Saturday, April 30, 2011

Seven Of Top 14 In Wells Fargo Championship Field

   With the exception of four berths open through Monday qualifying, the final field for the Wells Fargo Championship next week is set.

    Four of the top 10 players in the world rankings -- No. 2 Martin Kaymer, No. 4 Phil Mickelson, No.7 Rory McIlroy and No. 8 Paul Casey -- are in the field along with No. 12 Dustin Johnson, No. 13 Jim Furyk and No. 14 Nick Watney.

   Tiger Woods isn't playing due to a knee injury.

   It's a strong field that includes 12 of the top 25 in the world rankings. World No. 1 Lee Westwood isn't playing because he can't fit it into the 10 PGA Tour events he's allowed to play this year. Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, a member of the European Tour, is not playing here either.

   The field includes 19 players with Carolinas ties and could include more depending on who advances from the Monday qualifying event at Carolina Golf Club.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wells Fargo Sponsor Exemptions: Rory And Locals

   When Kym Hougham and the leaders of the Wells Fargo Championship set about deciding which players would get precious sponsor exemptions into the tournament, they relied on a familiar theme.

   They went with players who have local connections.

   Sam Saunders attended Clemson and is the grandson of Quail Hollow member Arnold Palmer who has long and deep ties to Charlotte.

   Mathew Goggin lives here and is the leading money winner on the Nationwide Tour this year.

   Brad Faxon played at Furman and has been a loyal supporter of the tournament through its nine years.

   Joe Ogilvie, who some think may be the commissioner in the future, played at Duke.

   Charles Warren was NCAA champion at Clemson and lives in Greenville, S.C.

   Oh yeah, they gave one to defending champion Rory McIlroy, too. Because he's not a member of the PGA Tour this year, he needed the exemption here.

   The tour also gives two exemptions which went to Martin Kaymer, who could become No. 1 in the world again depending on how Luke Donald and Lee Westwood play in New Orleans and Korea, respectively, and to Edoardo Molinari.

   The tournament still has two more exemptions to give and they're likely to go to players with local ties, also.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

One-Week City Springing To Life At Quail Hollow

   It's amazing to see the scene for the Wells Fargo Championship coming together.

   There are luxury suites being finished, concession stands with fixtures to be set up, a merchandise building to be filled, grass to be cut, flowers to be arranged, a temporary tavern and pro shop to be created inside the clubhouse and that's just some of it.

   They're creating a small city for one week at Quail Hollow. They even have an on-site hospital. Not a first-aid trailer. A mobile hospital with three operating rooms inside just in case.

   This is the ninth year of the tournament and most of the kinks have been ironed out, making the construction -- and the following deconstruction -- easier. The golf course is in excellent shape, helped by having 80,000 pounds of rye grass planted on it last fall

  On tournament week, a grounds crew of about 35 will swell to nearly 130 with volunteers from many of the top clubs in the country pitching in. Superintendent Jeff Kent's crew will include staffers from Muirfield Village, Oakmont, Augusta National, Southern Hills, East Lake and other major clubs, many of them having worked together on the grounds crew at the Masters.

   More than 400 media credentials will be issued and the tournament is likely to be sold out by this weekend.

   On Wednesday afternoon, it was all about getting ready. The countdown is on.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tiger On Hold -- Again

   If it's true that the knee and Achilles problems that will keep Tiger Woods away from the Wells Fargo Championship next week really aren't serious, then that's good news.

   Like him or not, no one should want to see Woods sidelined by an injury. Let's see him take his best shot at breaking Jack Nicklaus's major championship record. If he's good enough to do it -- I'm still in the camp that believes he'll get to 19 -- let's see it. But don't let him fail because he was hurt.

   Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, told me this is "very minor" and he's been wearing the protective boot as a precautionary measure. Until doctors suggested he do otherwise, Woods was intending to play in Charlotte next week.

   Woods hasn't always listened to his doctors. Remember he basically ignored his doctor when he won the U.S. Open on a broken leg at Torrey Pines in 2008. Maybe at age 35, he's more willing to listen when doctors tell him to take it easy and get well first.

   There have been enough injury issues with Woods to wonder how much long-term effect they will have on him.

    At the Masters, Woods was asked -- for the millionth time -- about his latest swing change under coach Sean Foley. The question circled back to why Woods wouldn't go back to the swing that produced the Tiger Slam when he worked with Butch Harmon.

   For the first time I've heard, Woods said he can't physically make that swing any more because of his left knee. Part of the work he did with Hank Haney was to take pressure off his leg.

   This injury is the result of an awkward swing he took under the Eisenhower tree on the 17th hole in the third round of the Masters. He played the next day and shot 67 but his leg continued to hurt.

    Woods knows people are doubting him now. He's past the damage control portion in his personal life and he's trying to prove again that he can be the best golfer in the world. There were signs at Augusta that he was getting closer but he couldn't make any putts, a troublesome trend.

   He wants to play because he wants to win again. It's what drives him and if he takes a little extra satisfaction when he does win again, that's his prerogative. He wanted to return to Quail Hollow and atone for the missed cut and the second-round 79 he shot last year.

   But Tiger has been put on hold again. Hopefully, not for long.


Tiger Won't Play Quail Hollow; Out Due To A Knee Problem

   Tiger Woods will not play in Charlotte next week, bypassing the Wells Fargo Championship due to a minor injury.

   Woods announced on his website today that he had suffered a Grade 1 mild medial collateral ligament spring to his left knee and a mild Achilles tendon strain while hitting a shot on the 17th hole at Augusta National during the third round of the Masters. He continued playing at the Masters and sought medical evaluation after the tournament.

   There is no timetable for when Woods will return to action.

"I personally contacted tournament officials and expressed my regret in not being able to play," Woods said. "This is an outstanding event, but I must follow doctors' orders to get better."

Tom Watson Teaches The Timeless Swing

In Tom Watson’s new instruction book – ‘The Timeless Swing’ – the Hall of Famer has taken a complicated game and done a masterful job of demystifying it.

That’s not to say Watson has made it easy to play. He’s good but not that good. What he’s done is make it easy for players of any level to understand the unchanging principles of the game.

“The point was to try and simplify the swing so everyone can read it from a beginner to an expert,” Watson said.

Watson has taken the principles he leaned, explained them and illustrated them with photographs in ways that are easy to understand. About the most complicated element of Watson’s book (written with former Golf Digest editor Nick Seitz) comes early when he talks about the importance of the bottom of the swing arc.

It’s his version of Hogan’s old mantra that the answer is in the dirt.

In Watson’s words, “If you can swing with a consistent divot, you’ve learned to swing it properly.”

He addresses familiar problems he sees and offers solutions. He stresses the importance of maintaining a consistent spine angle and building a solid grip. Too many amateurs, Watson said, have weak grips which make swing problems almost unavoidable.

Watson learned the game from his father, Raymond, as a child. As a six-year old, Watson learned the basics of working the ball in both directions. It was his father who taught him the holy grail of swing thoughts – keep your head still.

“My dad would put his hand on my head like Jack Grout did with Jack Nicklaus,” Watson said. “He would do that and say, make a swing. After I did it a few times, he said that’s the way you swing.

“I had a good model in my dad.”

Watson’s new book ($29.95) has six Microsoft tags in the book which allows readers to put them into their mobile devices and see lessons demonstrated.

In 1994, Watson made a substantial swing change, one that has extended his career, putting in position to nearly win the British Open two years ago at age 59.

“When I made the change in my swing, my swing got very easy,” Watson said. “I was 46 years old. Until then, I had done it with Band-Aids and swing keys. Talent had a little to do with it along with hitting a ton of golf balls.”

In ‘The Timeless Swing,’ Watson explains what he learned and why it continues to work for him today.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Arnold Palmer To Play In Wells Fargo Pro-Am

   Arnold Palmer is coming to play in the Wells Fargo Championship next week at the Quail Hollow Club.

   The pro-am portion, anyway.

   Palmer, a Quail Hollow member, will play with his grandson, Sam Saunders in the Wednesday pro-am event. Saunders received a sponsor exemption into the tournament.

    Palmer's group is scheduled to tee off at approximately 12:15 p.m. next Wednesday.

   It will be the first public round Palmer has played in Charlotte in 10 years, his last appearance coming at the 2001 Home Depot Invitational at the TPC at Piper Glen. Palmer brought a seniors event to Charlotte in 1982 after helping bring the PGA Tour's Kemper Open to Quail Hollow in 1969.

   Tickets for the Wednesday pro-am are available at and at a kiosk in Southpark Mall.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Snedeker delivers 'storybook' finish; what will future bring?

   After winning the Heritage, Brandt Snedeker said his unexpected victory had a "storybook" feel to it.

   All that was missing was the landing of a title sponsor for the 43-year old event that, at least for the moment, is in jeopardy of not being played again. There was a sense, however, by Sunday afternoon that the Heritage may be close to signing a sponsor and securing its place on the PGA Tour schedule next year and beyond.

   That would be good for so many reasons. Particularly when it's the week after the Masters, it's the ideal marriage of date and destination. It's not a tournament everyone wants to play -- some players prefer to decompress after the Masters by taking a couple of weeks off, others do it by playing to Asia to play. The smart ones come to Harbour Town and play an imaginative golf course in a laid-back setting.

   If Tommy Bahama is interested in sponsoring a PGA Tour event, this is the perfect one.

  For Snedeker, the victory ended a four-year winless spell. He's one of a collection of very good players just entering their 30s. He may not have the global stature of Luke Donald but he played brilliantly on Sunday when he had to. Donald couldn't say the same.

    It was a week when Tommy 'Two Gloves' Gainey proved again he belongs on the PGA Tour and it was another Sunday to forget for Brendon de Jonge, who started the final round two strokes behind and wound up seven behind.

    For Donald, there was disappointment in not finishing off the tournament that seemed his to win and for not grabbing the No. 1 ranking when he had the chance. Those opportunities don't often come along.

    Neither do events like the Heritage.

   "I think 100 percent of the guys want to be back here next year," Snedeker said. "There's nothing like being at Hilton Head this time of year and playing the Heritage."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Another big opportunity for de Jonge

   Brendon de Jonge loves the vibe at Hilton Head.

   He likes the laid-back feel, hanging out with his family at night and playing Harbour Town.

   He may like it even more by Sunday night.

   De Jonge, 30, has had a handful of good chances to win on the PGA Tour but so far hasn't pulled it off. He has another chance in the Heritage, starting the final round two strokes behind leader Luke Donald and one behind defending champion Jim Furyk. Beating both of them -- and everyone else -- is a formidable challenge but de Jonge is hearing what Nick Price told him earlier this year when he contended in Tampa.

   Price told de Jonge to be patient and sometimes victories come to you.

   de Jonge knows he has a tendency to get in a hurry when he is in contention on Sunday. He'll work hard today to slow down, take an extra breath, and see where it takes him.

   Maybe Sunday will be one of those days Nick Price was talking about.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Race For No. 1 -- Suddenly A Revolving Door

   If Luke Donald wins the Heritage on Sunday, he will become the No. 1 golfer in the world.

   That would make him the third No. 1 -- Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer preceded him -- since Tiger Woods surrendered the throne he seemingly held since the invention of cell phones. What was once a closed shop, its door nailed shut by Woods, is now a revolving door.

   There's a much too convoluted system involved in creating the rankings but it's hard to debate Donald belongs at or near the top of the rankings. He's already won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship where he beat a field that included the top 64 in the rankings.

   He finished tied for sixth at the WGC event at Doral and tied for fourth at the Masters. Hard to argue against him.

   I'm not big on the rankings but after all those weeks and years of Tiger at the top -- 623 weeks in all -- it's different to see players trading it back and forth. If neither Donald nor Westwood, who's off in Indonesia trying to win an Asian Tour event, get a victory this weekend, Kaymer keeps the No. 1 perch.

   Donald was diplomatic Friday in discussing his potential move to No. 1 but it should be something special for him if it happens. It would be special any time but especially now considering what a long shot it seemed just 18 months ago when Tiger seemed invincible.


Furyk Grabs Early Share Of Second-Round Lead At Heritage

   Defending champion Jim Furyk shot 5-under par 67 Friday morning to gain a share of the lead midway through the second round of the Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.

    Furyk is at 8-under par where he's tied with Jason Day, runner-up in the Masters two weeks ago, and Camilo Villegas, who is showing signs of breaking out of a prolonged period of flat play. Ben Crane moved to 7-under par through the morning round, pulling even wtih first-round leader Garrett Willis, who plays in the afternoon.

   Tim Herron, a late starter, made two early birdies to also reach 8-under par early in his second round.

   Among the players likely to miss the cut are Rickie Fowler, Lucas Glover, Zach Johnson, Davis Love III and Ernie Els.

Fashion Alert: Belly Putters Are All The Rage

   I'm one of those people who lives on the dull side of the cutting edge.

   I still have a land line at home. I still wear a watch. I still read a newspaper.

   And, I still putt with a conventional putter, one that reaches to about my waist and looks like a putter is supposed to look despite a price tag that should be attached to a washing machine.

   The rage on the PGA Tour now is longer putters, mostly belly putters but some long putters. They used to be crutches for old men whose nerves had been burned away by too many six-footers that slid past the hole. Not any more.

   Adam Scott, a regal looking figure on the golf course, nearly won the Masters using a long putter. Considering no player has won a major using a long putter, a Scott victory would have given new meaning to the term 'a tradition unlike any other.'

   This week at the Heritage, putter reps were overrun with players wanting to try belly putters or longer putters. Martin Laird won with one. Brendan Steele won with one. Tour guys will spot a trend quicker than a stock analyst and go with it.

   Ernie Els put a belly putter into play this week. Bill Haas has been working with one. First-round leader Garrett Willis was planning to use one but backed off at the last minute, while keeping his options open.

  Matt Kuchar is using a putter that seemingly gets longer every week as he adds length to the top. It's a semi-belly putter, I suppose. D.J. Trahan yields one. The list goes on.

   Webb Simpson, who has been using a belly putter since 2004, said he would putt with a broom if it helped him make more putts. So would everyone else on tour.

   There's no more stigma with long putters or belly putters. Makes me wonder if I should give it a try.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Willis Takes Early Heritage Lead

   Garrett Willis, who was born in Charlotte and attended middle school in Fort Mill, S.C., took advantage of ideal scoring conditions to shoot a 7-under par 64 to grab the early first-round lead in the Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.

   Play was suspended at 4:54 p.m. due to a thunderstorm and officials have not determined if it will resume today.

   Willis has a one-stroke lead over Chad Campbell, Tim Herron, Arjun Atwal and Matt Bettencourt after the morning wave in the first round.

   Mark Wilson, a former University of North Carolina golfer and a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, opened with a 66 and is tied with 2009 Heritage champion Brian Gay.

    Charlotte's Webb Simpson rallied from a slow start to shoot 69 while Johnson Wagner opened with a 71. U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell had a 68 while his playing partner Ernie Els shot 75, which included a two-stroke penalty for raking a bunker before he played a shot from it.

Five Cool Things About The Heritage Besides The Golf

At the Heritage, it’s about more than the golf being played at Harbour Town. Here are five reasons why it’s different than most tour stops:

1. It’s okay to wear red tartan plaid if you’re not Ian Poulter.

It’s fashionable, in fact. You’ll see men wearing red plaid kilts and red plaid plus-fours. It doesn’t work on everyone and you probably don’t need to take it off the island after this week but it works at the tournament.

2. The lighthouse

They don’t have one at San Antonio or Doral or even Quail Hollow.

But they have one at Hilton Head, sort of a lowcountry version of the Eiffel Tower.

3. Adult beverages

The concession stands sell wine and champagne by the glass. Or by the bottle.

They also sell mimosas.

At 9 a.m., I heard a concession worker trying to sell fans their “breakfast beer.” Business was sluggish on Thursday morning but it won’t be on the weekend.

4. Kids

They’re all over the place at the Heritage. They carry scoring standards. They compete in a Tuesday afternoon putting contest on the practice green at Harbour Town. They fill the bike paths that snake around the edge of the course. They’re golf fans, most of them, anyway.

5. Alligators

They’re a part of the scene. You find yourself scanning the bank of every lagoon you pass just to see if one of them is sunning itself. When a group of biker riders or golf fans have gathered near the edge of a lagoon, you know there’s a gator on display.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tommy 'Two Gloves' Feeling At Home On The PGA Tour

   Tommy ‘Two Gloves’ Gainey is making the most of his second chance on the PGA Tour. Gainey, who played his way back on tour with two wins on the Nationwide Tour last year, already has a pair of top-10 finishes this year. He tied for eighth in Phoenix where he had a chance to win until he made a triple-bogey with three holes remaining. He also finished fifth at the Honda Classic.

   “It’s a lot different out for me this time,” said Gainey, who played the tour in 2009 but did not retain his privileges. “The reason is because I won (last year) on the Nationwide Tour. My confidence is at an all time high. I feel like I belong out here now.”

   A Bishopville, S.C., native, Gainey his nickname stitched into his golf bag with red right beside a South Carolina Gamecocks logo. Gainey isn't haunted by his near-miss at Phoenix when he tried to drive a par-4 green in the final round and his tee shot caromed off a hazard stake into the water, leading to a triple bogey that cost him more than $100,000.
   "You could say I was within one tee shot of making it interesting," Gainey said of his opportunity. "I made a triple. When I get in that situation, I try to be aggressive.  I try to win the tournament. You can say I should have laid up but I thought I took the right club."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Friday sold out at Quail; Cabrera, Fowler commit

The field for the Wells Fargo Championship keeps adding players while the ticket supply keeps dwindling.

Tournament officials announced today tickets for the Friday round are now sold out. Saturday tickets are also sold out.

Daily tickets are still available for Thursday and Sunday as are practice round packages. Weekly badges are also available.

Also, Angel Cabrera, who finished third last year, has joined the list of players who have officially committed to the tournament May 2-8 at the Quail Hollow Club. Also, Rickie Fowler, Davis Love III and Stewart Cink have committed.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are expected to play but neither has officially committed yet. Entries remain open until 5 p.m. April 29.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Cool Scene And Colder Beer

It was only Monday afternoon but here's what you get at The Heritage, especially on a nearly perfect spring day:

Walking around the marina where yachts the size of a nice clubhouse are anchored, you can hear a guy singing Zac Brown's 'Chicken Fried' across the way at the Quarter Deck where the rocking chairs are full and the music drifts on the breeze;

Keep walking and you run into a big tent pitched behind the 18th green, designed to be a party house. On Monday afternoon, there's only a small pro-am being played and, other than John Daly whose group has already come through, there's not much reason for spectators to be around.

But one of the guys working in the pavilion says, "Come on in, we've got the coldest beer you can find."

It's tempting. There are more rocking chairs, half of them filled, all pointed toward Calibogue Sound where the view never gets old.

You keep walking and you wander through live oaks and spanish moss and you wind up back at the clubhouse, which sits tucked under the trees. A handful of pros are on the practice green, killing time more than working on their putting strokes, while another one or two players pull into the small parking lot and begin unloading.

You overhear players making plans to play a practice round together. You hear caddies chit-chatting and reps for putting companies standing near their equipment, offering hope to the hopeless.

It's an easy day, asking you to look around at where you are.

Only one question lingers:

Is that man telling the truth about how cold the beer is behind the 18th green?

There's only one way to find out.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Donald, G-Mac, Els Part Of Strong Heritage Field

Harbour Town Golf Links keeps drawing admirers.

The Heritage has six of the top 16 players in the world rankings in the field led by third-ranked Luke Donald, sixth-ranked Graeme McDowell and No. 10 Matt Kuchar.

The field also includes defending champion and No. 13 Jim Furyk, No. 14 Ernie Els and No. 16 Ian Poulter. Others in the field include five-time winner Davis Love III, two-time winner Boo Weekley, Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson and John Daly.

Without a title sponsor there is concern this could be the final Heritage. Efforts continue to find a sponsor and players are sure to be vocal in their support of keeping what is one of the most familiar events on the schedule. If the Heritage returns next year it will go back to it's traditional date the week after the Masters.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Kevin Na's 16 at Texas Open (with video)

   So how did Kevin Na made a 16 on the par-4 ninth hole Thursday in the first round of the Valero Texas Open?

   He made a five-footer.

   Sorry, couldn't resist.

   Na's not so excellent adventure on the outskirts of San Antonio was just one more reminder of how mean golf can be. It can turn on you like Linda Blair in 'The Exorcist' if you don't mind a reference that shows my age.

   Na was cruising along -- slowly as usual because he's got a rep for chewing up more clock than the Pittsburgh Steelers with a seven-point lead late in the fourth quarter -- when calamity introduced itself.

   It started with a bad tee shot...but that's how most stories about a 16 on hole begin.

   After declaring his initial tee shot unplayable, Na returned to the tee and hit another in roughly the same area. He played it, hit a shot that hit, took that penalty, whiffed with one left-handed swing, barely nudged the ball forward with another left-handed swipe and by the time he got his ball to the fringe of the green, he had 14 scratches to his credit.

   It was so involved that Na wasn't sure what he had made. He told his caddie when they were finished that it was somewhere between a 10 and a 14. Then he figured out it was a 15. Then, with the help of surveillance cameras, it was determined the actual score was a 16.

   That's not a PGA Tour record, not even close. The great (but not on that day) Tommy Armour posted a 27 on one hole in the 1927 Shawnee Open which no longer exists except when someone looks up the highest score ever posted on a hole.

  Na played 17 holes 4-under par Thursday and one hole 12-over par. His biggest regret, Na told reporters, was that he didn't declare his second tee shot unplayable and hit a third from the tee.

   He could have made an eight that way.

   Yeah, but who would remember?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Where Will Rory Go From Here?

   When Rory McIlroy rolls into Charlotte early next month as the defending champion of the Wells Fargo Championship, it will be interesting to see what he says about his Masters experience having had a month to digest it.

   He's in Malaysia now, playing a European Tour event, getting back on the horse immediately. That's a good thing. Rather than dwell on what had to be a massive disappointment, McIlroy is playing this week. He even sent out photos of him smiling with Masters champ Charl Schwartzel on the private jet they were sharing Sunday evening.

   Resilience is as much a part of the game as chipping and putting. At the professional level, some players are better at rebounding than others. My sense is McIlroy will use it as a learning experience and move forward.

   Colin Montgomerie was quoted earlier this week as saying it could have a long-term effect on McIlroy's career. He said he hoped it wouldn't but he cited Sergio Garcia as an example of a player from whom so much was expected and who now, past his 30th birthday, still doesn't have a major championship victory.

   McIlroy's personality and demeanor are different than Garcia's, who has too often chosen the role of victim when he hasn't won. McIlroy faced his disappointment in style and I expect he'll do the same with his future.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Day With Gentle Ben At Pinehurst No. 2

    Walking up the 18th fairway at Pinehurst No. 2 Monday afternoon, Lorne Rubenstein, the outstanding golf writer for the Toronto Globe and Mail, said he was reminded of the axiom that says sports writers are underpaid and over-privileged.

   We were finishing a round at No.2 with Ben Crenshaw, who along with his partner Bill Coore, has done a spectacular job in restoring the Donald Ross classic to its former glory. Gary Williams, host of 'The Morning Drive' on The Golf Channel, was also in our foursome and the only regret was that the day had to end.

    There may be no more accurate nickname in golf than Gentle Ben. He loves the game but, perhaps more than that, Crenshaw loves all that comes with it. He loves the history, the personalities and the way golf can make you feel. That's why he and Coore were the perfect -- and only -- choice to take Pinehurst No. 2 back to what it was.

    They get it.

    They were bold enough to strip away all the rough, returning the areas off the fairways to the natural, sandy and unkempts state. They've put ragged, worn edges on the bunkers, added a few fairway bunkers in spots and recreated a masterpiece. You may have played No. 2 before but, unless you've been there in the past month, you haven't played this No. 2.

   Playing with Crenshaw was a rare treat. For those of us unaccustomed to playing in front of a gallery -- if you can call the 50 to 100 people who followed us a gallery --it's a little unnerving at the start to have spectactors watching you play golf. But they were there to watch Ben, who took the time to talk with people walking along, telling them about the course or listening to their stories.

   He's proud of the work he and Coore did at No. 2 and he should be. As we went around the course, Crenshaw would point out features both big and small that were tweaked or restored.

   He can still play, too. He doesn't bomb it off the tee but he never did. But he could always putt and he still can. Little Ben, the Wilson 8802 putter he's used since he was a teenager, was in his bag and he used it hole back-to-back birdie putts midway through the round. He has 13 models of the same putter but he still uses the original.

   During the day, the conversation ranged from the work he did on each hole to what he sees in Tiger Woods' putting (he thinks Woods has a more rounded stance and has his hands lower than a few years ago) to topics outside the game.

   He was encouraging and complimentary when the three of us would hit good shots -- and we all hit a few once we got accustomed to having a few dozen people watching. Crenshaw made it feel like we were playing golf with an old friend.

    There is an uncommon grace about Ben Crenshaw. Getting the chance to spend an afternoon with him at Pinehurst No. 2 was as special as the surroudings.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Another Masters To Remember

   What will we remember most about this Masters, that Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes to win a wild shootout or that Rory McIlroy shot 80 after taking a four-stroke lead into the final round?

    And what about Tiger shooting 31 on the front nine, waking up the echoes?

   It was another remarkable Sunday at Augusta National and it had a surprise ending. If you picked Schwartzel as the guy to emerge from the stew of contenders over the final four hours, you're smarter than me (which isn't any great compliment).  He's a very good player, one ticketed for big things a while back by Ernie Els, but I didn't see him winning this Masters.

   Here are some random thoughts about this Masters:

   -- I think Rory McIlroy will get past what happened Sunday but it will take some time. I can't imagine how long that flight to Malaysia will feel this week. He wasn't sharp on the front nine but the collapse was so sudden and so extreme it was almost disturbing. I'll be interested to hear his thoughts when he arrives at Quail Hollow next month.

   -- If Tiger Woods can figure out his putting, he's going to win again soon. His long game has come around but now he can't make enough putts to win. It's not a recent phenomenon. He's struggled on the greens for a while and because he made seemingly everything for forever, it's odd to see him miss now.

     The old Tiger would have center-cut the eagle putt at 15 on Sunday. Instead, he walked off tied for the lead after making a birdie and seemed dejected. He's expected to play the Wells Fargo Championship next and it will be interesting to see what happens on the greens.

   -- Schwartzel looked solid all day. He had a great start and a fantastic finish. He shot 66 on Sunday to win the Masters, including 32 on the back nine. That's how you do it.

   -- Jason Day was very impressive. He looked like he loved the moment and the pressure. This could be a huge step for him.

  -- It's remarkable how much drama Augusta National can produce. There likely won't be a more dramatic golf day this year than Sunday.

An Enormous Moment For Both McIlroy And Woods

   At this moment, with Tiger Woods one back of Rory McIlroy as the Masters rolls toward its final two hours, it's hard to know who this tournament is bigger for -- Woods or McIlroy.

   If Rory is going to be the next great player, he can prove it today by winning a tournament that Tiger is suddenly chasing.

   If Tiger wants to blow away all the doubters and haters, he can do it by finishing what he started on the front nine.

   Maybe neither wins. Maybe Charl Schwartzel or Adam Scott wins. But for Woods and McIroy -- and for everyone watching -- this is a spectacular set-up. The finish may be just as spectacular.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

McIlroy's Moment Has Arrived

   Rory McIlroy's moment has arrived.

   He takes a four-stroke lead into the final round of the Masters and if he plays anywhere near like he's played the first three days, McIlroy will have his first green jacket by Sunday evening.

   Someone may beat him but I don't see McIlroy blowing it. He's too good. Too solid. He's made for winning tournaments like this.

  He's 21 but he's older than that in golf years. Some guys privately fear the big stage. They step back when the light gets the brightest. Not McIlroy. He soaks up the sun.

   The player he most has to fear behind him is Angel Cabrera, his partner in the final pairing. Cabrera has won the Masters before -- and the U.S. Open -- and he's tougher than a Siberian winter. He won't scare and he's capable of glaring the green jacket onto his thick shoulders.

   Maybe Jason Day finds another round like his second-round 64. Maybe Charl Schwartzel shoots 66. Maybe K.J. Choi makes all the little putts and a few long ones.

   More likely, Sunday delivers the first of several major championships to Rory McIlroy.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Did We Get Tiger Back On Friday?

   Did Tiger Woods finally return Friday at Augusta National?

   Or was just one more step in the -- here it comes -- process?

   That's what this Masters weekend will tell us. Woods looked like his old self Friday afternoon, hitting solid shots, walking with a purpose, staring down shots like he expected them to obey. It felt as good as it looked.

   Now it's a question of whether he can build on it. I hope so.

   This may be Rory McIlroy's Masters -- or Jason Day's -- or K.J. Choi's -- but I want it to have Woods in the middle of it. He needs to be relevant again, more than as a curiosity struggling with a swing and life change.

   He keeps telling us how close he's getting to having his game back and he presented Friday as evidence. Now comes the next step.

Could This Be Freddie's Weekend?

   Fred Couples could win this Masters.

   I'm not saying he's going to and neither is he but at age 51 and with a back that's crankier than a grounded teenager, Couples is on the leaderboard at Augusta National again. He shows up there as regularly as pine pollen.

   For a guy who can't get comfortable and therefore fidgets constantly to keep his back loose, Freddie sure looks happy. And why not?

   He loves this place. It makes him feel young again just like the other middle-agers who are scrambling around Augusta National's hills following him. He'll need to do something spectacular over the weekend, which isn't likely, but maybe he'll hang around, stay close enough to keep the dream alive and that would be great fun.

Waiting On Mickelson

   The second day at the Masters has arrived at lunch time and Phil Mickelson has not yet arrived on the leader board.

   The defending champion, pre-tournament favorite and most popular player in the game is keeping it interesting but not making too much progress toward the front. Through seven holes in the second round, Lefty has made two pars, two birdies and three bogeys. He's 1-under par and seven behind K.J. Choi at the moment.

   He can't get any momentum going. It doesn't help that he's driving it sideways as evidenced by the four fairways he hit Thursday, the fewest in the field. But nothing's happening. And that happens.

   There was a flicker this morning when Phil birdied the second hole then he gave it back at the short par-4 third when he spun his wedge shot off the green and down a slope, the cardinal sin on that hole. He pitched 12 feet past the hole and missed the par putt.

   Then he bogeyed the fifth and sixth holes before making a birdie at No. 7. The good news for Mickelson is no one is moving too far away from him. But he's not making up much ground either.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

What We Learned From Day One, And Can Expect From Day Two

   What we learned from the first round of the Masters and what can we expect in the second round:
  -- Don't discount Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi. Sure, they have a lot of initials but they can play. Both finished in the top eight at Augusta last year.

   -- Ross Fisher is dangerous when his wife is pregnant. He nearly won the 2009 British Open at Turnberry when his wife was due to give birth at any minute. She's expecting again and he opened with 69.

  -- Rory McIlroy loves the big stage and is very close to winning a major championship, maybe this one. He can sling hooks around Augusta National and he has great nerves. He melted down in the second round at St. Andrews last July after opening with a 63 but I don't expect that to happen today. I like his chances to be the leader after 36 holes.

  -- Maybe Phil Mickelson went with the wrong driver. After saying he would play with two, he went with one and hit just four of 14 fairways, worst in the field. At least he found the drive he carved into the bushes beyond the creek on the left side of the 13th fairway. Augusta National gives you some room off the tee but not that much.

  -- We've found Martin Kaymer's weakness. The world's top-ranked player evidently can't play Augusta National and unless he improves dramatically from his opening 76, he'll be 0-for-4 in making cuts at the Masters.

  -- How far can Alvaro Quiros hit it? He had a 9-iron into the 465-yard, uphill 18th hole. He almost makes Gary Woodland look short by comparison.

   -- What do Ricky Barnes, Brandt Snedeker, Matt Kuchar and Woodland have in common?

    They're the top Americans on a diverse leader board.

  -- And what about Tiger?

    He keeps talking about how many "beautiful" putts he's hitting and he keeps watching them not go in. That has to change if he's going to contend.

Rory McIlroy: Street Footballer

   So what does 21-year old Rory McIlroy do on Wednesday night before the Masters starts?

   With three buddies from Northern Ireland in town with him rather than his parents, McIlroy and his mates went to a local mall and bought a football. Not a soccer ball, an American football.

   Then they went back to their rented house and threw the ball in the street until about 9 p.m. when a woman who lives in the neighborhood asked them if they would take it down to an empty lot at the end of the street. There wasn't enough light there so McIlroy and his boys retreated back into their house.

   McIlroy said he's gotten more interested in the NFL and can throw a spiral, which isn't surprising since he's a capable rugby player. When someone asked if they were running pass patterns, McIlroy admitted he didn't know what that meant.

    But when it came to Augusta National on Thursday, McIlroy had all the answers.

At Augusta, Watching The Scoreboard Is Part Of The Fun

   The Masters isn't afraid of going high tech.

   Check out the 3D broadcasts or the new alliance with Tiger Woods on a video game or the iPad app that allows you to watch the tournament on your handy dandy device.

   And if the Masters wanted high-tech scoreboards, they'd be better than any scorebaords in the world. But that's not what the Masters wants.

   The tournament sticks with wooden scoreboards with a slot for every hole beside a player's name. When they finish a hole, a window goes blank then it closes with the player's current standing to par. With no one having access to mobile scoring devices -- no cell phones allowed means no cell phones allowed at the Masters -- so everyone watches the board to see what's happening.

   Especially on the weekend when the drama is taking shape around the course, cheers and groans go up when scores are posted. It's almost quaint.

   What it is is great.

   Chairman Billy Payne says there are no plans for video boards at the Masters. They'll stick with the big white boards.

    It's the Masters. That's how it should be.


The Fourth-Best Day Of The Year Has Begun

   The e-mail from a friend arrived early today and read, 'The fourth best day of the year.'

   That means Friday is the third best, Saturday the second best and, obviously, Sunday the best day, at least if golf and the Masters are part of your DNA. It's been eight months since Martin Kaymer won the last major championship and a full year since golf was here at Augusta National watching Phil Mickleson win.

   For all the promise that comes with the Masters, there is no guarantee it will produce one of those everlasting memories. Like any other golf tournament, the Masters produces its share of winners who won't make the Hall of Fame. The names Charles Coody, Tommy Aaron and Mike Weir come to mind.

   But after waiting out winter, the California swing and the Florida swing, the Masters has begun.

   Retief Goosen eagled the par-4 first hole to get the tournament off to a cracking start. Ross Fisher shot 33 on his first nine holes. Rory McIlroy is 2-under through three holes.

   The fourth best day of the year has started and the sun is smiling.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Augusta National -- The Calm Before The Storm

   One of the coolest things about the Masters is Wednesday afternoon and it's not the par-3 tournament.

   That's a terrific event, a place for dads with kids as their caddies and for Arnie, Jack and Gary to go another nine together.

   But I like Wednesday afternoon because the golf course closes in the afternoon and, if you're there, you can walk Augusta National and see it on your terms. There are still thousands of people scattered across the course and they're just soaking it in. They're posing for pictures behind the 16th green or just staring at the par-3 12th hole.

   The players are off the course and the maintenance crew has taken over.You can watch six tractors mow a fairway in tandem, doing their own Blue Angels routine. You can see a marshal carefully spray re-painting the gallery lines at crosswalks -- in green paint, of course.

   Walk up a path between the second and eighth fairways where the wild azaleas are in bloom and you see a man taking close-range photos of the yellow-orange flowers.

   On the second green, a group of green-coated men study where they'll cut the hole for Thursday's first round. They have a tape measure stretching from the front of the green to the back and they're studying it like it's a chemistry equation.

   It's a nearly perfect afternoon, sunny and warm with just enough breeze to keep it fresh.

   By Thursday morning, the same places will feel so different.

A Peek Inside The Masters Pairings

   Picking apart some of the first-round pairings:

  -- Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Nick Watney: Johnson and Watney are on most short lists as possible winners this year. Watney already has two top-10s at Augusta and Johnson appears to have the full skill set for winnnig a Masters, particularly the power. And there are no waste bunkers at Augusta National. As for Scott, he putts with the long putter. That tells you all  you  need to know.

  -- Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day: Also known as the Masters youth group. McIlroy seems to thrive on the big stage. I really like his chances. Fowler seems destined for big things but I'm not sure he makes the Masters his first PGA Tour victory. Day isn't as flashy as the guys but don't forget about him.

  -- Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and Matt Kuchar: If picking a threesome to have the lowest combined score on Thursday, start here. I know Kaymer is 0-for-3 in making Masters cuts but that changes this year.

  -- Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell and Robert Allenby: Amazing how the vibe has changed around Tiger from a year ago. Now he's not even the highest-ranked player in his pairing. G-Mac has that distinction. I'm saying Tiger finishes in the top five.

  -- Phil Mickelson, Geoff Ogilvy and Peter Uihlein: The left-hander is must-see viewing at Augusta but the other guys aren't bad themselves.

  -- Fred Couples, Luke Donald and Steve Stricker: Freddie's back is bothering him again which doesn't bode well but Augusta has a way of taking him back to 1992 again. If you're looking for a sneaky pick to win, it's Luke Donald. Hard to say it's sneaky since he's ranked in the top five in the world but he's doing it quietly. He might make some noise this weekend.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Mickelson Says Yes To Quail; Yes To Hiring Rivera

Phil Mickelson said two things Tuesday that should be of particular interest around Charlotte:

He said “absolutely” when asked if he’ll play in the Wells Fargo Championship in early May, though he has not yet officially committed to play.

And, Mickelson loves the Carolina Panthers’ hiring of Ron Rivera as their new head coach. Mickelson follows the NFL closely, especially his hometown San Diego Chargers where Rivera was defensive coordinator before being hired by the Panthers.

“He’ll be fabulous,” Mickelson said when asked about Rivera. “I think he’ll be amazing.

“Carolina has always had a defensive identity. San Diego has always had an offensive identity with Air Coryell and all that. He took the Chargers and brought them to the No. 1 defense.

“He’ll be terrific.”

Mickelson even offered some draft advice, suggesting the Panthers should use the first pick to draft a defensive player to fit with Rivera’s strong suit.

-- Ron Green Jr.

Tiger With G-Mac; Phil With Ogilvy In Masters First Round Pairings

Tee times for Thursday’s first round at the Masters tournament

7:40 a.m.; Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus (ceremonial)

7:45: Jonathan Byrd, Ross Fisher, Sean O’Hair

7:56: Sandy Lyle, Alex Cjeka, David Chung

8:07: Jerry Kelly, Camilo Villegas, Jeff Overton

8:18: Ben Crenshaw, Brandt Snedeker, Kevin Na

8:29: Mark O’Meara, Anders Hansen, Heath Slocum

8:40: Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, Nick Watney

8:51: Vijay Singh, Tim Clark, Aaron Baddeley

9:02: Gregory Havret, Carl Pettersson, Ryan Palmer

9:13: Martin Laird, Mark Wilson, Bo Van Pelt

9:24: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

9:35: Mike Weir, Hiroyuki Fujita, Retief Goosen

9:57: Padraig Harrington, Ryo Ishikawa, Bill Haas

10:08: Larry Mize, Rory Sabbatini, Jin Jeong

10:19: Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Matt Kuchar

10:30: Hunter Mahan, Ernie Els, Francesco Molinari

10:41: Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell, Robert Allenby

10:52: Arjun Atwal, Sergio Garcia, Robert Karlsson

11:03: Charl Schwartzel, Stuart Appleby, Charley Hoffman

11:14: Ian Woosnam, D.A. Points, Ben Crane

11:25: Craig Stadler, Kevin Streelman, Nathan Smith

11:36: Peter Hanson, Kyung-Tae Kim, Ryan Moore

11:47: Angel Cabrera, Ian Poulter, David Toms

12:09: Trevor Immelman, Lucas Glover, Hideki Matsuyama

12:20: Zach Johnson, Yong-Eun Yang, Miguel Angel Jimenez

12:31: Jose Maria Olazabal, Davis Love III, Lion Kim

12:42: Tom Watson, Ricky Barnes, Jason Bohn

12:53: Fred Couples, Luke Donald, Steve Stricker

1:04: Anthony Kim, Henrik Stenson, Steve Marino

1:15: Bubba Watson, Paul Casey, Edoardo Molinari

1:26: Stewart Cink, Jim Furyk, Yuta Ikeda

1:37: Justin Rose, K.J. Choi, Louis Oosthuizen

1:48: Phil Mickelson, Geoff Ogilvy, Peter Uihlein

1:59: Jhonattan Vegas, Gary Woodland, Alvaro Quiros

Plane Scare Gets Westwood's Week Off To Exciting Start

   Lee Westwood's Masters week got off to an exciting start.

   Westwood was flying out of Houston Sunday night with his manager Chubby Chandler when, shortly after takeoff, there was smoke in the cockpit and pilots were forced to make an emergency landing. I'll let Westwood tell the story:

  "You talk to Chubby, there were flames coming up between our legs and things like that...Not literally," Westwood said Tuesday.

   "We took off, got I guess three or four minutes in the air, and there was some smoke in the cabin, so the pilots donned the oxygen masks and turned it around fairly quickly, quicker than you would normally, and brought it down fast. Once they got everything comfortable, they just landed...

   "It was a bit nervy for three or four minutes but not as drama-filled as someone would have you make out. If you read the Sun (an English tabloid). you would think we were on fire and landing like Memphis Belle or something like that."

   Westwood admitted he took precautions on the flight that eventually got him and his manager to Augusta.

   "I tell you on the next flight I had a very large double vodka," Westwood said.

More Reader Memories Of Jack and The '86 Masters

Here are more memories from readers about Jack Nicklaus and his unforgettable Masters victory in 1986:

   My stepson Matt and I watched the Saturday round and decided we would drive to Augusta early Sunday to try and buy couple tickets. We left around 5:00 am and in '86 you could park where the new practice facility is now built. Matt had quickly drawn a hand made sign that read " Need 2 tickets" so we started walking through the parking lot felling very hopeful. Matt was 13 at the time and his first trip to Augusta. In no more than 15 minutes we meet a couple that had 2 extra tickets and we purchased them for $ 40 total!

   We quickly made our way inside and placed our chairs behind 18 green, about 4 rows back. We spent the entire morning walking the course from 1-18. By early afternoon we were back in our chairs ready to watch the full field finish. We both have many memories from that day. One that really stands out continues to be the roars you would hear from all parts of the course and especially the sounds when Jack would make another birdie. From our seats on 18 with our binoculars we could actually see Nicklaus on 15 and the eagle he made there.

   The reception Jack got a 18 was incredible. We where sitting right by the roped exit in back 18 as he and Jackie walked off arm in arm.

   To top off this incredible day, we looked at a portion of the VHS tape when we got home Sunday night. As the groups started finishing on 18 you can see the two of us on almost every shot of 18 for the entire afternoon.

   Matt is back living in Charlotte now. 25 years later is a successful attorney will local law firm. I am sure we will spend part of this Masters on Sunday watching and reminiscing about 25 years ago!

Tommy Saunders

   It's the 1981 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic and the reigning PGA Champion (1980) is Jack Nicklaus. I bought a visor to save as a souvenir. I'm standing at the putting green when up comes Jack to practice. The crowd thickens and he announces that he is going to putt for 20 minutes and then sign autographs. I'm not an autograph seeker normally, but opportunity persuaded me since I was at the rope.

  When he worked his way down the line he was presented pairing sheets, programs, caps and all sorts of items to autograph. Most, if not all, were crammed with autographs from other participants and Jack did his best to squeeze his in amongst those signatures of mere mortals. When he came to me I handed him a completely clean & new visor and said, "Yours will be the only autograph on that".

   I assumed he wouldn't actually be listening to me or anyone in the throng and just be signing by rote. To my surprise Jack grabbed the visor and proceeded to center a giant 4 inch by 2 inch "Jack Nicklaus" on the bill. He had heard me, and I still have that visor with only Jack's autograph on the bill. He listened and I was forever impressed.

Dennis Smith

   I grew up sitting by my father watching golf every Saturday and Sunday on Wide World of Sports. From the age of five I was a Jack Nicklaus fan. I have been a huge Golden Bear fan my entire life. I had followed Jack Nicklaus each year at the Masters beginning in 1976. In 1986 when I arrived at Augusta on Thursday my father asked me who I was going to follow that year and I quickly replied that, of course, I would follow Jack Nicklaus each day for each hole.

   He gently urged me to consider following a different player with the idea that Jack Nicklaus was not a likely player in the final few twosomes on Sunday. I chose to follow my own game plan and actually followed Jack Nicklaus all four days for every hole. While I been blessed to attend many exciting sporting events, I must tell you that particular Sunday 25 years ago was the most thrilling sporting moment of my life.

   I was one of those folks you referenced in your article briskly walking (running) and was standing on the 17th green when that incredible birdie put went in. My high school and college basketball coach would have been impressed with my vertical jump at that particular moment. I actually have an incredible photo in my home taken by Brian Morgan,a famous golf photographer, that captures that exact moment when Nicklaus made that putt.

   I still get goose bumps when I think about that amazing moment in sports history. I also have a videotape with highlights of that particular tournament that I play occasionally when I need to be reminded of what is possible even when the odds are stacked against you!

   Aside from this memory of Jack, I must say that the reason I was such a huge fan is because of his incredible decorum, poise, smile and sportsmanship. He was a class act each and every time he got on the course and he did much to advance the game of golf.No doubt I will be standing on the first tee this week as he hits the ceremonial first tee shot to begin yet another Masters weekend.

Ann Clark

  My son Jared passed away in 2002......On his wall was a photo of him sitting on Jack's lap......It's a long story, but it is filled with the love of a Dad, a son, and their hero, Jack Nicklaus.....

  Because of Jared's special needs (physical and mental) he would never be able to play sports, but, I sometimes took him with me in the golf cart when I played....I am not a very good golfer, but, I love to watch it on tv, and play when I could....So, one day when he and I went into a golf shop, I bought a tape of Golf My Way, by Jack...........Jared and I watched golf on tv all the time, and of course Jack was always our favorite in the 80's.....We would watch the tape, watch him on TV. Jared would see him and be excited.......

  One time we were in a golf shop, and Jack was on tv, Jared would not let go of the tv until he was off.....The 1986 Masters tape we bought was played over, and over and over in hour home.......In 1987, when Jared was turning 7, I wanted to get a poster of Jack for his room, we couldn't find one anywhere......So I called Golden Bear offices in Florida, and asked where I could buy one. They asked me why, and I told them the story of my son, so they agreed to send me one, and didn't ask me to pay.....

  .About a week later we got rather large tube in the mail, cost them a lot to send it.....I was poster of Jack waving, along with his caddy, Angelo.....It looked like he was waving at Jared. He had signed it Happy Birthday Jared, 1987, Jack Nicklaus. You have no idea how proud I was. We took some photos of Jared with his poster, and mailed a thank you back to him, along with the photos...Professional athletes sometimes do things just for show.........Not Jack......

  .He invited us to come and meet him at the Memorial Tournament in Columbus.....He sent us tickets, etc........Flying with a special needs child, and maneuvering in a special chair on a golf course can be challenging, but, we would not have missed it for anything.....They allowed us to stay in the tournemant office during the day, where Jared could take a nap, get ready, etc. On the day we were sheduled to meet him, they would not let the crowd get close, because it was our time with Jack....

   If you have ever been to the Memorial, the building has a lot of stairs, so as Jack was comng closer, and closer, it was hard to describe how we felt, scared, elated, happy....We also met his wife and son Steve and they were very nice to us also.....Jared had his photo made sitting on Jacks' stayed in his room until he died 9 years ago.......My wife was able to get a letter to Jack, telling him of Jared's death......He wrote us back, he said he did remember us, he sent his sympathies........You see, people can have their heros, Dads and sons can have their heros........To us, there is no better hero to a little special needs boy, and his Dad..........

Bill Alexander

I am the same age as Jackie, Jr. and had just turned 24 a couple of weeks prior to that April 13, 1986 Sunday afternoon. You asked for readers to send in our memories of that day, so here are mine.

As background, I wrote my high school senior English paper six years earlier on the subject, a debate if you will, on whether or not Jack Nicklaus should be considered the greatest golfer of all time. My conclusion was yes, he was the greatest ever, but as I submitted that paper to my English teacher in May of 1980 Jack was two years removed from winning his record 15th major. Most golf pundits were predicting that, at age 40, he was done.

   But my English paper not only summarized his extraordinary career accomplishments and compared him to others in the conversation (Jones, Hogan, and Palmer), but as part of my "proof" I predicted, actually I guaranteed, that Niclaus would win at least three more majors and, after that, anyone still in doubt would have to join my conclusion that Jack was, indeed, the greatest of all time.

Obviously, three months later I am looking like a genius after Nicklaus added #16 at Baltusrol and #17 at Oak Hill, but as the years went by my friends would always remind me of my lost guarantee. I suffered through the 1982 Watson chip-in at Pebble Beach, near misses at the '83 PGA and the '85 Masters, and wondered myself if his career was complete.

   There are 18 holes on standard golf courses, you finish your rounds on the 18th green, so 18 was the right number to define Jack's career.

 I graduated from college from the University of Tennessee the previous year and was now living in Charlotte, and my fiancĂ©e at the time, Gail (now my wife of 24 years) and I were back visiting family in Knoxville that April 1986 weekend. We needed to drive back to Charlotte on that Sunday afternoon,
and following church we had lunch at my parent's home and were preparing
for the four-hour drive. We packed the car, but before leaving I asked
Gail if we could tune into the Masters to "see how Jack was doing."

   I knew he was only four strokes back, and he had come so close the year before that I was hoping a Sunday charge was on tap. These were times before the internet, before sports radio, before the golf channel. I literally didn't know how the final round was going until most everyone else found out, by
tuning into CBS when they came on the air with the last groups nearing the end of their front nines.

   We turned on the TV in my parent's living room, and before I even saw the leaderboard I watched Seve Ballesteros and Tom Kite, playing in the same group, hole out for eagles from the fairway on No. 8. CBS finally showed the leaderboard, and I saw that Jack was even par for the day and still
well back. Gail wanted to leave and Jack's chances were slimming. If we had left, I would not have known what I had missed until we got back to Charlotte. Again, no cell phones for anyone to provide updates, no smart phones with internet connections, no satellite radio. The young sports fans of today have no idea what we had to endure, but I digress.

   I told Gail, "let's see how Jack starts his back nine first, and then we'll leave." For the next thirty minutes we watch him birdie No. 9, No. 10, and No. 11 to get within striking distance. We weren't going anywhere, although after his bogey at No. 12 I'm sure there was some chatter about leaving, but all I remember is being zoned into that television unlike anytime past or present. It was riveting, not only because Jack was in the hunt, but all of the best players of that era were on the leaderboard.

   My parents weren't even golf fans, but they were in the living room with us glued to every shot with me and Gail, and we weren't leaving until this drama ended. And what drama it was.

  The eagle at 15, the near hole-in-one on 16, Seve dunking his 4-iron in Sarazen's pond, Norman and Kite missing putts that should have gone in, would have gone in any other time, but this story was written years before and Jack was going to cap his career with #18. He was the greatest of all time and he gave us one more to seal the deal.

David Williams

   I had moved from Charlotte to Atlanta in Jan 1986 – was fortunate enough to have attended a few Masters over the years and never turned down the opportunity to go to Augusta. That weekend however happened to be my mother-in-law’s birthday and my wife wanted us to be in town for her birthday celebration.

   So, that’s when the fun begins – I had 2 badges (and hotel room) for Sat and Sun – with my long-term marital bliss hanging in the balance, I in turn gave the Sat badges to my mom and dad and my Sun badges to my twin brother and his girlfriend. Having given up the opportunity to be in attendance at the “Greatest Masters” was something I never really regretted because of who got to use the badges – it was always a fun reminiscing during Masters Week in subsequent years and I was fortunate enough to have been back for a “Freddie” win, a Mickelson win, and a Tiger win.

Brian Park

   Jack won the Greater New Orleans Open in April, 1973 and I was there. What is most memorable to me, however, is the one tee shot I witnessed where he, Tom Kite, and a tall lanky golfer whose name I cannot recall, all hit from the tee. Believe it or not, ALL THREE golf balls were within about ten feet of each other on the drive. There was one other golfer of interest in this tournament, Ben Crenshaw, a rookie, who was as remarkable to me as the Buckeye Bear.

Neil Hohmann

   I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and obviously Jack Nicklaus was a boyhood hero of mine. According to my mom at age 4 I ask the barber to "cut my hair like Jack Nicklaus." I went on to achieve success in high school golf and in the classroom and was awarded a scholarship given by the Memorial Tournament and the Columbus Dispatch in 1996. As part of the annual honoree ceremony and pro clinic on Wednesday, myself and three other scholarship recipients were given our awards by Mr. Nicklaus.

  Most memorable to me was the time he took to talk to each one of us individually for 5-10 before the ceremony. He didn't just read from his note card, hand us the placque, smile for the picture and move on with his myriad duties. He took the time to converse, congratulate, and extend an invitation to me and my family to enjoy his hospitality house on the 18th fairway for the rest of the day.

To this day, I have a picture of Mr. Nicklaus handing me my award and shaking my hand. But most importantly, I remember the sincerity from him during the brief conversation I had with my boyhood idol.

Travis Ball

Monday, April 04, 2011

Masters tickets will be available for individual rounds in 2012

  In a change that will begin next year, a limited number of tickets will be made available to the public for individual tournament rounds, the Masters announced today. The tournament will also continue to have a public sale of practice-round tickets.

All applications will be handled through the tournament website,

"Moving the entire application process to our official tournament website is a safe and convenient way for those wishing to apply for daily practice round tickets," chairman Billy Payne said. "We are also pleased to provide a limited number of tickets for the individual tournament round days, which, up until now, have only been allocated to our series badge holders."

Daily ticket applications must be submitted by June 30 and those selected will be allowed to purchase a maximum of two tickets for any individual day.

Applications for practice round tickets must be submitted by July 30. Applicants who are selected will be allowed to purchase up to four tickets for an individual practice round day.

Each allocation will have its own random selection process and applicants will be notified by email within several weeks after the application deadlines.

Applications for tournament badges have been closed since 1971 when a waiting list was established. The waiting list was closed in 1978 and briefly reopened in 2000.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Nine Masters Questions -- The Front Nine

Now that Phil Mickelson has become the official favorite of this year’s Masters Tournament, making himself as popular at Augusta as pimento cheese sandwiches, it’s time to get this week started.

It begins with questions – nine of them. Call it the front nine.

1. Who will win the long drive contest Thursday morning off the first tee between ceremonial starters Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus?

A: I’m going with Jack but the surest bet is Arnie will hit it right to left and not very far.

2. Will Rickie Fowler prove that it’s possible to wear too much green at Augusta National?

A: No. But he will prove you can wear too much orange.

3. Now that the Masters has become the most technologically advanced major, offering apps for your iPhone and iPad that allow you to watch the tournament live, will the tournament allow cell phones on the property?

A; Thankfully, no.

4. Have there been any major changes to the golf course this year?

A: Other than the Cadillacs they’ll have floating in Rae’s Creek and in the pond in front of the 15th green, nothing significant.

5. What if Bubba Watson wins the Masters?

A: That would be way cool – and the dude might not stop crying until Thanksgiving.

6. How many players will wear white pants at the Masters?

A: Too many.

7. Why do they call it Amen Corner?

A: Because Sistine Chapel was already taken.

8. Have I forgotten to mention Tiger Woods?

A: Nope. Just did.

9. Who’s going to win?

A: Phil.

Or someone else.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Memories Of Nicklaus In '86 -- Still Golden

With next week being the 25th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus's memorable victory in the 1986 Masters, we're asking readers to send us their recollections (to of that Sunday or their favorite memory of the Golden Bear.

   Here are a few storires we've already received:

    Two of my brothers interned at Augusta National, in 1985 and 1987, and I was fortunate to attend the Masters those years. Little did I know that my brothers' university schedules would conspire to prevent me from witnessing the greatest Masters of my lifetime, particularly considering I grew up a "Jack fan." My father was an "Arnie fan." My father and I since reconciled, and we are both "Phil fans" today. But I digress.
   As it turned out, a close friend was married in Milwaukee on Saturday, April 12, 1986. My return home on Sunday, April 13 was circuitous, taking me from Milwaukee, to Cleveland, and finally to Charlotte. Little did I know when I boarded my flight in Milwaukee that I was about to miss a great spectacle. I caught a few early holes at the Milwaukee airport, and a few more, mid-round, in Cleveland. Regrettably, I largely missed Jack's 30 on the final nine.

   Of course, 1986 was before Blackberry and DVR, so there I was unable to access any updates on the plane, or to watch at home that evening. By the time I was in the Charlotte terminal, Nicklaus was wearing the Green Jacket. I've watched the final round several times since then, but it would have been magic to see it live.

    People tend to forget the quality of the leader board in 1986. Within four strokes at the end were Kite, Norman, Ballesteros, Price, Haas and Watson. Price led Nicklaus by three strokes following Price's course record 63 on Saturday.

R. Steven DeGeorge

   I remember watching the 1986 Masters with my Dad as a 10-year old boy. It was a tense afternoon around our house which turned into a real special moment.

   Jack is very close to my Dad's age and I just remember how neat it was watching him pull it off. It's one of those things that you just don't get to see too often and I will always have a special place in my heart for the Masters and probably a great deal due to that year. It really has stuck with me to this day as I tend to get a giddy feeling when the tournament rolls around. I can hear the music now.

Brad Lance

   Jack came to Gastonia shortly after turning pro, to play an exhibition at the old Gastonia Country Club with Charlie and Dave Smith (2 excellent amateurs from Gastonia), and another pro.....I think it was either George Bayer or Mike Souchak....both renowned long hitters of that era. (Long hitters in that day being the ones who hit it 275.) The match was billed as a driving duel between Dave Smith and George (or Mike). On the first hole, and most holes after, Jack drove past all of them. Back in those days we rarely saw pros play, and I’ll never forget the sound when his club struck the ball......just exploded.

   Finally I remember his loss to Tom Watson (in the 1982 U.S. Open) after Tom chipped in from off the green. Can’t remember the course or tournament, but you’ll know that. Both class guys and great players.

   Sorry I can’t remember some details, but Jack, Arnie, Tom, Lee, Gary. were the guys I grew up watching and reading about. Jack was not very popular at the time, because he didn’t have the persona of the he was moving into Arnie’s territory. He became more likable in later years. I always liked him, I guess from that early exhibition.

  Jeff Rudisill

   I was a 17-year old high school student in Hendersonville in 1963 or 1964 (can't quite remember which) working a summer job for WHKP radio. Nicklaus and Gary Player were scheduled to play an exhibition match at the then Asheville Country Club, now the Grove Park Inn course.

   I convinced the station's sport director to let me go over to Asheville and get an interview. Player was very popular, but Nicklaus was new on the tour and posing a challenge to everybody's hero Arnold Palmer. Nicklaus was not the fan favorite in those early years that he would later become. I introduced myself before the match and requested an interview. Nicklaus asked if I could wait until after the match.

  Truthfully, I figured he would play and bolt without giving a second thought to my request. After the match I approached him again. Much to my surprise and delight he said that he'd be happy to do the interview and invited me into the locker room. I sat down with him, each sitting on stools in front of his locker and conducted a 5 minute interview. I walked out of the clubhouse a Jack Nicklaus fan for life. And I still have the recording of that interview.

Robert Orr

   On Sept. 12, 1976, I had the opportunity to go the World Open at Pinehurst. It was on a Friday. Jack Nicklaus missed the cut. He finished on the ninth hole. He knew he’d missed the cut. What I’ll never forget is Jack and Angelo (Argea, his caddie) sitting on the tailgate of a station wagon that was designated to take them back to the club, signing every single autograph request for every fan young and old. It was an amazing.

   While I saw him win the U.S. Open at Baltusrol later in his career, nothing will compare to that single act of incredible sportsmanship shown by the greatest of all time.

David Caldwell

   I have a great Jack Nicklaus moment and memory that will last a lifetime – the entire back nine of Augusta in 1986! My wife Maggie and I were with 8-10 friends Saturday and Sunday in 1986, and our crowd was gathered at No. 12, sitting down on blankets. But my wife and I picked up Jack on No. 10 and we saw him birdie 10 and 11.

    We came upon our group of friends at 12 when Jack made a bogey and someone said, “ya’ll have a seat, Jack’s done”. And I said, “I don’t care if he is done or not, I am walking in with him.” And my wife and I followed him on every hole coming in, and we saw his birdie at 13, his eagle at 15 and his birdie at 16 – the roar was deafening, unlike anything I have ever heard at Augusta. Then, standing on one of the elephant humps we crossed over at 15 to the green at No. 17 where there was nobody and waited for Jack to play 17.

   And we were only 20 or 30 feet away facing Jack when he made the winning birdie putt at 17. And it was the most exciting moment I have ever had at any sporting event, people were running like a herd of cattle up 18, screaming Jack’s got the lead!. I told my wife she was witnessing sports history, and she knew it. You could literally feel the electricity in the air. And to see Jack do that with his son on the bag was truly special and made the afternoon a day I will never forget.

Curtis Elliott

    Jack has long been my favorite athlete. I have always admired his commitment to family and his professionalism. I have been fortunate to get many autographs over the years from Jack, but when I lived in Richmond, Va. I had a stunning moment I will never forget.

   I was in the locker room of a health club I belonged to, about 4:00 pm on a Thursday afternoon. I was getting dressed after working out.

   I heard the door to the locker room open, and my heart skipped a beat as Jack Nicklaus and two of his sons walked in. Jack walked right up to the locker next to me, put down a Converse tennis shoe box, and looked over at me and said "How you doing today." I almost fainted.

   Long story short his son was getting married in Richmond on Saturday, and his fiance and her family were members at this health club. I asked Jack if it would be a bad time to ask for an autograph, and he smiled and said "No time is a bad time." I told him that the 1986 Masters was the only sporting event that had ever made me cry. He smiled and said, "Yeah, I think it's my favorite ever."

   I stayed at the gym for an hour and a half and watched Jack and his sons play basketball. It was surreal for a fan like me.

   Jack talked to any and everybody who wanted to speak, even getting chastised by one of his son's at one point...."Dad, are you gonna play basketball or talk!"

  By the way, Jack and his son's can play a little hoops!

Joe Baucom

   In 1986 I was commuting weekly between my home in Rockingham where I worked and my new job in Spruce Pine. On that fateful weekend, I had spent my Sunday morning working in my backyard until it was time for the Masters to be televised. If I remember correctly, Jack was playing well going into Sunday but was not considered to be in contention so I was coming inside every so often just to check the leader board and see who was moving up or down.

   During one of my frequent visits into the family room they were showing the leader board and in mid-stream the board changed and Nicklaus's name popped up. I am not sure who the announcers were but one of them stated "the bear is on the prowl". My yard work time came to an abrupt end as I sat down and watched one of the greatest if not the greatest, final 9-holes to close and win not just a tournament but the Masters.

  With each passing hole, with each magical shot, with each magical putt, Jack, who seemed determined at least to get close, forged ahead like Sherman on his infamous march to Atlanta. Jack's concentration, especially when standing over a much need putt, was second to none and when he kept dropping putts you could see him feeding off of the enthusiasm of the crowd. The leaders behind him could do nothing to silence the roar after roar as Jack defied the odds and kept making the shots needed to win.

   For them it was a helpless feeling I'm sure. This was proven as Jack sat in the clubhouse with the lead and watched as Seve and Kite fell apart and the "Shark", who was closing fast, could not hit the defining shot to the 18th green for a chance to win.

   I will always remember that afternoon and the greatness it brought to the game of golf.

Dan Rowe

   I was standing behind the bunker to the right of the 15th green when Jack Nicklaus came through during the final round of the Masters in 1986. I have a vivid memory of him waiting for his turn to putt. The scoreboard was directly behind me from where he was standing, and he spent a long time studying it. His face had a very serious, business-like expression as he sized up what he had to do to have a chance (I think he was still 4 strokes back at this point.) Then he very calmly stepped up and sank his eagle putt. The place erupted with cheers. I have never felt such electricity in the air at an outdoor sporting event. We all knew we were watching something special.

Jim Gambrell