Monday, April 30, 2012

Tiger feels ready, praises Harris, Quail Hollow

Tiger Woods says he feels he has resolved the ball-striking issues that bedeviled him at the Masters, leading to a disappointing performance in the year's first major championship after winning two weeks earlier at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Woods said posture issues at address led to takeaway problems at Augusta and he believes his recent work with instructor Sean Foley has remedied the issue.

"At Augusta, it wasn't quite there," Woods said on a video posted on his website in which he answered questions submitted by fans. "My posture was a little off and my takeaway was off because my posture was off. I've fixed those things the last couple of weeks and I'm really looking forward to the next couple of weeks."

Rather than hold a pre-tournament interview session with the media at Quail Hollow this week, Woods opted to answer questions in a 14-minute video on his website (

Asked how he would feel to win a second Wells Fargo Championship, Woods said, "It'd feel just as good (as 2007). winning is winning. It's been a few years since I've won (at Quail Hollow). I'd like to get back in the winner's circle there.

"I love what (Quail Hollow president) John Harris has done for the event. He's going to get a PGA there and maybe a Ryder Cup down the road. He means so much to that area and what he's done for golf in general is just phenomenal. It's why all the players are there. It's a great golf course and (because of) what John has done for golf."

Woods said he took a week off after the Masters but went back to work on his game two weeks ago in preparation for the Wells Fargo Championship and The Players Championship.

Tiger, Phil go early and late Wednesday

Tiger Woods will start it and Phil Mickelson will finish it Wednesday at the Wells Fargo pro-am at Quail Hollow Club.

Woods will play at 7:30 a.m. off the first tee while Mickelson won't play until 2:03 p.m. in the Wednesday event.

The morning pro-am wave will include Davis Love III, Rickie Fowler, Vijay Singh, Hunter Mahan and Keegan Bradley, among others.

The afternoon wave includes defending champion Lucas Glover, Geoff Ogilvy, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Zach Johnson and Mickelson, among others.

Amateur pairings will be finalized at a party Tuesday night.

Here are the professional tee times for Wednesday:

First Tee

7:30 a.m.: Tiger Woods

7:39: Aaron Baddeley

7:48: Davis Love III

7:57: Charles Howell III

8:06: Rickie Fowler

8:15: Camilo Villegas

8:24: Tommy Gainey

8:33: John Senden

8:42: Spencer Levin

8:51: Vijay Singh

9:00: Rory Sabbatini

9:09: Hunter Mahan

9:18: David Toms
10th Tee

7:30: Jason Day

7:39: Gary Woodland

7:48: Brendan Steele

7:57: Jonathan Byrd

8:06: Brendan Steele

8:15: Johnson Wagner

8:24: Bill Haas

8:33: Chez Reavie

8:42: Kevin Na

8:51: Bo Van Pelt

9:00: Mark Wilson

9:09: Keegan Bradley

9:18: Nick Watney
First Tee

12:15: Lucas Glover

12:24: Ryan Moore

12:33: Rory McIlroy

12:42: Geoff Ogilvy

12:51: Chris Kirk

1:00: Anthony Kim

1:09: Robert Karlsson

1:18: Brandt Job

1:27: Joe Ogilvie

1:36: Jim Furyk

1:45: Robert Garrigus

1:54: Robert Allenby

2:03: Phil Mickelson

Tenth Tee

12:15: Martin Laird

12:24: Scott Stallings

12:33: Trevor Immelman

12:42: Zach Johnson

12:51: Jhonattan Vegas

1:00: Stewart Cink

1:09: Ben Crane

1:18: Carl Pettersson

1:27: Lee Westwood

1:36: Kyle Stanley

1:45: Sean O'Hair

1:54: George McNeill

2:03: J.B. Holmes

Friday, April 27, 2012

Woods talking to fans, not media, before Wells Fargo

If you're interested in what Tiger Woods thinks about Quail Hollow, the Wells Fargo Championship and the state of his golf game, he's going to talk about those things on his website ( Monday rather than address the media prior to the tournament next week.

Rather than do a pre-tournament media session at various events, Woods will post a video on his website that will include him answering questions submitted by fans via his Twitter account and Facebook. The first video is expected to be posted on Monday.

"Instead of talking to the media, he'll talk directly to his fans," Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg said. "With social media today, it made sense to connect to (fans) so we'll selectively pick some events to do that."

Steinberg said Woods has made himself available for a formal interview or an informal gathering with reporters prior to the start of each tournament he has played. That will change at Quail Hollow next week. He will not address the media on Wednesday either before or after his pro-am round.

Woods will still talk with the media after he plays tournament rounds and will do pre-tournament interviews where is the defending champion, at major championships and selected events.

Steinberg said the new initiative is not in response to media criticism, most recently when Woods was criticized for kicking a club after hitting a bad shot at the Masters.

"The media will continue to have access to him," Steinberg said. "This isn't anything more than a couple of times a year to interact with the fans. They deserve that.

"This isn't intended to make a statement. This is intended to be more inclusive. This isn't a statement whatsoever. Some in the media might interpret it that way but that's not the intent."

Wells Fargo golf sold out again

The Wells Fargo Championship, which begins Monday at Quail Hollow Club, is a sellout again.

Ticket sales closed Friday with all available tickets purchased.

The field includes Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan and others as the event celebrates its 10th anniversary.

Carolina Panthers football coach Ron Rivera is scheduled to participate in the Monday pro-am at Quail Hollow while Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney is scheduled to play in the Wednesday pro-am. Tournament play starts Thursday.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wells Fargo donates $100,000 to First Tee of Charlotte

Wells Fargo has made a $100,000 donation to The First Tee of Charlotte, part of the bank's celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Wells Fargo Championship next week at Quail Hollow Club and the company's third annual Reading Above Par community program.

"Wells Fargo remains committed to making a real difference in the lives of children by maintaining an active involvement with our public education system and local communities," said Kendall Alley, Wells Fargo Charlotte region president.

"This is accomplished through our companywide volunteer efforts and support of community organizations like The First Tee, which help to create a brighter future for our young people."

Wells Fargo volunteers have spent the past month working directly with Charlotte-area students enrolled in The First Tee program, reading with the students in an effort to meet the Reading Above Par curriculum before next week's PGA Tour event.

Students who achieve the goal before the tournament will get to meet several PGA Tour players at a tournament-week event which will include the formal presentation of the $100,000 check.

"The First Tee of Charlotte youth are extremely grateful to companies like Wells Fargo that recognize the importance of building life skills and are willing to dedicate resources to help our students reach their goals," said Jennifer MacCurrach, executive director of The First Tee of Charlotte.

The gift will help The First Tee program be incorporated into 41 of 100 elementary schools in the Charlotte area by next fall.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney to play pro-am

Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney and New Jersey Nets star Deron Williams are scheduled to particpate in the Wednesday pro-am prior to the start of the Wells Fargo Championship May 2 at Quail Hollow Club.

Also, former Charlotte sports radio personality Gary Williams, now with The Golf Channel, and his 'Morning Drive' colleague Holly Sonders will play in the Wednesday pro-am.

NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin is scheduled to play in the Monday pro-am at Quail Hollow.

Among the recent player commitments are Jason Day, No. 16 in the world, and Rickie Fowler, joining Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and others in the field.

Daily tickets for Friday, Saturday and Sunday are sold out. Weekly badges ($140) are available at or at the tournament kiosk in Southpark Mall.

Georgia Tech takes ACC men's golf title

    Georgia Tech added to its collection of ACC hardware Sunday as the Yellow Jackets captured the ACC men’s golf championship at Old North State Club.

   It was the Yellow Jackets’ 14th team championship as they rolled to a seven-stroke victory over Virginia. Georgia Tech finished at 27-under par 837, playing the final round in rainy, breezy and cool conditions.
   The Cavaliers were led by Ben Rusch, who won the ACC individual championship, becoming the first Virginia golfer since Pete Arend in 1955 to win the league title.
   Florida State finished third in the team competition, Virginia Tech and Clemson tied for fourth followed by Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, N.C. State, Maryland and Boston College.
   Earlier this month, Duke claimed its 17th women's golf championship led by medialist Lindy Duncan.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Green Mile gets tweaked for Wells Fargo Championship

Quail Hollow Club's Green Mile will have a different look in the Wells Fargo Championship this year.

Club and tournament officials have decided to play the watery par-3 17th hole from the left side 'member' tees for all four days of the tournament. It's a change in a course set-up that players have suggested through the tournament's first nine years.

Earlier this year, the decision was made to play two tournament rounds from the left side, which provides a more receptive angle into the green. After deliberation, it was decided all four days will played from the left side where the hole is likely to play between 190 and 205 yards.

Grandstands have been constructed behind the left-side tee box offering a dramatic view of the 14th, 16th and 17th holes. There are no grandstands behind the right side tee box anymore.

"I think the players will be very excited by the move so we decided to do it," Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris said.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pinehurst No. 2 again top best in NC list

  If you're into golf course ratings, and many people are, the North Carolina Golf Panel recently announced its ranking of the state's best courses.

   To no one's surprise, Pinehurst No. 2, recently redone maginificently by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, again tops the list.

   Here's how the rest of the top 10 breaks down and how the panel ranked courses in the Charlotte area that made the state's top 100. If you want to see the full lists, you can visit

   Pinehurst No. 2 again tops the list of the state's best courses as voted on by the North Carolina Golf Panel. Pinehurst No. 2 has been No. 1 since the voting began in 1995.

   The rest of the top 10, in order is: Grandfather Golf & Country Club; Quail Hollow Club; Old North State Club; Pine Needles; Country Club of North Carolina (Dogwood); Charlotte Country Club; Elk River Club; Forest Creek (South); and, Pinehurst No. 8.

   The panel also ranked the top courses in the Charlotte area. They are, in order: Quail Hollow Club; Charlotte Country Club; Myers Park Country Club; Carmel Country Club (South); The Club at Irish Creek; The Club at Longview; Gaston Country Club; Carolina Golf Club; The Golf Club at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge; River Run Country Club; Ballantyne Country Club; and, Providence Country Club.

   If you're wondering, I'm not a member of the North Carolina Golf Panel though my list of the top three courses in the state would mirror the panel's list. From there, things would look different.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Luke Donald surrenders No. 1 to Rory McIlroy again

With his 39th-place finish at the RBC Heritage, Luke Donald lost his spot atop the world golf rankings, falling to second behind Rory McIlroy.

Donald could have stayed No. 1 with a finish of eighth or better at Harbour Town but he was never a factor, struggling to deal with the firm greens, ending a run of three straight years in which he finished third or better.

 Donald said he intends to direct his attention to sharpening his short game rather than dwelling on being No. 2 now.

 "Is it a concern? No," Donald said. "Obviously, I would have liked to have played a bit more consistently this year. I built up a nice lead last year through some good tournaments and winning a bunch and being consistent. This year hasn't been quite as consistent. As a result, there's a little bit of fluctuation in the world rankings now. So, nothing too worried about."

 Donald held the No. 1 spot for 40 weeks, lost it to McIlroy for two weeks then held it four more weeks after his victory in the Transitions Championship.

 "I didn't have it just for a few weeks," Donald said. "I had it for something like 40 or 45 weeks, so I've experienced it and enjoyed it and hopefully I can get it back again. It's never really been the focus. Obviously, there was a lot more focus the first time around, trying to get to No. 1. Now my focus is solely on trying to win tournaments and win majors."

 Donald will not play in the Wells Fargo Championship.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Beach putting, it's hard to miss

Taking a morning walk on the beach at HIlton Head (one of the many benefits of covering the RBC Heritage), I saw the usual sights:

Kids digging in the sand, adults reading and an old man (not me) taking a stroll wearing shorts and gray socks pulled up to his knees.

And there was a man with his putter and three golf balls, stroking putts back and forth on the hard-packed sand. The beach was quick, maybe 13 on the Stimpmeter and, not surprisingly, everything breaks toward the water.

The guy looked at peace, or at least as much at peace as a guy putting can appear. Funny how easy putting looks when there's no hole to worry about.

I might try it tomorrow morning.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Boo Weekley is on the way back

Boo Weekley is on the way back.

He's at Harbour Town this week, playing in the RBC Heritage which he won in both 2007 and 2008, his only two PGA Tour victories. And if he's not exactly Davis Love III at Harbour Town (Love has five tartan jackets), he's the next best thing.

And Boo is back on good terms with golf.

He spent last year dealing with a shoulder issue that ultimately required surgery. He made just 11 of 25 cuts and though Boo led the PGA Tour in greens in regulation, he fell out of the top 125 money winners.

But with a tie for third at the Puerto Rico Open earlier this year and a tie for 14th at the Shell Houston Open, Weekley's game is coming back.

"So far, it's been a great year. I'm ready to play some golf," Weekley said.

He's changed to TaylorMade equipment this year, made a couple of other tweaks and feels fresh. When he hits shots now, there's no fear.

"Last year I didn't feel confident in with what I had and what I was doing in my swing and where I was trying to get the ball to go," Weekley said.

"I was afraid to dig it up. I drive into the ground and there were weeks out there I'd have to go get cortisone shots because I so afraid to dig it out. I don't like playing golf like that. I was playing scared. I was scared to fire it at a pin. I was scared of getting (the club) stuck and the next thing you know, you're tearing it up."

It's all good now.

"It feels good again," Weekley said.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Clemson's Stanley ready to roll again

Kyle Stanley is trying to de-clutter.

Since his emotional two-week career-changing turn in February -- when he lost a big lead and the Farmers Insurance Classic one weekend only to rally from behind to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open a week later -- Stanley has been coping with changes on and off the course.

He became a star, a player in demand, and it's required an adjustment.

In his last four starts, Stanley has missed two cuts and not finished inside the top 50 in the other two events. He's hoping the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town will be a renewal of sorts for him.

"I've had a lot going on off the golf course, a lot of's been hard for me to focus on what I'm doing," Stanley, a former Clemson All-American, said. "We're making some changes, some adjustments. We're in a pretty good spot right now."

Stanley lives just off the island at Hilton Head, having developed a fondness for the area while in college. He also vacationed in the area as a kid, making the trip with his family from Gig Harbor, Wash.

Stanley won the Junior Heritage several years ago and likes the vibe of being back at Hilton Head. He's struggled with his short game in recent weeks but is intent on fixing that.

"I just haven't been very comfortable on the greens," Stanley said. "I'm probably thinking a little bit too much, overanalyzing some things. I just need to get back to my instincts a bit."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

10 reasons the RBC Heritage is cool

Ten things that make the RBC Heritage cool:

   1. Men walk around in tartan kilts.
   Okay, not a lot of them but some do and, even if they're paid to do it, you don't see that every day.

   2. Boo Weekley won this event -- twice.
   Find another PGA Tour event that can say that.

   3. It's fun to say Calibogue.
   Try it -- Cal-ah-bogey. See, you can do it.

   4. They have a putting contest for kids on the practice green on Tuesday afternoon.
  A few of the pros hang around for it, too.

   5. There aren't any cars in ponds at Harbour Town.
  There are, however, some really impressive boats in the marina.

   6. It has a lighthouse.
   You usually have to play miniature golf to have a lighthouse. Not here, though it is a small course by PGA Tour standards.

   7. Bubba Watson isn't playing but people are still talking about him.

  8. Champagne is sold at some concession stands around the course.
  Funnel cakes, however, are unavailable.

   9. It's hard to tell there was a recession when you're at Harbour Town.

   10. It has real live alligators.
  Just don't get too close -- but you probably knew that.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Bubba golf, it's a blast

Add this to the list of things you never thought you'd hear:

A guy named Bubba, who could use a haircut, explaining that he plays "Bubba golf" while wearing his new green jacket.

The Masters, which finds a way to get the story right more often than Disney studios, did it again Sunday when Bubba Watson made four straight back-nine birdies and then made an Alcatraz-quality escape from a pine-forest jail to beat Louis Oosthuizen to win the Masters.

Who says golf can't be fun?

Watch Bubba play.

Watch Bubba fidget.

Watch Bubba hit it, as the cliche goes, farther than most people go on vacation.

Phil Mickelson used to own the title as golf's most imaginative player. Now, his game looks like a black-and-white Polaroid snapshot when you put it beside Bubba golf.

This is grip it and rip it, juiced by Red Bull.

Until Sunday, no one was quite sure whether Bubba Watson could win a major championship. He had a chance at the 2010 PGA but lost to Martin Kaymer in a playoff. In his three previous PGA Tour wins, he'd done it despite nerves that looked jumpier than a teenager approaching their first kiss.

On an Augusta Sunday, Watson answered all the questions.

And it was a blast to watch.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Where else would you want to be?

Late Saturday afternoon, with the chance his boss, Phil Mickelson could win a fourth Masters Sunday afternoon, caddie Jim 'Bones' Mackay said what many of us believe.

"It's the greatest event in sports in my opinion. Where else would you want to be?" Mackay said.

The sun was setting and the sound was dying across Augusta National after a Saturday afternoon that included Mickelson rattling the old place with an eagle at No. 13 and a 6-under par 30 on the back nine that sent him rocketing up the big white leader boards around the course.

The only player better was Sweden's Peter Hanson, who third-round 65 staked him to a one-stroke lead over Mickelson entering the final round while Louis Oosthuizen, Bubba Watson and others not named Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy lurked in the periphery.

Mickelson and the Masters delivered again Saturday afternoon. That's what the great ones -- whether players or events -- find a way to do over and over.

The day started slowly, Birdies were as hard to find as tournament badges on the open market but around mid-afternoon, someone flipped the electricity switch.

It turned into another great Saturday and left us with one question:

How good might Sunday be?

Friday, April 06, 2012

Can Fred Couples win the Masters?

Can Fred Couples win this Masters?

Of course he can.

And he just might.

Were I in Las Vegas, I'd probably put my money on Rory McIlroy halfway through this Masters. He's spotting Couples and Jason Dufner one stroke and that's nothing. Winning the Masters is often about creating magic and no one near the top of the leader board can create more supernatural stuff than Rors.

But being 52 years old with a cranky back and having a share of the Masters lead -- again -- is magic in itself.

Put it to a vote right now and Freddie wins the Masters popularity contest by a mile and that's with McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, two of the most magnetic figures in the game, lurking. Like McIlroy said, he's just cool.

I don't think Couples consciously tries to be cool. It just comes naturally to him. It can't be bought or sold or faked.

He's a guy who likes to talk sports, doesn't like to get in a hurry and isn't a big fan of crowds, though he draws them like Elvis in soft spikes. Right now, many more people hope Couples can win than think he can win.

He thinks he can win.

That's what matters.

And how cool would that be?

Friday at Augusta: Something big is brewing

Friday afternoon has arrived at the Masters and so, thankfully, has the sunshine.

It started like a morning in Dublin, Ireland, gray, cool and breezy. It stayed that way until shortly after noon when the names of Rory McIlroy, Fred Couples and Sergio Garcia joined a leader board topped by Lee Westwood and Peter Hanson.

Where it goes from here, nobody knows.

The good news is the sun is expected to remain, the winds should diminish tonight and the weekend looks almost as perfect as Augusta National's greens.

McIlroy's name somehow looks bigger on the boards than any of the others, Westwood's included. When he closed with two birdies in Thursday afternoon damp, gathering darkness, it seemed a hint of things to come. Marching steadily around Augusta National today, McIlroy is right where he needs to be.

Phil Mickelson is still sputtering, Webb Simpson is flirting with the cut line and there's no magic to Bubba Watson's game today.

The afternoon belongs to Tiger Woods. If he hits it like he did Thursday, the weekend will belong to someone else.

The sun has arrived -- and so has the feeling that something big is brewing.


Thursday, April 05, 2012

Masters Day One: What we learned

The best thing that happened at Augusta National Thursday besides Lee Westwood's opening-round 67?

The way the late-afternoon line of thunderstorms somehow sidestepped an already wet golf course, allowing the first round to be completed and, barring a heavy overnight downpour, giving the course a chance to firm up a little more by the weekend.

What are the takeaways from the first round?

Lee Westwood will be hard to beat. He still has to prove he can win a major obviously, but his start is a huge boost. He doesn't have to play from behind now, at least not seriously behind.

If he can keep avoiding mistakes and collect a few birdies along the way, Westwood will have a great chance to finally win that elusive first major.

Yes, it's just one day in a typically turbulent tournament but amid all the early expectations, Westwood delivered.

Don't discount Louis Oosthuizen and Peter Hanson.

When Oosthuizen gets going, he's renowned for going deep. He inexplicably shot 41 on the front nine of the final round of the Shell Houston Open last Sunday to kick away a tournament he was poised to win but apparently the disappointment didn't linger.

And keep an eye on Hanson. He has top-five finishes in both World Golf Championships this year. He's about to become famous here.

None of that precludes Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy or Phil Mickelson from storming back to the top. It's a golf course that can allow low scores but it can go the other way in a hurry.

The Masters is just getting started.

Arnie, Jack and Gary, together again

The morning was perfect -- cool and clear with a dressing of dew on the ground -- and so were the tee shots.

First, Arnold Palmer's, then Gary Player's and, finally, Jack Nicklaus's, each landing in the middle of the first fairway, dotting the hillside and serving as the ceremonial start to another Masters.

There were cheers and smiles before breakfast. Palmer walks slower now, bent a few degrees forward at the hips now and Nicklaus's swing has surrendered its power to the years. And then there was Player, eternally energetic, winning the long-drive contest in his first time as a ceremonial starter.

It's not about how they play now. It's about how they played for all those years and how they pulled us along with them. The numbers are staggering. Among them, they played 147 Masters, winning 13 of them. In one seven-year stretch in the '60s, they won every Masters played.

No wonder they were called the Big Three.

And no wonder Phil Mickelson was on the first tee this morning to watch them together again.

When someone asked if they remembered the first time they saw ceremonial starters at Augusta, Player mentioned seeing Jock Hutchinson and Nicklaus joked that he remembers seeing Arnie as the starter before that.

Palmer, now 82, told of hearing both Nicklaus and Player tell him they planned to retire at age 35. Palmer's response at the time -- and again this morning -- was, well, something you might find on the ground at a cattle ranch.

His recent blood pressure scare resolved, Palmer said his health is good and "I'd still be (playing the Masters) if I could."

When asked if they might play nine holes rather than just hit an opening tee shot as honorary starters used to do, Nicklaus said that's not the deal anymore.

"Look at our tee shots," he said. "We'd all have to hit 3-wood (second shots) and we'd still have a little left (to the green) after that. You see why we aren't (playing nine)."

No one cares how they play now. It's how they played before and what they've meant across the ages.

They made a pretty morning beautiful.

Photo: Jeff Siner, The Charlotte Observer

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

A woman at Augusta; to be continued...

Long before Augusta National chairman Billy Payne took a seat in the media room Wednesday for his annual question-and-answer session with the assembled scribes and commentators, he knew the question was coming.

When will Augusta National accept its first female member?

The question blooms annually, like the azaleas whose blossoms have come and gone already, and the answer is just as reliable. Club matters remain the private business of the club.

Podcast: Masters preview with Ron Green Jr. and Ron Green Sr.

The question, almost dormant since Martha Burk's crusade a decade ago, has resurfaced now that the new IBM CEO is a woman, Virginia Rometty. Previous CEOs of Big Blue have been invited to join Augusta National but Rometty is different because she's female.

For all we know, she may be on her way to becoming the first female member or, perhaps, part of the first group of female members. When the day comes that there are female members at Augusta National, it will likely come with virtually no fanfare, just a trickle of information having been doled out, acknowledging what will feel like a monumental change at the club.

Payne offered no hints about Rometty's status or that of any other female Wednesday. No matter how the question was phrased, he volleyed it back with the same answer, saying it's a private club business. When the media pushing continued, Payne stuck to the club line.

When he was asked what he would tell his granddaughters about the club's policy, he defended that conversation on the grounds of personal privacy. But the question put the topic on a personal level.

It was an awkward session but it's an awkward topic. On one hand, Payne and Augusta National have taken an aggressive approach to growing golf around the world. They are proactive and progressive, whether it's adding its weight behind the Asian Amateur championship, contributing heavily to The First Tee initiative or the club's involvement in a variety of other programs.

Then there's the membership issue.

It's the club's right to establish its own membership criteria. Augusta National gets the attention but there are plenty of other private organizations with exclusionary criteria.

Burk tried to use social blackmail and it backfired. In the case of Rometty's promotion, does it move from a gender issue to a business decision? Does that make a difference?

Women are welcome at Augusta National, playing literally hundreds of rounds of golf there each year. To this point, though, none has been asked to join the club, at least not to anyone's knowledge.

That day may be close. Or, maybe it's not close. Maybe the plan is to extend an invitation to Rometty on the club's schedule, not forcing it because of media scrutiny.

It's no surprise that the question was asked again -- and again -- on Wednesday. Maybe one day soon, it won't have to be asked again.

Storm damages Augusta; Payne mum on membership

An overnight storm dumped 1.4 inches of rain on Augusta National, forcing a significant clean-up project on the final practice day prior to Thursday's start of the Masters.

Chairman Billy Payne said several trees were brought down by the storm though none that would impact the competition. He also said Rae's Creek, which runs in front of the par-3 12th green, briefly overran its banks but there was no significant damage.

A large tree fell on the million-dollar restroom facility near the 16th tee, doing major damage. Payne said the structure should "be rebuilt and up and running by the end of the day."

In his annual question and answer session with the media, Payne addressed several topics, including the decision not to offer a special exemption to Ernie Els, whose streak of 18 consecutive Masters appearances ended, and the issue of female membership in the all-male club.

On Els, Payne said he expects Els to "be back with us often" but the decision was made not to offer him a special invitation this year.

The issue of female members has been heightened with the promotion of Jenny Rommety to president of IBM in January. Previous IBM presidents -- all men -- have been members of the exclusive club.

Payne reiterated the club's long-standing position that all membership matters will remain private.

"All issues of membership are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the members," Payne said.

Payne was pressed on the matter, even asked what he would tell his granddaughters about their not being allowed membership at Augusta National, and he offered the same answer, citing the club's privacy in regard to membership.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Tiger Woods plans to play at Quail Hollow Club

It looks like the Wells Fargo Championship is collecting stars again.

Sources close to Tiger Woods confirmed Tuesday that the 14-time major champion plans to play in the Wells Fargo Championship next month at Quail Hollow Club.

Woods has not officially committed to the event but is expected to make his participation official sometime after the Masters. Woods won the event in 2007 but missed the event last year because of an Achilles injury he suffered while playing in the Masters.

Players have until the Friday before an event to officially commit.

Also, 2010 Wells Fargo Championship winner Rory McIlroy confirmed he will play at Quail Hollow Club May 3-6. McIlroy had listed the Charlotte stop on his newly-launched website this week.

"Sure, of course," McIlroy said when asked Tuesday if will play at Quail Hollow.

Like Woods, McIlroy has not yet officially committed.

Phil Mickelson has indicated he plans to play at Quail Hollow as will Lee Westwood. World No. 1 Luke Donald does not plan to play in Charlotte, having bypassed the event in recent years.

Masters first-round pairings

Tiger Woods will play the first two rounds of the Masters with Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez and Korean's Sang Moon-Bae, the tournament announced today with the release of tee times for the Thursday and Friday.

Woods will start at 10:35 a.m. on Thursday.

Rory McIlroy will get a late start Thursday, teeing off in the second to last group at 1:42 p.m. with Angel Cabrera of Argentina and Bubba Watson. Phil Mickelson will follow at 1:53 p.m. with Hunter Mahan and Sweden's Peter Hanson.

Charlotte's Webb Simpson will play at 12:47 p.m., with Mike Weir and Brandt Snedeker while Johnson Wagner goes with Tom Watson and Hideki Matsuyama at 9:40 a.m.

Robert Karlsson plays at 8:35 a.m. Thursday with Ben Crenshaw and amateur Bryden Macpherson. Martin Laird plays at 11:08 a.m. with Mark O'Meara and Chez Reavie.

Tee times for Thursday's first round of the Masters:

7:40 a.m.: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player (honorary)

7:50: Craig Stadler, Brendan Steele, Tim Clark

8:01: Jose Maria Olazabal, Robert Garrigus, Randal Lewis (a)

8:12: Larry Mize, Paul Lawrie, Anders Hansen

8:23: Ross Fisher, Ryan Palmer, Harrison Frazar

8:34: Ben Crenshaw, Robert Karlsson, Bryden Macpherson (a)

8:45: Adam Scott, Bo Van Pelt, Martin Kaymer

8:56: Steve Stricker, Padraig Harrington, Stewart Cink

9:07: Aaron Baddeley, Kyung-Tae Kim, Lucas Glover

9:18: Kyle Stanley, Jason Day, Bill Haas

9:29: Trevor Immelman, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

9:40: Tom Watson, Johnson Wagner, Hideki Matsuyama (a)

10:02: Matt Kuchar, Geoff Ogilvy, Yong-Eun Yang

10:13: Gary Woodland, Henrik Stenson, Alvaro Quiros

10:24: Charl Schwartzel, Keegan Bradley, Kelly Kraft (a)

10:35: Tiger Woods, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Sang-Moon Bae

10:46: Luke Donald, Francesco Molinari, Nick Watney

10:57: Scott Verplank Sean O'Hair, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano

11:08: mark O'Meara, Chez Reavie, Martin Laird

11:19: Sandy Lyle, Simon Dyson, Corbin Mills (a)

11:30: Ian Woosnam, Edoardo Molinari, Kevin Chappell

11:41: Louis Oosthuizen, Mark Wilson, Graeme McDowell

11:52: Zach Johnson, ian Poulter, Patrick Cantlay (a)

12: 14: Kevin Na, Fredrick Jacobson, Ben Crane

12:25: John Senden, Jonathan Byrd, Paul Casey

12:36: Bernhard Langer, Jason Dufner, Charles Howell III

12:47: Mike Weir, Brandt Snedeker, Webb Simpson

12:58: Vijay Singh, Lee Westwood, Jim Furyk

1:09: Thomas Bjorn, Scott Stallings, Rory Sabbatini

1:20: Fred Couples, Darren Clarke, Ryo Ishikawa

1:31: David Toms, K.J. Choi, Sergio Garcia

1:42: Angel Cabrera, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson

1:53: Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, Peter Hanson

Rory McIlroy: 'Obviously there's memories'

The next time someone in the business of handling famous people wants to show their client how it's done in a press conference, they should get a tape of Rory McIlroy's 25-minute session in the Masters media room this morning.

He was charming, insightful, funny, self-deprecating, honest and more, talking about all that happened to him on Sunday last April when his golf world went kaboom. It could have been a testy session, one in which McIlroy waved off questions about what happened last year and tried to focus the conversation on this week.

Instead, he answered everything head on.

He joked about how close the white cabins to the left of the 10th tee now seem to be. He blushed when the phone in his pocket rang during the interview. "No phones at Augusta," he apologized. He talked about crying when he talked to his mother a day later.

He said he watched a replay of that Sunday and saw a guy looking at the ground with his shoulders hunched, the opposite of how he usually walks. He tried to be perfect and mean and it's not who he is.

Of course, he won the U.S. Open two months later and now he's here, one of the co-favorites along with Tiger Woods in this Masters.

"Every time you come back to this place, you just get excited," McIlroy said. "Obviously there's memories that come back and memories that you probably don't want... It's fine. I got that all out of the way and (I'm) just looking forward to this week."

McIlroy also confrmed he'll play in the Wells Fargo Championship next month. "Sure, of course," he said when asked if it's on his schedule.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Rory has Quail on his schedule

   Checking in from the Masters, where it looks as magnificent as ever, even if the azalea blooms are largely gone:

  -- Rory McIlroy says on his official website that that his next event after the Masters will be the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club in early May. McIlroy still has to put his name on the PGA Tour's official commitment list but that's essentially a formality. McIlroy, of course, won the 2010 event at Quail Hollow;

  -- Webb Simpson is going to be a father for the second time. Simpson said Monday his wife, Dowd, is due with their second child in early August. Their first child, James, is 13 months olds.

  -- Johnson Wagner says he's hitting the ball as well as he has at any time in his PGA Tour career and he feels he's ironed out a few unwanted wrinkles in his putting. Wagner said he got too focused on certain mechanics in his stroke and is working on decluttering his pre-shot process on the greens.