and spectators if the wind isn’t blowing. By the time you know they’re on you, they’re biting you, leaving an itchy red bump that can leave your arms looking like you have the measles.

There are various ideas of how to keep them away. A coating of Avon’s Skin So Soft lotion is among the most popular.

Boo Weekley, who spends days in the woods hunting, hates the little buggers. Recently, he learned that using Listerine on your exposed skin keeps them away.

“Listerine, yes siree,” Weekley said Wednesday. “A pro (at Sea Island) told us that. He said just take a little napkin, pour a little Listerine on it and pat yourself down where your skin is showing…pat it around the side of your ears and everywhere and you should be fine.

“Good thing if you’ve got bad breath. You can lick your skin. Lick it off.”

Weekley said he tried the theory recently when he took some mouthwash from a locker room and patted it on himself. He said it worked for a little while but then seemed to attract the bugs.

“We asked the pro, ‘What’s up with that?’” Weekley said. “(He said), ‘That’s Scope, that ain’t Listerine.’ Why would you put Scope in there if Listerine works?”

Leave it to Boo to ask the right question.

2. EXPLAINING HARBOUR TOWN

Perhaps more than most PGA Tour courses, Harbour Town seems to play favorites.

Davis Love III has won V times. Hale Irwin won three times. Double winners include Hubert Green, Tom Watson, the late Payne Stewart, Boo Weekley and Stewart Cink.

It’s not an issue of power. It’s a question of position off the tee and into greens. With putting surfaces the size of bedrooms, there’s not much wiggle room at Harbour Town.

That’s why it’s not for everyone.

“This course…puts people into two camps psychologically,” Cink said. “You either get into the camp where you feel like you’re in jail because of the trees and how close everything is or you feel like your goal is well defined by a smaller target.

“I know one of my friends doesn’t play here because he feels like his good shots end up behind trees too often and it psyches him out. That kind of thing is part of the challenge of this golf course.”

3. SO MUCH FOR THE TREADMILL

For all the chatter about how important working out is for professional golfers these days, the three guys in the Masters playoff – Cabrera, Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell – aren’t exactly kings of the gym.

“I can’t really say I’m working out or anything,” Perry said at Augusta, adding that his approach works for him.

Campbell will never be confused with Camilo Villegas nor will Cabrera.

According to Sports Illustrated this week, Cabrera ordered off the menu at the annual Sunday night champions reception with Augusta National members. Cabrera ordered the Tiger Woods cheeseburger on the club menu – and liked them enough that he ate nine of them. Reportedly they’re not full-sized burgers but still…

4. GOING, GOING…

Tickets for Saturday’s third round at the Quail Hollow Championship are expected to sell out soon so if you’re planning on going, you’d better act fast. Saturday tends to be the biggest day of tournament week but sales are reportedly moving well for other days as well.

Tournament week is April 27-May 3. For ticket information, visit www.qhchampionship.com or visit the kiosk in Southpark Mall.

5. LIKE OLD TIMES

It’s still four months before the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield in Greensboro but it’s never too early to mention something new that sounds like fun.

This year, there will be an open-air party deck near the 17th green, conjuring up memories of the famously raucous 17th hole at Forest Oaks, the event’s previous site.

The new party deck will be in addition to luxury suites and premium grandstands in the same area.

Daily tickets to the 17th hole party deck are $150 and include tournament admission, lunch, snacks, soft drinks, beer and wine. For information, go to www.wyndhamchampionship.com.

6. THE PICK

I’m not exactly going out on a limb here but I don’t think Boo Weekley wins a third straight time at Harbour Town. I’m not picking Davis Love III either. All they’ve done is win seven times between them at Harbour Town.

This week, I’m picking Paul Casey. He’s so solid and knows how to work his way around a golf course where power isn’t the most important element.

My darkhorse; Brett Quigley.

7. THE ACC MEN

The Clemson Tigers are coming off one of the year’s most impressive – and chilliest – performances when they rallied from 13 strokes behind to beat a powerful field and win the U.S. Collegiate tournament in Alpharetta, Ga., last week with snow flurries during the final round.

The victory, keyed by Phillip Mollica, Kyle Stanley and Luke Hopkins, sends the Tigers into the ACC championship on a roll.

The tournament is Friday through Sunday at the Old North State Club on Badin Lake.

The Tigers are ranked fifth nationally, Georgia Tech is sixth and N.C. State 24th in the latest Golfweek rankings. Stanley, N.C. State’s Matt Hill and Florida State’s Drew Kittleson, who played in the Masters last week, are top contenders for the individual crown.

8. THE ACC WOMEN

One huge question hangs over the women’s ACC championship – can Duke win a 14th straight?

Normally, it’s a foregone conclusion. But not this year.

The Blue Devils have struggled this season and are 10th in the latest national rankings behind Virginia (fifth) and Wake Forest (seventh).

Amanda Blumenherst, who has won three straight ACC individual crowns, has played well in recent weeks and may be the key to the Blue Devils extending one of the great streaks in college athletics.

9. THE LAST WORD

“I missed the first three of my career here, ’97, 98, 99. When I finally got here for the first time, it was like what have I been doing not being here? This is awesome.” – Stewart Cink, a two-time Heritage winner, on his fondness for Harbour Town.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The PGA Tour's version of spring break

You hear it every year but the difference between last week at the Masters and this week at the Verizon Heritage can’t exaggerated.

You name it, it’s different.

From pine trees to palm trees.

From a major championship to a major decompression.

Under gray skies Tuesday afternoon, there was a line of kids wrapped around the putting green waiting for their chance to hit two putts under the guidance of former Clemson golfers Lucas Glover and Charles Warren.

Make one and you received a backpack. Miss and you still had a memory.

Charlotte’s Johnson Wagner was on the putting green, waiting for his wife to call and tell him to come home because she’s going into labor.

“I think I can make it in 3 ½ hours,” Wagner said.

That’s after getting out of the web of roads and roundabouts in and around the Sea Pines Resort.

Charles Howell III played nine holes, hit some putts and chatted it up with acquaintances.

Nineteen-year old Rory McIlroy was there and so was his girlfriend from Ireland, over on a spring break trip.

Ernie Els was hanging around. So were Camilo Villegas and local hero Boo Weekley.

No one seemed to be in any hurry to get anywhere.

The business end of this week starts on Thursday. Until then, it feels like spring break for the PGA Tour.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Masters grace...and the lack thereof

With the year’s first major championship still fresh, let’s take a spin around the Front Nine:


1. GRACE…AND THE LACK THEREOF

As if the differences in 48-year-old Kenny Perry and 29-year-old Sergio Garcia (above) weren’t obvious enough beforehand, Sunday afternoon at Augusta National revealed just how far apart they really are.

One of them is a grown man. One isn’t.

Despite a devastating loss, Perry said and did all the right things. He applauded Angel Cabrera’s remarkable par save on the first extra hole and admitted he couldn’t hit the clutch shots at the end when the tournament was his to win.

It’s hard enough to lose a Masters you led with two holes to play. Then you have to tell the world why it happened. Perry was gracious, honest and sympathetic.

It’s no secret that once Tiger and Phil lost their chances, Perry was the sentimental choice. Perry knows that could have been his last chance to win a major and it must sting a little more.

He could have whimpered. Instead, he said, “I’m not going pity-party on me.”

Then there’s Garcia, who apparently loves pity parties because he keeps having them.

During one of the early rounds, Garcia’s tee shot at the par-3 16th hit the flag and skittered about 15 feet away from the hole. He shook his head then made a gesture to his playing partner about how his ball could have fallen straight down but instead ran away like rabbit being chased.

Sergio, he always reminds us, never gets a break.

Then after the tournament ended, The Golf Channel caught Sergio in full whine. “I don’t like it to tell you the truth,” Garcia said of Augusta National and the Masters. “I don’t think it’s fair. It’s too tricky. It’s too much of a guessing game.

“I don’t care. They can do whatever they want. I just come here and play and then go home.”

Apparently the comments struck a nerve. On Monday, Garcia issued an apology to Augusta National members and golf fans through his management group.

In his statement, Garcia said he "blamed the golf course instead of putting the blame where it belongs, on myself. I didn't get it done this week." He added that playing in the Masters is "an honor" and he hopes to one day add his name to the list of champions.

The damage -- more of it to his reputation -- was already done.

2. TWO U.S. WINS – BOTH MAJORS

At No. 67 in the world rankings entering the Masters, Angel Cabrera became the lowest-ranked player to win the green jacket since the rankings came into existence more than 20 years ago.

He’s won only twice on the PGA Tour but he picks good spots – the 2007 U.S. Open and this Masters.

With two major championships, Cabrera put himself in a category that includes Bernhard Langer, Greg Norman, Johnny Miller, Curtis Strange, Jose Maria Olazabal and other big-time players.

It also gives Cabrera more majors than Davis Love III, Tom Kite, Fred Couples, Jim Furyk and many other accomplished players.

3. GETTING IT RIGHT

Among the lasting elements of this Masters will be the changes to the course set-up to allow for better scoring.

Rather than take a rigid approach, the tournament committee backed off in places, moving tees forward, setting slightly softer hole locations and allowing more opportunities for scoring without minimizing the challenge.

“The golf course could not be better,” Ben Crenshaw said. “There was a slight give in the committee and it was nice to see.”

When the wind blew, it threw an added dynamic into the mix. More than at most courses, Augusta National’s personality changes with the wind.

“It makes the course so elusive and slippery then,” Crenshaw said. “You’re really fighting for pars. It magnifies the undulations.

“(Augusta National) has a different set of hazards. This course has a lot of mental hazards.”

4. A LASTING MEMORY

Masters week wasn’t all U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee hoped it would be, but he won’t soon forget what happened on the 10th hole on Friday.

That’s where the 18-year-old six-putted.

So if you’re wondering how you make a Masters record nine at No. 10 – the highest score ever on the hole – you take three to reach the green then kick it around from there like you’re playing hockey.

Lee said the six-putt stayed with him for a while. I can see that.

At least it didn’t cost him any money, since he was an amateur.

Now he’s turning pro and those six-putts can be expensive.

5. SPEAKING OF THE KIDS

Not surprisingly, the teenagers – Lee, Rory McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa – weren’t factors in the tournament, unless you count McIlroy’s near disqualification because of his apparent frustration in a bunker at the 18th hole Friday afternoon.

McIlroy was subsequently cleared of any rules violation but he wasn’t a factor beyond getting more exposure on the world stage.

Perhaps more than any other event, experience is invaluable at the Masters. It seems we’re reminded of that every April.

6. HURRY UP, PLEASE

Slow play seems to always be an issue but it was especially aggravating during the first two rounds of the Masters.

Five-hour rounds were routine and, in Friday’s second round, the final pairing needed 5 hours, 23 minutes to finish.

It got so bad that at one point D.J. Trahan lay down on one hole for 15 minutes waiting to play.

It has been several years since a PGA Tour player has been penalized for slow play. That needs to change. What good are threats if there’s no follow-through?

7. ON TO HILTON HEAD

The Verizon Heritage has another good field this week led by two-time defending champion and island hero Boo Weekley.

Ernie Els was a late addition to the field that includes five-time winner Davis Love III, Justin Leonard, Trevor Immelman, Camilo Villegas, Paul Casey, Jose Maria Olazabal and 19-year-old Rory McIlroy.

8. THE LIST

The three most difficult holes in the 2009 Masters:

1: No, 11, par 4: 4.328 stroke average

2. No. 12, par 3: 3.301 stroke average

3. No. 10, par 4: 4.239 stroke average

9. THE LAST WORD

“I’m not going there. I’m not going pity-party on me. All I know is the big stars make it happen. They are where they are and we’re down there. I just hope somewhere I can get back up there again.” – Kenny Perry to reporters after the Masters.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Don't cry for Kenny Perry

Kenny Perry doesn’t want us to feel sorry for him.

He cares too much about too many other more important things – he donates five percent of his earnings to a school in Kentucky – to wallow in the disappointment of a great chance missed.

Still, you had to feel for the guy who was two solid holes away from winning the Masters and having a place at the annual champions dinner for as long as he could make it.

He had a chance at the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla in his home state of Kentucky and kicked it away.

This one was different but it felt the same.

“I’ve got two to think about now,” Perry said Sunday evening. “I was young at Valhalla. Here, I thought I had enough to hang in there. But I’m proud of how I played. I just kept chugging along.”

Rather than point to a specific shot that cost him, Perry said he didn’t putt well enough through the week to win. He did putt well enough. He just needed to make one more putt.

He would like to have the three-putt par at the 13th back and he’d like to have the chip shot from behind the 17th green over. When he’s under pressure, Perry’s right hand tends to fire too quickly on finesse shots. It caused him to skull two chip shots in his playoff win at the John Deere Classic last summer and it happened again Sunday at the worst possible time.

He could have putted the ball behind 17 but didn’t because he hadn’t done that well during the week.

On the 72nd hole, Perry had the putt you live for – a 10-footer to win the Masters from a spot where so many have done it before. Knowing what he needed to do, Perry hit the putt too softly.

He caught a bad break on the second playoff hole when his tee shot picked up a glob of mud on the ball. Unable to hit the one shot that would end it all, Perry let it all gradually slip away.

Surely, he’s disappointed. But he smiled Sunday night, said he was going to have fun and you halfway thought he meant it.

There are plenty of things we can be concerned about. Kenny Perry isn’t one of them.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Be careful what you wish for

Sometimes wishes do come true.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson paired together on Sunday at the Master.

Okay, so they’re going off about seven strokes and one hour before the leaders but you can’t have everything. Can you?

If either Tiger or Phil is going to make this Masters about themselves, they better hurry. But there’s no reason to think either of them is going to do anything dramatic today.

Woods has looked frustrated from the start in this Masters. He gets that way when putts don’t fall and they’re not falling this week. Only six guys in the field rank lower in putting this week than Tiger.

And he’s not sure which way his misses are going. On Saturday, he snap-pulled his opening tee shot into the left trees at the first hole then followed that by fanning a big slice into the right trees at No. 2.

Not exactly his A game.

Mickelson hasn’t been much better. Sometimes he seems to take one step up, two steps back. Just when it seemed he was poised to make a move Saturday, he bogeyed the 10th and 11th holes and faded into the azaleas.

The sentimental choice in the final round will be Kenny Perry. He’s a genuinely nice man who has been a very good player for nearly two decades and will be remembered with greater regard if he wins.

Perry has had a vibe about him all week that makes you think this is his time. He’s been resolute in his interviews and, until he showed some shakiness Saturday, his game had looked rock-solid.

If he can handle the front nine Sunday, Perry can win. That’s not me saying. That’s what Perry said late Saturday.

Cabrera is dangerous. He can maul the ball and he seems to be fearless. If he wins, it won’t be a shock.

Is there anyone else?

I’m not sure I think Chad Campbell can win but Jim Furyk is a different story. If he can hole some putts, watch out.

And while everyone will be watching Phil and Tiger, the real story will probably be someplace else.

A tradition -- and an event -- unlike any other

AUGUSTA, Ga. – On Friday evening, it didn’t just rain in Augusta. The sky fell, complete with thunder, lightning, wind, hail and a nearby tornado.

On Saturday, Augusta National was, as usual, flawless.

How exactly it could pour rain and leave no mud is a question for Aristotle – or the grounds crew – at Augusta National to answer.

The only way you could tell it had rained was the sand that had been sprinkled to absorb the moisture in a few damp areas.

Not beach sand.

Green sand.

Masters green.

The beauty of the Masters – beyond the golf – is the attention to detail that goes into everything the tournament and the club does.

While the process of getting there may be incredibly complicated, everything about it seems simple.

The pairings are printed on a sheet of paper, not some ad-cluttered pamphlet that’s harder to fold than a road map.

No one gets inside the ropes except the players and their caddies. The media stands outside and watches like everyone else (though there are a few small viewing stands in spots around the course).

Commercials pop up four times an hour during the telecast. Thankfully, there are no television timeouts though Sean O’Hair’s pace of play comes close.

Lunch is famously inexpensive and proves that white bread is alive and well, at least in Georgia.

This year, the tents that housed the pimento cheese sandwiches, potato chips and $2.75 beers have been replaced by permanent structures that would increase the property values in almost any neighborhood.

The open-air buildings look like something you’d see in ‘Coastal Living’ magazine with the light wood interiors, dormers and cedar shingles on the roof.

There are picnic tables, stacked stone walls and an assorted of blooming vegetation.

I’m wondering if I can rent one of the buildings for vacation.

The public restrooms have slate walls that remind you of a Tuscan villa and automatic towel dispensers that roll out the paper before you’ve washed your hands.

There are restroom attendants and, as is the rule at Augusta National, no tipping allowed.

The best thing of all is the no-cell phone policy which is strict and unforgiving. Birds twitter. People don’t.

It’s amazing. People actually talk to each other.

People smile.

There’s another world just outside the gates of Augusta National where the world lives.

There’s mud out there. The sand isn’t green and if you want to grab a bite, get in line at McDonald’s down the road.

And if you need directions, the Masters will be happy to provide them.

Friday, April 10, 2009

This Masters is just getting started

After 36 holes, is this Masters halfway home or just getting started?

I tend to think it’s just getting started.

Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry share the lead entering Saturday but no one is measuring them for green jackets yet.

If I’m picking one of those two to win, I’d go with Perry, who looks and sounds like a guy totally comfortable in his surroundings. He’s never been big on major championships but I get the sense his feelings have changed.

He said he could retire right now and be satisfied with his career but winning a major would alter the way history remembers him. He’d be the oldest man to ever win a major, not the guy who probably blew one when he sat in the TV tower rather than warming up for a playoff he lost to Mark Brooks in the 1996 PGA Championship.

He’s driving it beautifully and he sounds like a commercial for the new TaylorMade R9 driver in his bag. Perry says he’s usually two years behind the curve on new equipment, tending to stick with what’s comfortable, but he’s so straight off the tee with the new stick, he’s willing to sacrifice six to eight yards.

The key to the weekend is, as always, who putts the best. That causes me to wonder about Campbell, who’s solid but rarely spectacular.

Angel Cabrera can’t be ignored. He’s played well recently and he doesn’t scare. Big, tough courses play to his strength, which is power off the tee.

Anthony Kim showed me something with a 65 on Friday. Sergio Garcia fought his way up the board late, too.

With seven holes to play, Phil Mickelson was going to miss the cut then he turned into fantastic Phil again. He’s not been good in the third round through his Augusta career and he needs a low number to have a chance.

Then there’s Tiger Woods. He’s not particularly sharp and the ragged edge is costing him. He bogeyed the 18th hole two days in a row and he hasn’t been able to generate any momentum.

Waiting until Sunday will be too late for Tiger and Phil. If this is their week, then Saturday needs to be their day.

Will Tiger play Quail Hollow?

Tiger Woods and caddie Steve Williams at Augusta. Will they be at Quail Hollow too?


Two weeks from today, Tiger Woods will have to let the Quail Hollow Championship know if he’s playing this year or not.

And if anyone knows for sure what he’s planning to do, they’re not saying.

Every year this time there are questions about whether Woods will play in Charlotte and every year it goes down to the last day or so.

The only year when it seemed certain Tiger would play in Charlotte was last year because he was the defending champion. Then, immediately after the Masters, Woods had the lesser of two knee surgeries, and he missed Quail Hollow.

What are the chances Tiger plays in Charlotte this year?

I’m guessing 60-40 that he does.

He hasn’t said no. That’s encouraging.

Woods keeps his schedule private – unless he’s going to Australia in the fall where they’re going to pay him $3 million. Appearance fees are prohibited on the PGA Tour, in case you’re wondering.

It would help tournaments sell tickets if they knew for sure he was coming. For the first time, the Quail Hollow Championship may not be a sellout so news that Woods is playing would be like a stimulus package.

Woods has a plan and he sticks to it. Even when everyone was sure Tiger was going to play the WGC-CA Championship at Doral last month, he waited until just a few hours before the entry deadline to officially commit.

Players have until 5 p.m. the Friday before the tournament begins to enter. Some players like to commit early. Others wait.

Phil Mickelson is going to play at Quail Hollow – his website and the people around him all say so -- but he has not officially committed yet.

Most of the top players are going to play Quail Hollow.

But the question people keep asking is will Tiger play?

I can give you a definitive answer: Maybe.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

A nice way to start

The Masters has gone soft.

In apparent response to complaints that Augusta National had become too difficult in recent years, the combination of a softer course set-up and ideal scoring conditions has filled the first round with birdies.

Chad Campbell made five straight birdies to start his round. Shingo Katayama shot 5-under par 67 to lead midway through the first day. Even old-timers Greg Norman and Larry Mize played their way onto the leader board.

“It was a different type of golf course today,” Kevin Sutherland said after shooting a 3-under par 69.

There were, from time to time, bursts of noise rumbling around the course when players made birdies.

Hole locations were, in many cases, cut in more accessible spots and the tees were moved up in several places, allowing Augusta National to play shorter than it might.

It provided a nice start.

For Tiger, it's a matter of perspective


Tiger Woods was just answering a question.

He was asked Tuesday about whether he feels the same this year as he did last year when he admitted he was thinking about winning the Grand Slam.

Did the knee injury and the eight months off change his approach?

“Well, I know I can do it,” he said. “I’ve done it. It’s hard for me to sit here and tell you that it can’t be done, because I’ve done it before.”

For a guy who gets criticized for not being forthcoming enough in interviews, that sounds pretty clear to me.

To be clear, Woods didn’t say he expects to win the Grand Slam this year. Only that he thinks it can be done.

It’s a ridiculous long shot to think Tiger – or anyone – can win the four majors in the same year.

Woods hasn’t won the Masters since 2005 (some drought, huh?). But if you can’t imagine it, you can’t do it.

I like the way Tiger thinks.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Final thoughts before the Masters begins

Final thoughts before the Masters begins:
-- I wonder if Tiger Woods will play the par-3 tournament with his kids in the future? I hope so.

-- I won’t be surprised if Augusta National yields some low scores in the first round. The weather is going to be nearly perfect and club chairman Billy Payne admitted Wednesday that he’s aware of the criticism some players have directed the tournament. I’m guessing someone shoots 67 to lead with a handful of players right behind.

-- You can count on Gary Player joining Arnold Palmer as a ceremonial starter next year but I’m guessing Jack Nicklaus still won’t make the move. He’ll do it eventually, though.

-- Asked whether Augusta National is feeling the effects of the recession, chairman Payne said the club has “not been impacted.” He added, that could change if the downturn goes on for an extended period of time. Merchandise sales are said to be slower but every time I pass the merchandise building, there’s a line waiting to get inside.

-- It was said to be an emotional scene inside the champions dinner Tuesday night when Jose Maria Olazabal read a letter from his fellow Spaniard, Seve Ballesteros, who is undergoing his fourth round of chemotherapy while fighting brain cancer. How could it not be?

-- My picks? Tiger Woods to win. Nick Watney the darkhorse.

I think they're mocking us

One of the more amusing traditions at the Masters is the gigglefest at the par-3 16th hole during practice rounds when most of the players – even the dour ones – will attempt to skip a golf ball across the pond and onto the green.

I wonder if they’re subtly mocking us.

After hitting what is usually another gorgeous iron shot framed against the pines into the famous green, the players then walk to the edge of the pond, grab a long iron and, from a downhill lie, try to skip a ball six or eight times across the water and onto the green.

When it works, the crowd – fueled by pimento cheese and pine pollen – loves it. When it doesn’t, they love it, too.

These guys are so good they can purposely hit shots like the rest of us try not to hit, defy physics and end up with a birdie putt.

Show offs.

On Tuesday, Vijay Singh actually made an ace that way. According to witnesses – it was too cold and windy for most of us to go all the way down the hill to watch intentional mis-hits – Singh hit the perfectly imperfect shot.

But I’m guessing he won’t try it on Thursday when the tournament begins.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

It's not quite the Masters...yet

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Sorry to say but it’s not quite the Masters yet.

Not to harp on the weather but when the azaleas are wearing fleece, it’s too cold for the Masters.

Again.

The good news is the weather forecasters seem sure it will be as warm and sunny as Rachel Ray by the time things start for real on Thursday morning.

That’s their story and they’re sticking to it.

For the hundreds or thousands who were fortunate enough to get inside the Augusta National gates for their first time Tuesday, they deserve a do-over. It was a day made for the Chicago Bears, not the Golden Bear.

Skipping tee shots across the pond at the par-3 16th hole, a practice round tradition, loses some of its charm when there are whitecaps and ice floes in the way.

It’s all about the anticipation right now, anyway.

There’s a par-3 tournament this afternoon that’s all about hits and giggles and kids in caddie outfits. Whoever wins will face the prospect of being officially ruled out of contention for the real championship since, of course, no one has ever won both trophies in the same week.

(Note: Please let someone win both one year so people will quit acting like this is a big deal).

Someone asked Tiger Woods if he will play the par-3 event and if his two-year old daughter Sam will caddie for him.

No and no, Tiger said.

He will be on the first tee Thursday at 1:52 p.m.

And the game will be on.

It's Babotie, Chicken Sosaties and Melktert Tonight

The menu tonight at the annual champions dinner at Augusta National will bear the distinctive flavors of South Africa.

That’s the way defending champion Trevor Immelman wants it.

Arnie, Jack and the other former champions don’t have to eat from Immelman’s menu – a steak is always available – but he’s proud of what will be served.

It starts with a spinach salad and there will be two entrĂ©e options – a mincemeat dish called babotie and grilled chicken on skewers called sosaties.

If you’re not familiar with babotie – and most of us aren’t – Immelman said it’s cooked mincemeat with a slight curry flavor. A layer of egg is put atop the mincemeat then it’s baked and served with yellow rice.

“It’s going to be fantastic with this cold weather,” Immelman said.

For dessert, they’ll have a traditional South African dish called melktert, which Immelman says has the consistency of pumpkin pie though it’s made primarily with milk.

“It’s going to be the highlight of my week,” Immelman said of his first champions dinner.

This year's changes are on the outside

Augusta National, it seems, is constantly evolving. Course changes are as routine as the azaleas blooming each spring.

While there are a few relatively minor tweaks to the golf course this year – the first hole was shortened by 10 yards and the tees at Nos. 7 and 15 were extended forward to allow for shorter set-ups – the more striking differences are away from the course.

Patrons – they’re not fans or spectators at the Masters – see the difference immediately. And it’s remarkable how many people from Charlotte are wandering the grounds at Augusta National.

The main entrance has been moved away from where the merchandise building is located on the Washington Road side of the course. The entrance has been shifted more to the side at Berckmans Road, which runs beside the golf course property nearer the second tee and fourth hole.

The large parking lots have been relocated across Berckmans Road as the club continues building a massive practice area on the site of what had been parking areas.

Several buildings have been constructed around what will be the new practice area that is scheduled to be open for next year’s event.

The traffic pattern along Washington Road has also been shifted slightly to accommodate the new parking plan for the patrons.

Once inside, it’s as green and captivating as ever.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Player To Play No More Masters

Gary Player is calling it quits at the Masters.

The 73-year old Player announced Monday that this will be his final Masters, capping his tournament career with 52 appearances at Augusta National.

Player has competed in more Masters than any other player.

“It’s just too long for me,” Player said. “I cannot get around.

“I’ve managed to break 80 the last two years but it’s getting to a stage now where I don’t know whether I can do that out here. It’s getting so long and I’m getting weaker.”

Player said he has not been asked to join Arnold Palmer as a ceremonial starter next year but he would do so if asked by club officials.

“Of course I would,” Player said. “I’ll even exercise harder to make sure I out-drive Arnold.”

Phil's Website Say He's Headed To Quail Again


Phil Mickelson (above) has added the Quail Hollow Championship later this month to his PGA Tour schedule, according to his website today.

Mickelson has not yet made his official commitment through the PGA Tour but that could come any day.

According to his website, Mickelson will take two weeks off after the Masters, returning to action when the tour arrives in Charlotte April 27-May 3.

The Quail Hollow Championship already has commitments from defending champion Anthony Kim, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Fred Couples, Camilo Villegas, Ian Poulter, Trevor Immelman, Geoff Ogilvy and Davis Love III, among others.

For ticket information, go to www.qhchampionship.com.

Finally, it's Masters Week

It’s the best golf week of the year. Let’s get right to the ‘Front Nine:’

1. MAGNOLIA LANE IS CALLING

Cue the azaleas. Give us a glimpse of Arnie. Show me the 16th hole.

The Masters is finally here.

It arrives, as always, at the perfect time and with a kaleidoscope of storylines.

There’s Tiger and Phil, both with reasons to believe.

Greg Norman’s back, maybe for the last time.

It’s definitely the last time for Fuzzy Zoeller but it’s just the first time for Rory McIlroy.

Until Thursday, we’ll watch and listen as players and pundits talk about what may or may not happen. They’ll talk about the course set-up and the green speeds. They’ll talk about whether the roars will ever return and if this is the year when an Australian finally wins the Masters.
The patrons will eat pimento cheese sandwiches, pose for photos in front of the famous clubhouse and squeeze every ounce of life from their day at Augusta National.

They’ll cheer when the players try to skip their tee shots across the pond at No. 16, they’ll look at the people talking beneath the giant oak tree just behind the clubhouse and they’ll imagine what it would be like to play Augusta National just one time.

On Thursday morning, the tournament will begin.

And the magic will already be in the air.

2. BESIDES THE OBVIOUS

Everybody tries to pick the winner of the Masters, even the guys playing in it.

The obvious choice is Tiger Woods with Phil Mickelson and Geoff Ogilvy solid back-ups.

But those are easy.

Here are three guys to keep your eye on:

  • Paul Casey. He was long overdue to win on the PGA Tour before his victory Sunday at windswept Houston. Casey has major championship talent but needs to show he can hang on Sundays.
  • Henrik Stenson. If he should win the Masters, maybe they’ll give him green underwear to go with the green jacket after he stripped-down to his skivvies to play a shot from the mud last month.
  • Hunter Mahan. He’s due to make a run at major. This may be the week.

3. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS…

During the Masters – or any other time -- feel free to send them along and I’ll try to answer them as quickly as possible. You can tack them on at the bottom of this blog or send them directly to me at rgreenjr@charlotteobserver.com.

We’re also planning to enhance our golf coverage on line over the coming weeks so if you have suggestions for regular features you’d like to see, pass them along.

4. WEATHER OR NOT…

Weather is always a factor at the Masters and it could play a significant role this week.

It’s expected to be unseasonably cold and breezy during the practice days, hardly providing the burst of springtime so associated with the event.

By tournament time, however, the conditions are expected to improve with temperatures in the low 70s. Here’s hoping the rain and thunderstorms predicted for Friday stay away and we get a Masters that plays firm and fast with lower scoring than we’ve seen the past two years.

5. FUZZY’S FAREWELL

Fuzzy Zoeller has said this will be his final Masters, the course having become too difficult for him to handle.

This will be Zoeller’s 31st start in an event he won the first time he played it – way back in 1979.

Unfortunately, Zoeller is remembered also for the remarks he made about Tiger Woods in 1997. He paid a steep penalty in the court of public opinion for what was intended to be a joke.

This week shouldn’t – and probably won’t – be about what happened in 1997. It should be about celebrating a guy who understood how much fun golf can be.

6. THE LIST

The players who have led or been tied for the lead after each of the first three rounds of the Masters more than any other. The number of times they won is in parentheses:

  • 14: Arnold Palmer (4)
  • 13: Jack Nicklaus (6)
  • 8: Raymond Floyd (1), Gary Player (3)
  • 6: Sam Snead (3)
It’s worth noting that Tiger Woods has never been in the lead or tied for it after the first round and only once – his record-breaking year in 1997 – has been had the 36-hole lead.

7. IT MAKES YOU WONDER

In talking to reporters after Michelle Wie’s struggles at the Kraft Nabisco Championship last week (she shot consecutive 81s Friday and Saturday), swing coach David Leadbetter said her driving problems were related to an extra-stiff shaft in her driver.

She started her third round by snap-hooking her tee shot on the first hole out of bound.

The shaft is stronger than many PGA Tour players use. Leadbetter said Wie’s mother, Bo, has insisted on the X-stiff shaft despite her daughter’s struggles to handle it in competition.

Makes you wonder who’s the boss. Or, more likely, we already know.

8. FROM THE LION’S MOUTH

John Daly posted a note on his website recently saying he hopes to return to competitive golf on the European Tour later this month and get back to the PGA Tour in May.

Daly is serving a six-month suspension from the PGA Tour for a variety of transgressions.
In his website missive, Daly mentioned that he doesn’t regularly update his activities because he’s so focused on rehabilitating his body and his image that he doesn’t have time to go online.

He did say he’s lost 40 pounds, which would be evidence of his commitment, something that was seemingly lost forever.

Oh yeah, he signs his note, The Lion.

9. THE LAST WORD

“There’s been times where I’ve missed the cut the week before and won. I made some ridiculous mistakes you can’t make playing competitive golf.” – Phil Mickelson after shooting 77-76 to miss the cut at the Shell Houston Open.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Tarheel Tour Gets New Name, Bigger Purses

Let’s take a swing through this week’s Back Nine:
1. SAME GAME, NEW NAME
What was once known as the Tarheel Tour is now officially the eGolf Professional Tour.
The successful and growing mini-tour based in Charlotte has expanded beyond its North Carolina base and now has a 19-tournament schedule that stretches from Savannah, Ga., to Charlottesville, Va.
The 2009 eGolf Professional Tour has total prize money of more than $4.5 million. This week’s event – the Savannah Quarters Championship – has a $300,000 purse with the winner collecting $50,000.
The growth of the tour continues to attract top-level talent. Among the PGA Tour players who have played on the Charlotte-based tour are Will MacKenzie, Jason Bohn, Steve Marino and Tommy ‘Two Gloves’ Gainey.

2. A NEW NO. 1
Despite an abundance of criticism surrounding the changes made in recent years, Augusta National has ascended to the No. 1 spot in Golf Digest’s new ‘America’s Greatest Golf Courses’ list which is being released April 6.
Considered the most prestigious rankings by many, Augusta National becomes only the third course to hold the No. 1 spot in the past 25 years, replacing Pine Valley, which slipped to No. 2.
The rest of the list includes Shinnecock Hills at No. 3, followed by Cypress Point, Oakmont, Pebble Beach (the other No. 1 course in the last 25 years), Merion (East), Winged Foot (West), Fishers Island and Seminole.
The results for some area courses were discouraging. Pinehurst No. 2 slipped to No. 32, down 13 spots from the 2007 rankings) and Grandfather Country Club fell 33 spots to 98th.
Quail Hollow did not make the list.

3. “ARE THOSE NEW SHORTS?”
Some tour caddies will wear microphones this week as part of a test with NBC Sports, which is working with the PGA Tour on the possibility of using mics to listen in on player-caddie discussions in the future.
None of what is picked up this week will be broadcast.
It’s fun to eavesdrop when Tiger Woods and Steve Williams are debating club and shot selections but the conversations are always picked up using parabolic microphones.
If the sound quality works with the individual microphones, it’s possible we’ll get more inside what’s happening on the course. Some players and caddies, of course, won’t be comfortable with it and I’m guessing they would given the option of wearing a microphone or not.

4. WHAT RECESSION?
If you still have the money to spend and want to add a little something extra to Masters week, you can make the drive down to the Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Ga., where they have some special events planned next week.
The best may be a dinner on Wednesday night where, for $235 per person, you can dine with Scotty Cameron, the Jack Nicklaus of putter design, wine artist Thomas Arvid and Larry McGuire, the vice president of Far Niente wines.
Or, for the same $235, you can buy one of Scotty Cameron’s putters. At least most of one.

5. EVEN MORE OF THE MASTERS
If you want more of the Masters than the standard television coverage gives you next week, find a computer and immerse yourself.
There will be three elements to ‘Masters Live’ during tournament days, adding to what television provides.
‘Amen Corner Live’ will provide live streaming video of action on holes 11, 12 and 13, ‘Masters Extra’ will provide an hour of streaming video before network television coverage begins (on ESPN Thursday and Friday, CBS Saturday and Sunday), and ’15 & 16 Live’ will offer streaming video from those holes each day.
The extras will be available at www.CBSSports.com and www.masters.com

6. THE PICK
With eight of the top 10 players in the world rankings teeing it up in the Shell Houston Open this week, it’s one of the strongest fields of the year.
Aside from Phil Mickelson, attention will focus on Davis Love III and Charles Howell III as they try to win their way into the Masters. The same goes for defending champion and Charlotte resident Johnson Wagner.
I’m picking Robert Allenby, who’s bound to hole a few putts eventually.

7. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
I’m trying to figure out if Golfsmith’s new ad campaign – promising to refund the money on any TaylorMade drivers purchased between now and April 11 if Sergio Garcia wins the Masters – is a backhanded shot at Sergio.
I’m sure it’s just a ploy to sell more TaylorMade drivers, including the popular new R9, but considering Sergio’s much-discussed 0-for-majors records, it strikes an amusing note.
And I’m on record saying it’s not the Masters that Sergio wins this year – it’s the U.S. Open at Bethpage. But I’m not offering any refunds.

8. SWING THOUGHTS
-- The big television ratings Tiger Woods supplied with his Bay Hill victory Sunday were no surprise. What was interesting is how many people told me they turned away from the North Carolina-Oklahoma basketball game to watch the golf instead.
-- The LPGA Tour could use a big bang winner at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the season’s first major, this week. But I’m not sure Michelle Wie is ready to deliver that just yet.
-- Some clubs get all worked up about where their course falls in ratings lists. That’s an ego thing. I don’t have to see Quail Hollow or Charlotte Country Club in a list to know how good they are.

9. THE LAST WORD
“I have gotten a mulligan in life. The proof is that I am alive and I can do many things, that I can talk, that I can think perfectly. If I think about it objectively, I have been lucky. This is the truth.” – Seve Ballesteros, in an interview with The Times of London, about his battle with a brain tumor.