Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mickelson's arrival delayed by tragedy

Checking out the scene at the Wachovia Championship:

-- Phil Mickelson’s arrival in Charlotte was delayed Tuesday for a tragic reason. Mary Lou Morton, the wife of Mickelson’s pilot Ted Morton, was killed in an auto accident near Phoenix early Tuesday.

Mickelson was scheduled to arrive mid-afternoon Tuesday but instead isn’t expected until later Tuesday evening. He will tee off at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday in the pro-am.

-- Charlotte 49ers golfer Trevor Murphy had his clothes packed for a weekend trip to Orlando to join his teammates in the Atlantic 10 championship.

Instead, Murphy is in the Wachovia Championship after winning a two-hole playoff with Paul Claxton for the final spot in the qualifying event that concluded Tuesday morning at Firethorne.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play in a tour event but it’s come a little sooner than I expected,” said Murphy, who shot 69 in the qualifier then won the playoff with a par on the second extra hole.

Murphy said he felt conflicted about missing the conference tournament with the 49ers, who are expected to challenge for the national championship later this spring. However, coach Jamie Green encouraged his players to set high expectations and had no problem with Murphy delivering.

“It’s good for Trevor and good for our program for people to see how strong our team is,” Green said.

Walking around Quail Hollow Tuesday afternoon, Murphy was still coming to grips with what had happened.

“It’s very cool,” he said.

-- Brandt Snedeker is still being asked about his difficult finish in the Masters nearly three weeks ago and he’s still smiling about how people have continued to react to it.

Snedeker even called it “that debacle” and said Tom Watson, who had his own share of heartbreaks in major championships early in his career, called to talk about what happened.

“We talked for half an hour,” said Snedeker, who was a big Watson fan growing up. “Probably one of the highlights of my life was having him tell me he watched the round on Sunday and tried to help me out there.

“It made me feel like I had somebody to talk to about it and he told me if I had any more questions to call him. He’s probably going to change his number because I’ll call him so much.”

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tiger: Surgery planned win or lose at Masters

Tiger Woods said he knew for "a couple of months" that he would undergo knee surgery this year and the question was whether he would have the procedure before or after the Masters.

"The only decision was do you miss the Masters or play in the Masters?" Woods said on his website Friday. "I decided to play. Even if I had won, I still would have had the surgery."

Woods is the defending champion of the Wachovia Championship but will be unable to participate because of the knee surgery performed 11 days ago.

He said his left knee had been "bugging me" for a while. Doctors have told him he should be able to play golf again in four to six weeks, but nothing is certain.

Woods said he will determine his schedule by what his doctors tell him.

He hosted his annual Tiger Jam event in Las Vegas last weekend and was on crutches there. Woods said he is off crutches now but wearing a knee brace and hopes to begin his rehabilitation process soon.

"I’ve definitely been playing in pain, but that's not why I didn't win at Augusta," Woods said. "I just never got comfortable with my putting stroke. Obviously, it was frustrating because I hit the ball well enough to win. It was just one of those things."

Expect firm, fast Quail Hollow

When the PGA Tour arrives at the Quail Hollow Club next week, players may find a slightly different course set-up for the Wachovia Championship.

The intent is to trim the rough but make the greens firmer and faster than they have been in previous years. With shorter rough, players who miss fairways will still be able to reach greens but will have more of a challenge when they get there.

Tour officials have actually slowed the green speeds down at Quail Hollow from what the members sometimes play. This year, however, they’re expected to add speed and firmness to the putting surfaces.

To get the course where they want it, tour officials will need some help from the weather. It looks now as if any rain that comes will be gone by late Monday, which should allow for the course to dry out by Thursday. It helps that Quail Hollow has a Sub-Air system which pulls excess moisture out of its greens.

There was some concern in recent weeks that Quail Hollow’s conditioning had been slow to come around. It’s made a dramatic improvement over the past two weeks and will be in very good shape for the Wachovia Championship.

There are some spotty places in the rough where the rye grass overseed was impacted by the drought but, otherwise, Quail Hollow looks great.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Couples commits to play at Quail Hollow

Fred Couples, one of the most popular players on the PGA Tour, has committed to play in the Wachovia Championship next week at the Quail Hollow Club.

It will be Couples' first appearance in the tournament since the inaugural event in 2003 when he was among the leaders for two days before back problems flared up.

The tournament has also received commitments from 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson and 2003 Wachovia winner David Toms, further enhancing an already strong field.

Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Trevor Immelman, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia and Steve Stricker are among the players in the field at Quail Hollow next week.

-- Ron Green Jr.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Weekley plays what's my line

Boo Weekley doesn’t have an entourage.

He probably doesn’t even know what an entourage is, which is another reason to like him.

He did have a handful of friends and family members waiting on him Sunday night after he’d won his second straight Verizon Heritage championship and, from the looks of things, they seemed ready for a big time. The friends, anyway.

His mother, Patsy, was there as she had been all week, enjoying the sunshine, the hospitality and a second victory by her son who has become the new prince of the South Carolina lowcountry.

At the Masters, Boo did a daily diary for the Augusta newspaper about his first Masters experience. Last week, Patsy Weekley did a diary for the Hilton Head newspaper about her Harbour Town experience.

Asked which was better, Boo said his mother’s was because “she knows how to spell.”

Boo seems to just roll along like a river he’d like to drop a line in.

“This golf is a crazy game,” Boo said Sunday evening, explaining that he hoped to play a while longer then get out so he can hunt and fish, which is what he really likes to do.

Boo is one of the best things to happen to the PGA Tour since private jets.

He’s a guy who likes to stand on the practice tee and tell hunting and fishing stories. He was telling one last week about some guys shooting armadillos and he seems wonderfully unaffected by his celebrity.

In interviews, he still says yes, sir and yes, ma’am to questioners and if any of his act is put on, he’s a better actor than Daniel Day-Lewis.

He’s funny without trying. In his media session Sunday evening, he was wearing his tartan champion’s jacket and pointed out that when he won last year, tournament officials gave him a jacket for the ceremony. Boo discovered fortune cookies in the pocket.

Of course he did.

And it’s golf’s good fortune that Boo isn’t quite ready to go hunting and fishing full time just yet.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Boo is scary-good at Hilton Head

Ain’t Boo Weekley great?

I mean, really, is there a better, more genuine personality in professional golf - any sport for that matter - than the stocky guy from Milton, Fla., whose mama is spending the week with him at the Verizon Heritage?

I don’t think so.

The funny thing about Boo is he’s street smart for a guy who probably hasn’t spent much time in the streets. Maybe he’s dirt-road smart.

He has a clear vision of his world, who he is and what he’s doing.

Two days into this Heritage, Boo looks like he’s trying to replace Davis Love III as the prince of Harbour Town. Boo won here last year and now he’s at the top of the leader board again despite violating the basic rule of golf around Harbour Town by hitting most of his tee shots semi-sideways.

But if there’s a man in the field who knows his way around trees, it’s Boo. You get the sense that if he could hunt or fish for a living, he’d be doing it.

Other tour players endorse banks and car makers. Boo wears the logo of a company that makes camoflague attire. It’s a perfect marriage.

When Boo hit the ceremonial tee shot into the Calibogue Sound Monday - wearing his champion’s tartan blazer and serenaded by a booming cannon after parading in - he called it “marching around some lagoon.”

His mother, Patsy, played with him in the Wednesday pro-am and outdrove him on one hole, which chapped him a little bit.

After his 64 Friday morning, Boo has played six competive rounds at Harbour Town and never shot higher than 69. He might win here again this year.

It wouldn’t surprise him.

Boo said he started thinking about winning as soon as he got here.

He’s smart that way.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Life happens, even to Tiger

The news that Tiger Woods will miss the Wachovia Championship because of knee surgery is an undeniable disappointment on a couple of levels.

The most obvious reason is he’s Tiger and when he’s in town, it changes everything. Being the defending champion, it was a foregone conclusion he’d be back at Quail Hollow this year but now he’ll be missing for the second time in three years because of a personal issue.

Life happens, even to Tiger.

If you’re hurt, you’re hurt and the knee has apparently been bothering Tiger for a while now. He kept it quiet, though.

At the Masters, there was no hint, not a whisper he was planning to get his knee worked on. Insiders were blindsided by the news when it broke late Tuesday.

Beyond the impact locally, it’s disappointing that Tiger will be sidelined for up to six weeks, which means he’ll also miss The Players. Consider the roll he’s been on – he has nine wins and four seconds in his last 13 starts – and it means everything is put on hold for a while.

As for the Wachovia Championship, it will still be full of glitter. The field is loaded again and once tournaments start, you tend to forget about who’s not there and focus on who is there.

Phil Mickelson will be there. So will Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, Trevor Immelman, Jim Furyk, Davis Love III, Brandt Snedeker and pretty much everyone else you want to see.

And, it’s safe to say, Tiger will be back in the future.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Snedeker talks about his tears

Before walking into the media center for a pre-tournament interview at the Verizon Heritage Tuesday, Brandt Snedeker jokingly asked his agent to make sure there was a box of tissues nearby in case he started crying again.

Snedeker endeared himself to a universe of golf fans Sunday when after shooting 77 in the final round of a Masters he might have won, he couldn’t stop the tears while talking about his experience.

With his long blond hair curling out from under his visor and the emotion of a churning week written on his face, Snedeker finally had to bury his face in the towel on his shoulders when the tears unexpectedly hit.

The funny thing is Snedeker was thrilled with his Masters week, finishing tied for third there.

"I didn’t want anyone to think I was crying over spilled milk or something like that," Snedeker said. "I was emotional because I came so close to living out one of my dreams and I wasn’t able to do it."

Snedeker said he couldn’t remember the last time he cried and said he understood exactly how Len Mattiace felt when he cried after losing the 2003 Masters to Mike Weir in a playoff.

"I realize why he was crying like a 16-year old girl whose prom date didn’t show up," Snedeker said.

He’s fine, really he is. In fact, Snedeker is a good bet to contend at Harbour Town this week.

"I love this place," he said.
And he was smiling.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hits and misses from the Masters

The good:
-- Masters moon pies. I even heard people in the concession line saying they had been asked by friends to bring some home. It’s a better deal than having to buy someone a golf shirt.
-- Brandt Snedeker. He didn’t win, but it was his first time contending for a major championship. With his game and his personality, Snedeker is one of the game’s new stars and looks like he’ll be around a long time. Plus, he plays fast, which is a bonus.
-- The azaleas. I have to mention them. It’s almost law when you’re at the Masters. They had a terrific week.
-- Trevor Immelman. Start to finish, he was the best player at Augusta National this week.
-- Ian Poulter’s pink and white golf shoes.
-- The old guys – Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam – both of whom made the cut.
The bad:
-- Masters memories. This was a decent Masters, but not one that people will be talking about for years, unless they’re related to Immelman.
-- Tiger’s miss at the par-5 13th on Sunday. Just when you thought he was ready to make his move – with Immelman in trouble at the 12th – he yanked his 5-foot birdie putt, missing one you never expect him to miss.
-- Paul Casey. A chorus or two of "Sunday, Bloody, Sunday" for Mr. Casey. He was two off the lead after the third hole and then he was gone, losing six strokes over the next five holes. That’s going to leave a mark.
-- Ernie Els. Sergio Garcia.
-- Hearing a concession stand attendant barking "Last call for alcohol, last call for alcohol" as 4 p.m. approached one afternoon. That’s when beer sales are cut off at the Masters but never in such a barmaid kind of way. It was, for sure, an isolated – and unauthorized – incident.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Tiger's going to end dreaded majors streak some day ... maybe Sunday

As every golf fan with at least a swoosh for brains knows, Tiger Woods has never won a major championship when he didn’t start the final round with at least a share of the lead.

Like that’s a bad thing.

He’s won 13 majors already, so it’s getting a little touchy to point out that he’s always been ahead on Sunday when he’s done it. Well, duh.

But because there are practically no other ‘negatives’ on Woods’ record, the coming-from-behind-to-win-a-major one comes up every time he hasn’t already won the tournament by Saturday evening.

And, by the way, Tiger knows. He keeps getting reminded about it, like he did again Saturday afternoon after playing his way into the rear-view mirror of Trevor Immelman and Paul Casey.

What does it mean? Not much.

One of these days, maybe Sunday, Woods is going to shoot 64 or 65 in the final round and win a major we had conceded to someone else. But that’s not easy to do, even if you are Tiger Woods.

If the worse thing that can be said of Woods is that he hasn’t come from behind to win a major, he’ll be able to live with it. But I’m guessing he won’t have to say that forever.

And imagine what it’ll be like when he does.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mickelson lurking ...

Everyone who thinks Trevor Immelman is going to win the Masters raise your hand.
Brandt Snedeker?
Phil Mickelson?
Now we’re getting somewhere.
And what about Tiger Woods?
You want to say he can’t win – I’m tempted to say it – but you can’t say it yet. He’s seven strokes back but he’s in 13th place with two rounds to play and it’s not as if the Hall of Fame is in front of him.

Sure, Mickelson’s there and he’s not going anywhere. But Ian Poulter hasn’t proven he can win a major – and who knows what he’ll wear with the green jacket if he does win.
Stephen Ames?
He doesn’t like the place. Bad karma doesn’t win the Masters.
Paul Casey? Hmmmm…
Steve Flesch? He didn’t think he could make the cut before this thing started.

So with two potentially wind-blown rounds remaining, we still aren’t quite sure what to make of this Masters.
Tiger could have played himself totally out of it Friday but he didn’t. He stayed just close enough to make us wonder if he’ll win. I hope he’s close enough going into Sunday to make us think he can win, too.

Mickelson looks ominous. He’s been almost under the radar so far and he’s 5-under, three off the lead. Everybody likes to compare Lefty to Arnie in his prime and we all know Arnie won in even numbered years – 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964. Well, Mickelson won in 2004 and 2006 and you know what year this is.

But we’re just halfway there. We’ll know a lot more when Saturday evening comes.

Masters experience 'just a dream' for Wagner

If you needed to be reminded of how special the Masters is to golfers, the smile on Johnson Wagner's face at lunch time Friday told you.

Charlotte's new PGA Tour star appeared to be safely inside the cut-line at 2-over-par 146, having recovered from a potentially disastrous triple-bogey on the first hole.

For the second straight day, Wagner played the back nine well - he's 5-under par in two trips around the back side - and for the fifth straight day he was having a blast.

"I'm so fired up," said Wagner, who had family members drive from Richmond to Augusta with a brief overnight stop in Charlotte.

If Wagner can figure out how to handle the greens on the front side - he's had five 3-putts on the first three holes so far - he could make some noise over the weekend.

He made one serious mistake Friday - hitting his tee shot on the first hole so far to the right that a marshal told Wagner "I've never seen one over here before."

After making a seven, Wagner could have been playing himself home for the weekend, but he made a nice recovery.

"It's just a dream," Wagner said when asked if he's feeling worn down from the swirl his life has become since his victory in Houston on Sunday. "I'm not going to be tired this week."

-Ron Green Jr.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Worldwide Leader meets Masters mystique

There has been great consternation – OK, maybe some questions – among those who consider the Masters and all of its traditions holy about how ESPN will handle its new role as television host of the first two rounds, plus Wednesday’s par-3 event.

The Masters doesn’t do hype.

Sometimes, it seems, that’s all that ESPN does.

But in hoping to expand its global reach, the Masters signed on with The Worldwide Leader for weekday coverage.

It didn’t come without some serious discussions, basically from club chairman Billy Payne, who made it clear that he didn’t want any boo-yahs or nicknames or self-indulgence from ESPN.

To that end, the network is using the CBS talent except for host Mike Tirico, who will handle the role the too blustery for golf Chris Berman typically handles at the U.S. Open. Payne insisted he was not involved in the process of determining which announcers ESPN will use this week.

On a similar point, Gary McCord has said several times that it is not Augusta National’s decision that keeps him out of the CBS broadcast this week. Rather, he has chosen not to be part again to avoid the hullabaloo that would surround his return after his infamous ‘bikini wax’ remark many years ago.

The Masters is changing with the world while doing an admirable job of retaining its old-style charm. You can watch Amen Corner on-line if you wish or even play a computer putting game on the tournament’s website.

Payne admitted Wednesday there has been some consideration of licensing a video game. It would, of course, be Augusta National’s own game, not one incorporated into anyone else’s game.

For most of the world, the Masters will be seen through the ESPN lens these next two days. The network went the warm and cuddly route Wednesday, featuring the kids during its par-3 coverage. I’m guessing it will work hard to do right by the Masters and what the tournament – and the viewers – want.

Let me know what you think of ESPN’s coverage.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Masters Moon Pies? Only in Augusta

There are certain things you can get only at the Masters.

The green jacket. Shirts and caps with the familiar Augusta National logo.

And, now, an official Masters Moon Pie.

That delicacy, two chocolate covered graham cracker rounds sandwiching marshmallow cream, has been added to the concession menu this year. They’re small, two for $1.

I ask you – how uppity can a place be if it serves Moon Pies?

It’s the perfect complement to a classic Masters lunch of an egg salad sandwich, potato chips and a Coke. (It’s a Coke place, not Pepsi because Coke helped get this thing rolling many years ago).

The Wachovia Championship in Charlotte has a stand where fresh crepes are cooked, stuffed with all kinds of good, gooey things. Starbucks coffee is available. The barbecue is good enough to make Donald Trump smile.

There’s even Wachovia Championship lip balm (at least in the players’ locker room). But there’s no official Wachovia Championship Moon Pie. Maybe Charlotte’s tournament can sell its own version of S’mores.

It’s not just Moon Pies the Masters has added.

This year, the potato chips are official Masters potato chips. They’re in little bags and have the Masters logo on the front. The green ones are regular chips, orange are barbecue.

The chips and the Moon Pies are only available at Augusta National. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get some for yourself.

I’m just guessing here but keep an eye on e-bay. Someone’s sure to offer Masters Moon Pies soon.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Feherty just happy to be here

Among the dozens of people standing under the big oak tree behind the Augusta National clubhouse Tuesday was David Feherty.

And no one was happier to be there.

Several weeks ago, Feherty – who will be back at work dispensing his unique blend of wit and wisdom on the CBS telecast this weekend – was hit by a truck while riding his bike and suffered serious injuries.

Ribs were broken, a lung was punctured, a shoulder was damaged and a life was nearly lost.

Fortunately, Feherty survived even if everything isn’t exactly where it used to be.

“See this lump on my shoulder?” Feherty asked, pointing to his left shoulder. “It’s supposed to be beside this lump but they’re about an inch and a half apart right now.”

There was a bandage wrapped around his left elbow where he’s still having problems and it’s uncomfortable to move – but not as uncomfortable as before.

Feherty will be in a tower this week rather than walking Augusta National’s many hills. He will, however, have to climb a ladder to his seat, and that won’t be easy.

Only one thing worries Feherty these days – pollen.

And once the promised sunshine and warm weather pulls the dampness out of Augusta National, the pollen will be back.

“I live in fear of the sneeze,” Feherty said.

At least he lives.

First three days of Masters a treat for fans

The first three days of Masters week are so much different than the four days when the tournament is actually being played.

Even the players are different.

There’s a practice-round tradition that has developed over the years where the players try to skip shots across the pond on the par-3 16th hole. It’s the ultimate hit-and-giggle moment with fans counting the skips and cheering the shots that reach dry land.

Though there’s serious work being done by the players while they’re playing practice rounds, the edge is gone. They’ll stop for photos – cameras are allowed Monday through Wednesday – and occasionally a player will pull someone from the gallery to do something with them.

Though there are no official numbers, there are more people on the property early in the week than during tournament rounds. Somehow, almost all of them manage to squeeze onto the par-3 course on Wednesday afternoon.

One of the great treats if you’re at Augusta National on Wednesday is the freedom to walk around the course in the afternoon. Players must be off the course by early afternoon, which means most of the patrons have gone to the par-3 event, leaving the course open for a stroll that allows you to stop and look at the place without trying to see over the heads of four people in front of you.

Then there’s the merchandise building. Most tournaments have a tent. The Masters has a big permanent building selling everything from shirts to caps to baby clothes. The tournament could make millions more if it sold its merchandise online, but officials have said for years they want the patrons to have access to something others can’t get.

Especially early in the week, the lines can be extremely long getting into the merchandise building. There are even signs outside telling the shoppers how long the wait from various points in the line.

But it’s like a Disney store for golfers. It’s not unusual to see someone walking out with eight or 10 hats, half a dozen shirts and several golf towels. Christmas is still eight months away but a lot of gifts are bought here this week.

And why not?

It’s the Masters, and like Christmas, it only happens once a year.

Monday, April 07, 2008

First local PGA Tour winner in 20 years

When Johnson Wagner won the Shell Houston Open Sunday, he did more than earn himself a tee time Thursday in the Masters.

He became the first Charlotte resident to win a PGA Tour event in more than 20 years. Jay Haas lived here in the early 1980s when he picked up a couple of victories before moving to Greenville, S.C. Prior to Haas, you had to go back to Clayton Heafner's days in the 1940s and 1950s to find a Charlotte-based tour winner.

Wagner moved here two years ago after a breakout season on the Nationwide Tour. After leading wire to wire at Houston last week, he redefined his career.

Not only did Wagner play himself into the Masters this week while earning a $1.08-million check, he landed a spot in the Mercedes Championship at Kapalua next January plus better tee times as a tour winner.

That means Wagner might finally play with Tiger Woods, who he's seen plenty but not yet played with.

Wagner said Sunday evening that he had felt his game coming around in recent weeks, after working with his teacher, Bobby Hines, in Florida. The payoff came in a huge way.

Most impressive was how Wagner handled himself while trying to win his first tour event. He was nervous -- it was obvious watching him -- but you're supposed to be nervous when you're trying to win, especially the first time.

He didn't let a three-putt bogey at the 14th shake him and he kept making good swings and smart plays. The 11-foot par putt he holed at the 17th after a poor first putt probably sealed the tournament for him.

Wagner's victory also reinforced the decision by Masters officials to reinstate the rule that gives a spot to PGA Tour winners. It was part of the intrigue Sunday afternoon, knowing Wagner was playing for more than just a championship.

And when the Wachovia Championship rolls around in less than a month, Charlotte will have its own hometown guy among the favorites.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Masters picks who aren't Tiger or Phil

As an official member of the golf media, there are certain rules that must be obeyed.

One is to never wear an article of clothing that includes the logo of the tournament you’re currently covering (i.e. wearing Shell Houston Open attire at the Shell Houston Open is, to use a golf term, out of bounds though it’s well within the rules at, say, the Memorial Tournament).

There are only two exceptions to the logo rule.

One goes into effect next week where it is officially OK to wear Masters stuff at the Masters because, well, it’s the Masters and the rules are just different there.

The second exception is if you spill enough mustard on your regular shirt and you have to go buy a shirt, that’s OK - but only for a couple of hours.

Then there’s the rule about no cheering in the press room, which is standard operating procedure anywhere scribblers and mini-cams gather for a contest. The idea is to be fair and impartial, or at least pretend to be.

However, we all have our soft spots (or most of us do anyway), which leads to this list of players I would love to see win the Masters next week. I have not included Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson because everyone wants to see them in the final pairing on Sunday and they’re on every list anyway.

Feel free to chime in with your own list if you want (I know there’s a spot to do that if you make it to the bottom of this blog and are computer savvy enough to add a comment).

Here’s my list of five guys I’d like to see win this year and yes, it would include Davis Love III if he were eligible. As a matter of full disclosure, every year that the Augusta Chronicle newspaper has asked me to pick a winner (it asks a lot of writers), I’ve picked Davis, explaining that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

5. Sean O’Hair: We’re all familiar with the story of his abusive father and how O’Hair emerged as a genuinely good guy with a ton of talent. We keep looking for the best young American player and it could be O’Hair. And the way Augusta brings out the emotion, imagine the story of him winning.

4. Charles Howell III: The hometown kid has been good but not great so far. In fairness, he didn’t have any warm-up time. He arrived on the PGA Tour with enormous expectations thrust upon him and he’s built a solid but not yet spectacular career. We’re still waiting for the big moment and they don’t get any bigger than the Masters, especially for a kid from Augusta.

3. Fred Couples: I know he’s already won the Masters but that was 16 years ago and Freddie is in the twilight of his golf life now. He teased us two years when he played with Mickelson in the final pairing but Freddie’s putter killed him. Couples is one of those guys women want to be with and men want to be like. One more Masters for Freddie would be the best.

2. Ernie Els: It’s hard to feel bad for a guy who has homes around the world, a private jet, three major championships, a good family, a beautiful life and a golf swing like Ernie’s but you can’t help but feel a touch of regret that he doesn’t have a green jacket. Mickelson pierced him in 2004 after Ernie played a great back nine on Sunday and he’s had more near misses than storm chasers. If anyone’s ever been due, it’s Ernie.

1. Boo Weekley: Do I have to explain?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Monty blames TV for Masters absence

Leave it to Colin Montgomerie, everybody's favorite twit, to explain to the world that it's the fault of Asian television markets and Masters officials -- not his own declining golf game -- that he won't be at Augusta National next week.

Monty failed to qualify for the Masters this year, unable to meet any of the many qualifying standards and his absence from Augusta became official this week when he wasn't among the top 50 in the world rankings, his last possible way to qualify since he's not playing the Shell Houston Open.

Rather than blame his game -- had he been able to slap a 7-iron on the 18th green at Winged Foot and two-putt for par on the 72nd hole of the 2006 U.S. Open none of this would be an issue -- Monty chose to point out that Masters officials are more worried about their television ratings in China, India and Thailand than they are about him. Augusta officials chose not to offer Montgomerie a special exemption, something they do on a selective basis for international players.

"There has been no call from Augusta and I am not expecting one," Montgomerie said in Munich this week where he was promoting a European Tour event.

"Now, if I were the only person in the country, à la China, I might get in. It is a strange way to make up a field for a Major championship - television rights. They are quite open about why. They were when I missed out last time in 2005 when they picked Shingo Katayama who was 67th in the world and I was 51st. They picked him over me for the Japanese rights. And they have done the same with Thailand and China this time.

"I am not the only one who feels that way and not just because I am not in. In or not I'd be saying the same thing. It is a strange criterion to pick a major field.

"The Masters is the only one you can get invited to. At the Open, the U.S. Open and the U.S. PGA you have to qualify. But the Masters have their own rules so we will leave them to it. It would be easier to swallow if no one was invited and it was done on sporting and not commercial criteria."

That is, more or less, the fully Monty on why he won't be in Augusta. Like it's the fault of Jeev Milka Singh or Prayad Marksaeng or Liang Wen-hong, each of whom did receive special exemptions and, in case they're asked, can offer the results of various tournaments in which they've beaten Monty this year.

Masters chairman Billy Payne has made no secret that he believes the tournament can expand golf's global reach and if using exemptions to raise the profile in Thailand and China helps, there's nothing wrong with that.

Payne could have offered Monty an exemption but he didn't. Monty had plenty of opportunities to play his way into the Masters but he didn't. And, for the record, the U.S. and British Opens offer special exemptions, not just the Masters.

I'm a fan of Monty's. He can be prickly and there's an almost cartoon quality to him when he feels aggrieved. He was unfairly picked upon by American fans for years and he absolutely deserves a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame though he's never won a major and probably never will.

At least now Monty has one less thing to worry about in the future. There won't be any special invitations arriving in the mail from the Masters.