The Masters Chronicles XX: The Winner
By BILL HUFFMAN
AUGUSTA, Ga. – They call Angel Cabrera “El Pato’’ – The Duck – for the distinctive waddle in his walk. But after all the crazy stuff that happened in Sunday’s final round of the Masters, we might amend that nickname to “El Pato Suerte’’ – The Lucky Duck.
Locked in a three-way playoff with veterans Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell at Augusta National, the big and dogged Argentine – can we call him the “big dog,’’ too? — hit two trees on the first playoff hole and still saved par to help eliminate Campbell and hang with Perry.
The second playoff hole was almost as bizarre, as the usually steady Perry self-destructed with his third bogey in four holes. Even though Perry had led for the majority of the afternoon, it was Cabrera who had reeled in his second major championship with a routine par.
In the end, everything came up just ducky for Cabrera, who wiped away decades of frustration in his homeland dating back to the 1968 Masters when another pro from Argentina, Roberto de Vicenzo, was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard and denied a playoff with Bob Goalby.
Adding to the final-round drama, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods both charged from deep in the pack to put the fear into Cabrera as he entered Augusta National’s notorious back nine. But just when it looked like Mickelson and Woods had the chance to make a little history, both flopped flat on their faces on the last two holes.
“It’s the Masters. It’s a course you can do a lot of birdies and a lot of bogeys,’’ said the 39-year-old Cabrera in a “rough’’ translation through his interpreter. “A lot of magical things happen.’’
That’s true, as the roars never stopped echoing through the tall Georgia pines on this sunny Easter Sunday. Cabrera, Perry and Campbell had ended up in a logjam at 12-under-par 276, and Cabrera, who like Perry posted a very modest 71, broke it in the most unlikely manner.
A lot of people will say Cabrera was worthy of the green jacket, especially after already winning the 2007 U.S. Open. But the cold reality is that Perry, armed with a two-shot lead with two holes to play, gave it away with a skulled chip shot that led to a bogey at No. 17 followed by a poorly executed sand shot from the fairway bunker at No. 18.
Strange as it might seem, Perry admitted as much in a confession rarely heard from a world-class professional. Then again, his humble nature and blunt honesty is why Perry, who earlier this season captured the FBR Open, is so popular among his peers.
“Great players get it done,’’ he said of Cabrera. “This is his second major, and I’ve blown two (including the 1996 PGA Championship). But that’s the only two I’ve had chances of winning.
“It just seems when I get down to these deals, I can’t seem to execute. . . . The big stars make it happen. That’s why they are where they are and we’re all down here.’’
If that wasn’t enough self-degradation to fuel speculation of a choke, Perry added: “I skulled that chip shot on 17 (that led to the first of two bogeys to end his round). . . . I guess I’ve got a little firing mechanism in my right hand, I can’t seem to slow it down.’’
Ironically, that’s just what led to the bogey at the second playoff hole (No. 10), a short “hot’’ chip that ran 20 feet past the cup and virtually handed Cabrera the win.
“I had the tournament to win, and I lost it,’’ Perry added, his voice cracking. “It’s no use thinking about it. I can’t go there.’’
Then adding to the weirdness of the day, Campbell almost said as much.
“I kind of blew it myself,’’ noted the quiet Texan, who had an excellent chance to grab the playoff on the first hole (No. 18) but hit a fat approach shot into a greenside bunker and failed to get up and down when he missed from 6 feet.
“I’ll take away a lot of positives, but obviously I’m a little upset right now.’’
Give Cabrera credit, as he did what he had to do, and that was with Woods and Mickelson breathing down his neck early. Lefty launched a mighty offensive on the front nine, where he rolled in six birdies to get to 10-under, and Woods eventually got to that number, too, with a birdie at the 16th hole.
“Phil was playing well, but still, I was just trying to post 11 (under), shoot 65, and give myself a chance,’’ said the four-time Masters champ, who might have did just that if not for bogeys on his last two holes that knocked him back to 8-under behind a 68.
Woods said that something was wrong with his swing, which he called a “Band-Aid Swing.’’ But more to the point was Tiger’s putting, which came up woefully short on numerous occasions.
Mickelson said he licked his chops when he saw where the pins were placed for the final round, and he looked like a lion through the first 11 holes. But a tee shot into the water at No. 12 cut his momentum with a double bogey, and short, 4-foot misses for eagle at No. 15 and birdie at No. 17 also took their toll.
“I was trying to hit a 9-iron over the bunker (at the 12th), and I just yanked it, just quit on it, and the ball went dead right (into the water),’’ said two-time Masters champ, whose 67 left him at 9-under and alone in fourth place.
“I enjoyed the chance to try to win a golf tournament, and I love the fact that I shot 30 (on the front) to give myself an opportunity to win. But give Angel credit, he did what he had to do, and that more than anything is how you win a Masters.’’
Cabrera is the first South American to win the Masters, and the eighth player to prevail from a sudden-death playoff. It was the first three-way playoff since Larry Mize chipped in for birdie in 1987 to beat Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros.
Whether his second major will be enough to vault Cabrera into rarified air remains to be seen. There certainly was a huge gap at the 73rd Masters, as the tournament within the tournament – Woods vs. Mickelson – dwarfed the guys in the lead.
How else do you explain 20,000 fans following the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world every step of the way while about 200 tagged along with Cabrera and Perry until they finally reached the back nine?
Call it the state of the game.
The Masters Chronicles XX: Day Three
By BILL HUFFMAN
AUGUSTA, Ga. – For the first time in a long time, the Masters might play out like the days of old.
Indeed, those roars that were generated by birdies and eagles in the past are expected to be back when veterans Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera take a two-shot lead into today’s final 18 holes at Augusta National.
The word all week has been that officials will move up the tees and make the pins more accessible on the back nine after a barrage of criticism the past two years for turning the season’s first major championship into a grind-it-out U.S. Open.
That doesn’t mean that the front nine won’t further its reputation as the tournament’s more difficult stretch. But by restoring the back nine’s risk-reward reputation it should make for some fireworks that will once again echo through the tall Georgia pines.
Cabrera, who captured the 2007 U.S. Open, was solid as a rock during Saturday’s third round as he carved out his share of the top spot at 11-under-par 205 with a smooth 69. Perry, who should have won the 1996 PGA Championship but lost a playoff to Mark Brooks, looked like he might run away and hide when he got to 12-under through 10 holes but fell back slightly with a 70.
Still, you usually can’t play defensively at Augusta National and get away with it, especially with Chad Campbell (72), Jim Furyk (68) and Steve Stricker (68) sitting at 9-, 8- and 7-under, respectively.
Cabrera, whose game seems tailor-made for this golf course, certainly seemed like he had more left in the tank compared with Perry, who has been in the lead or near the lead for majority of the past two days.
“I’m lucky enough to be in a very good position that I haven’t been in before, and I hope to make the most of it,’’ said the big Argentine, who has three top-10 finishes here, his best being a tie for eighth in 2006.
Perry looked exhausted but the FBR Open champ also wants his first major championship in the worst way, primarily for his ailing father back in Kentucky. So there is lots of motivation to wake up anew.
“I’m excited and really looking forward to tomorrow,’’ said the 48-year-old Perry, who should he win today would replace Jack Nicklaus as the oldest winner of a green jacket.
“Today was a test for me, because I didn’t have my best stuff. But I played smart golf and kept myself in position. I’m very proud of myself, because it really felt like work today.’’
Unfortunately, the two guys who everyone wants to see make the most noise in this annual chase through the dogwoods and azaelas, the No. 1 and 2 players in the world, are a long way down the leader board. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are hanging on at 4 -under and praying for a miracle finish.
“Overall I just wasn’t comfortable, and then I got off to a terrible start, obviously,’’ admitted Woods, who absorbed a double-bogey 6 on the first hole and then slowly clawed his way back for a 70.
“But man, I fought hard to get it back today. That was a hell of a fight. If (the leaders) run off and hide, I’m probably done. But if they don’t, and I have a really great round, maybe.’’
Woods didn’t want to comment about a tee shot he hit at the par-3 sixth hole, where his ball glanced off the pin about six inches above the cup and then spun back 50 feet to the bottom of the green. His ball mark there was just four inches from the hole, yet it turned out to be a long, two-putt par.
“You don’t want to know my thoughts,’’ he said shaking his head.
Mickelson, who got to 5 under twice but couldn’t hold any momentum, was in the same frame of mind.
“I thought it could have been lower, and it needed to be lower,’’ said Mickelson of his 71. “But if you play well on Sunday, there’s always a chance around here.
“I’m going to need a 64 or a 65, but I think it’s out there.’’
Tiger and Lefty have certainly done it before. And they’ll have the extra motivation of being paired together. It’s no secret they’re not particularly fond of each other, and the ugly incident invovling Woods’ caddie Stevie Williams ripping Mickelson still looms in the background.
Woods just recently came from five strokes back to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and once came from seven back with seven holes to play to win the 2000 AT&T Pebble Beach.
Mickelson has rallied from even further back, once coming from eight shots off the pace in the final round to win the 2000 Colonial Invitational.
Of course, this isn’t the AT&T or the Colonial, but Mickelson gave an indication that he expects the opportunity to go low to still be there today.
“It’s nice to see the golf course give you opportunities to attack pins rather than just at the par-5s,’’ he said. “I think it’s been a fun Masters so far this year.’’
And the fun is just beginning.
NO ‘PADDY SLAM’
It’s all but over for Padraig Harrington and his bid to win a third consecutive major and join Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan in the record book.
“The Paddy Slam’’ died behind a 73 that the Irishman put up in Round 3 pushed him to 1-under and all but out of it considering he is 10 strokes back. It’s too bad, really, because there is not a nicer guy in golf.
“Well, obviously, my chances died at the second hole,’’ said Harrington, who made a quadruple-bogey 9 there when he pulled his drive into the woods and needed four strokes to get clear of the pines and back in the fairway.
“It was reasonably easy after that. Yeah, not too much stress after that.’’
Harrington said the Paddy Slam was more about the media than it was about him.
“I don’t (think about it),’’ he said. “That’s all your story. I just have to go out there and play golf. It’s never even crossed my mind that I’m out there to win three majors in a row when I’m on the golf course.’’
Harrington admitted he was deflated after the 9, but “seriously’’ it had nothing to do with three in a row.
“Not really any disappointment,’’ he said of ending. “Just a ‘so be it’ sort of thing. I would never in any way suggest that I have got full control over my destiny, let’s say in terms of winning the tournament. So I understand that things have to happen during the week and it wasn’t to be.’’
Rory McIlroy, the 19-year-old from Northern Ireland who came into the Masters riding some rave reviews, barely survived the cut (1 over) and a disqualification ruling that he had tested the sand in a bunker at No. 18 during the second round.
McIlroy failed to get out of the bunker on his first shot, and appeared to kick at the sand in frustration. Since the ball was still in the bunker, he could have been DQed for testing the sand.
Officials called McIlroy back to the club Friday night at 8;40 p.m. after they had reviewed film. After huddling with McIlroy, the club released this statement: “Based on the tape and Mr. McIlroy’s statement of what had taken place after he played the shot, it was determined that no violation of the rules had occurred.’’
McIlroy said he didn’t kick the sand in frustration but rather to fill in the hole created by his footprints.
“I didn’t even think about what I did until (rules official) Fred Ridley called me about 6:30,’’ McIlroy said Saturday. “They called me and said, ‘Do you want to have a look at the tape before we make a decision?’
“I said no, because I’m confident that I haven’t done anything wrong. They called me back a half hour later and said, ‘It would be in your best interests to come up and see the tape.’ We reviewed the tape for about five or ten minutes and I said to them, ‘Look, I hit my shot and it’s a natural instinct for me to smooth out my footprints, if you look at any bunker shot I play I do that.’ ’’
Apparently the committee agreed.
NO AMATEURS LEFT
All five amateurs invited to the Masters were gone after 36 holes, meaning there won’t be a low amateur this year when the closing ceremony takes place today. Of the five, Reinier Saxton had the best aggregate (3 over) but you have to make the cut to get the prize.
Scottsdale’s Drew Kittleson, the U.S. Amateur runner-up and a sophomore at Florida State, shot 72 in the second round, which tied for low round by an amateur with Jack Newman, the U.S. Amateur Public Links champion.
Kittleson, who got two pieces of Masters crystal for his two eagles in Round 2, including an incredible 2 at the 505-yard, par-4 11th hole, stuck around for the weekend despite losing his playing privileges.
“I’ll just hang out with my friends (from Scottsdale),’’ he said. “Normally I’d watch (the last two rounds) on TV, but it might be too demoralizing to know I can’t play.’’
Unlike other tournaments in professional golf, the Masters always waits until the night before the final round to announce its purse.
For the second straight year its $7.5 million with $1.35 million going to the winner and $810,000 for second place. But unlike other tournaments, the Masters also pays those who miss the cut starting at $24,75- and ranging downward depending on score.
SEEN IN THE CROWD
Normally when players miss the cut at a tournament they don’t stick around. But there was Fred Couples and Danny Lee following Tiger Woods during Saturday’s third round.
Perhaps they were trying to pick up some tips. Or maybe it was just the ultimate act of respect. . . .
Andrew Magee of Scottsdale, the former PGA Tour player who recently came out of retirement briefly and missed the cut by a stroke at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, was in the tower behind the 16th green working for the British Broadcasting Company.
“The Brits love me. They love my voice,’’ Magee deadpanned. “But they are loose and it’s so much fun working with their broadcast team.’’ . . .
The Fu Manchu is white now, but that’s still Julius Erving — a.k.a., “Dr J.’’ – with his Masters hat on. The legendary NBA player is a huge fan of golf, and he was seen among Tiger’s gallery.
Asked what his favorite part of the Masters is, besides following another legend, the good Doctor said: “I love to go to the driving range and sit in the stands and watch the players warm up. Then my next (favorite thing) is walking the course, especially over at the 15th and 16th (holes), where they have to hit over water.’’ . . .
He never quite made it through the gates, but a suspended/slimmed down bad John Daly has spent the week just across the street from Augusta National hawking souvenirs and signing autographs with his new girlfriend, Anna Cladakis.
Golf’s bad boy, who got a six-month sentence from PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem for several incidents related to alcohol, has lost at least 50 pounds, and actually looked like a new man. He reportedly has been undergoing rehabilitation.
Pointing to course, Cladakis told the Augusta Chronicle, “Next year we’ll be in there.’’ If that’s true, it would be a hell of a comeback.
The Masters Chronicles XX: Day Two
By BILL HUFFMAN
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Wind is the great neutralizer at the Masters. It giveth and it taketh away.
That force certainly was with Anthony Kim in Friday’s second round at Augusta National, as the young gun from Texas suddenly awoke from a season of doldrums to roll in a tournament record 11 birdies en route to a 7-under-par 65, easily the day’s best round.
That broke the all-time Masters mark of 10 birdies in one round recorded by Nick Price in 1986, when the South African set the course record with a 63.
“I haven’t made 11 birdies in two days, so to do it in one is pretty special,’’ said Kim, who had four kick-in birdies and was outside of 15 feet only once while holing the other seven.
“I don’t really know what happened. The putter got hot, and my confidence kept getting bigger on every hole. Obviously, to do it at Augusta National is amazing. And (with the wind) it feels like a 58 right now.’’
On the other end of the wind and its gusts of 25-to 30-mph was Padraig Harrington, who is going for his third consecutive major championship. The Irishman got stung with a one-shot penalty on the 15th hole when a gust moved his ball after he had addressed it, and it left him just shaky enough to hoop out two birdie putts, including his final effort at the 18th hole.
Hopefully for Harrington, who is at 2 under after a 73, he won’t come up one shot short on Sunday in his bid for “the Paddy Slam.’’
Tiger Woods, who bobbled back and forth between 2-under and 3-under all day until a bogey on his final hole (for the second straight day) left him with a 72 and 2-under, did a good job of putting the wind in perspective.
“Not only is it blowing, but it’s changing (direction) all the time,’’ reported the four-time Masters champ, who found himself seven strokes behind the co-leaders, Chad Campbell (70) and Kenny Perry (67), who were at 9-under 135.
“So you can go through pretty much a three-club swing (because of the wind).’’
Tiger was tight-lipped, keeping his answers short and sweet after a day when he launched four shots into the gallery and left several putts incredibly short.
Was it a tough day? “Yeah.’’
Was the wind difficult? “Yeah, you might say that.’’
Are you frustrated with your game? “Yeah.’’
Is coming from seven strokes back at the midpoint do-able? “Yeah.’’
But his track record at the Masters shows that his biggest comeback after 36 holes was six shots when he won in 2005, and from four shots back in ’02. Those are his biggest rallies, so to speak, in the majors.
Campbell, who many thought already should have won a major, was at 11 under through 10 holes before he overcame three bogeys with a birdie on the last hole.
Perry, who should have won the 1996 PGA Championship, holed his five birdies without a bogey, which was just short of a miracle around here.
“Very difficult out there, the wind is swirling,’’ noted Perry, who has missed five cuts in eight tries at the Masters, his best finish being a tie for 12th in 1995.
“I was able to choose the right club at the right time and execute the right shot. That’s the secret out here.’’
Plus, as Perry pointed out, he’s riding some momentum.
“I feel like I can win this. I’ve already won at the FBR (Open) this year and three times (on the PGA Tour) last year. I’m driving it great, and if I keep hitting fairways like I’m doing, it’s going to make life a lot easier out here.’’
There are several other big names which still have a chance. Guys like former U.S. Open champ Angel Cabrera (68), who was one shot off the lead at 8 under, and Phil Mickelson (68), who came within inches of a double eagle at the par-5 13th that helped him move to 3 under.
But many others were gone with the wind and the cut of 1 over, including Greg Norman (3 over), Ernie Els (2 over), Retief Goosen (2 over) and Adam Scott (2 over), to name a few.
Perhaps the biggest victim, however, was amateur sensation Danny Lee, who unbelievably got blindsided by a quintuple-bogey 9 at No. 10 – the highest score ever recorded at that hole. Just as unbelievably, he needed SIX putts to do it. Lee went on to a back-nine 47 and 81 that seemed so unlikely when he made the turn at even par through his first 27 holes.
But that’s the way it goes at the Masters, where the lessons often come via the school of hard knocks.
Scottsdale amateur Drew Kittleson missed the cut at the Masters, but did claim a couple of pieces of Waterford Crystal for his efforts in a “wild round’’ of 72 that included two eagles.
In the end, “Amen Corner got me,’’ concluded Kittleson, who finished the tournament at 6-over-par but was 4-over through that storied stretch from Nos. 11 through 13.
Actually, it was the 12th hole, the short par 3 over water that caused the damage. Kittleson made double bogey there on Thursday and tripled it on Friday. Had he made pars, he would have made the cut of 1 over.
“The wind there (at No. 12) is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,’’ said Kittleson, who picked up the triple when he “played ping-pong’’ from the back pine straw to the front bunker back to the pine straw.
The saving grace was the par-4 11th hole, where he made a rare eagle there by holing out a 6-iron “into the wind’’ from 193 yards – only the sixth eagle at No. 11 in Masters history.
“It was right on the flag, and then (the gallery) just erupted,’’ he said of the deuce. “All my friends started bowing down, and then I went over and did a Hale Irwin at the U.S. Open and high-fived everybody. It was fun”
His other eagle came at the par-5 15th, where a 6-iron “downhill and downwind’’ from 215 yards settled 30 feet from the cup and he made the putt.
“Maybe I should have hit more of those (6-irons),’’ quipped the sophomore from Florida State who got into the tournament as the runner-up in the U.S. Amateur.
“But it was unforgettable, a real dream come true.’’
Kittleson, who had opened with a 78, said he had been trying hard to make an eagle, knowing that the crystal was the prize. And he had missed on two earlier opportunities from short range.
“Then I finally came through twice. Awesome!’’ Kittleson said with a big smile. “It was something to draw off of, that I’d like to think I’m close to where I need to be to play with these guys.’’
Asked what he planned to do with the crystal, Kittleson smiled and said, “I’ve got a plan.’’
“I’ll make a place for them, like in my hand, so I can drink out of them,’’ he said.
Even though he’s still a year away from being 21, he left the impression that he wasn’t talking about soda pop.
Of the 10 players with ties to the Valley of the Sun, five made the cut and five missed it, Tim Clark (71) and Geoff Ogilvy (70) still being very much in it at 5-under and 3-under, respectively.
Also moving on to the weekend were Paul Casey (72), Bubba Watson (72) and Aaron Baddeley (74), who were all at even par. Not as fortunate, besides Kittleson, were Mathew Goggin (7 over), Chez Reavie (7 over), Billy Mayfair (8 over) and Pat Perez (10 over), who had eight 5s on his back nine en route to a 79.
“Oh, I struggled out there today in that wind,’’ Clark said of his effort, which was mighty considering he made four bogeys on his first 10 holes to pull back to even par then erupted with an eagle at No. 13 followed by three birdies over his last four holes.
“On the front nine I think I hit two greens (in regulation) and I three-putted both of those. I was getting a little hot before the eagle settled me down.’’
Clark said he drew on his second-place finish here in 2006, when the winds also played a factor.
“I guess I was one of the lucky ones today because my scorecard (didn’t include) any double bogeys in this wind,’’ Clark observed. “In fact, I haven’t made a double bogey in the tournament – and I could (have) – so that is what’s kept me in it.’’
Gary Player, the “Jack LaLane of golf,’’ played in his 52nd and last Masters this week, shooting scores of 78-83 before bidding adieu. At age 73, he finally passed Arnold Palmer for most starts even if he hasn’t made the cut around here since 1998.
“The golf course is so long, and I’m hitting a wood to almost every single hole,’’ reported the svelte but small (150-pound) Player.
The little South African with the big heart won green jackets in 1961, ’74 and ’78, the last one coming at the age of 42. He came close to a fourth but in his “biggest regret’’ lost a two-shot lead with two holes to play in 1962, and eventually a playoff to Palmer.
Always emotional and driven, Player made a teary exit as he became the first player to surpass 12,000 strokes for his career at the Masters.
But Player plans to be back next year and join Palmer as a ceremonial starter, much as Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead were for many years. Palmer currently goes solo as the ceremonial starter and the third member of this historical trio, Jack Nicklaus, has made no indications he plans to join them.
“I’ll exercise even harder,’’ said Player, who always is in the fervent mode. “To make sure I out-drive Arnold.’’
Yep, eventually it gets down to that.
Another former Masters winner, Fuzzy Zoeller, also retired this week from the annual chase for the green jacket, but Zoeller’s exit wasn’t as fuzzy a feeling as Player’s.
That’s because the 57-year-old Zoeller, who was the first player ever to win the Masters in his first try (1979) is known for one regrettable moment rather than his 30 years of participation. That snafu came in 1997, the year Tiger Woods ran away with the tournament by 12 shots, and Zoeller made a flippant remark to a reporter that eventually cost him dearly.
“So you know what you guys do when he gets in there,’’ Zoeller said way back then of Woods, who was about to meet with the media after his victory. “You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year (at the Champions Dinner). “Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.’’
The remarks went unnoticed for about a week until a television editor noticed them and brought them to the public’s attention. Even though Zoeller apologized immediately, a 21-year-old Woods didn’t accept the apology until days later.
Zoeller, who made the cut here two years ago when that line soared to 8 over, finished it off with rounds of 79-76.
“Life is not a bowl of cherries, you know that,’’ Zoeller said of the bittersweet memories. “Will I miss it? You bet.’’
SEEN IN THE CROWD
Former Masters participant Doug Sanders, considered one of the most dapper pros ever to play the game, paid a visit to the course decked out in a purple-turquoise-and yellow sweater complete with purple pants and shoes.
“I came within a shot into the water at No. 16 of tying Jack Nicklaus in 1966 and forcing a playoff,’’ said the 75-year-old Sanders, whose best finish was fourth that year.
Asked if he wanted to be remembered for his colorful outfits, he shrugged.
“I guess I’d like to be known as the straightest driver of the ball in history,’’ he said. “The only time I ever left the fairway was to get a phone number.’’
Yeah, he also was well-known for that, too. . . .
Also paying a visit to Augusta National this week was former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “It’s even more beautiful than I could have even imagined,’’ Rice told the Augusta Chronicle.
The Masters Chronicles XX: Day One
By BILL HUFFMAN
AUGUSTA, Ga. – The tournament committee that runs the Masters almost blew it during Thursday’s opening round of the 73rd edition when it turned treacherous Augusta National, which has played like a monster the past two years, into a meek and mild pitch ‘n’ putt.
With Chad Campbell leading the offensive (let’s call the quiet Texan “early speed”) the birdies and eagles never quit flying even if one of the bigger names, two-time winner Phil Mickelson, failed to catch the red wave.
There were others who noticed the green light, as Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan both put up 66s. Furyk did it with four straight birdies beginning at No. 14, while Mahan could have had a share of the lead if not for a bogey on the last hole.
Tiger Woods? The four-time Masters champ carded an up-and-down 70, as he failed for the 15th time in as many starts to break 70 here in an opening round. It looked like a lock after Woods made three straight birdies beginning at No. 13 before a bogey on his final hole pushed him back.
Just one shot better with a 69 was Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, who is gunning for his third straight major championship – “the Paddy Slam.’’ Should he prevail on Sunday, the Irishman could join Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan as the only players to ever win three majors in a row.
When the day was done, the vast majority of the 96-player field had benefited from the benign conditions and perfect weather, and the fact that several of the tees were moved up significantly. Even past champions like Larry Mize (67), Bernhard Langer (70), Greg Norman (70), all members of the Champions Tour, were able to hang with the leaders.
Chances are the past two years led to the present, as the tournament has been criticized incessantly over that span for taking away the “roars on the back nine,’’ better known as Tiger-proofing. The extra yardage – Augusta National has been blown up from 6,925 yards in 1998 to 7,445 today — was deemed the culprit, as the season’s first major started to resemble a U.S. Open rather than the colorful tournament fans have adored since 1934.
Campbell, who at one point was putting for birdie at the 16th hole that would have moved him to 10-under, ended up at 7-under-par 65. But it took a near-miss at No. 16 followed by back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 17 and 18 to keep him from shooting the lowest score (62) in major championship history.
Then again, CC rider did start his day with five straight birdies, which broke a record of four straight to start the tournament held by Ken Venturi when he was an amateur in 1956.
“They felt sorry for us, I guess,’’ Campbell said of the tees being moved up and the pins being highly accessible. “But I got off on a roll, and it’s always nice to make a few birdies to start the round, especially five.’’
Asked what happened coming down the stretch, Campbell said, hey, it’s still Augusta National.
“I just hit a few bad shots on the last few holes, and if you hit one bad shot here you’re usually behind the eight-ball,’’ he said.
Mickelson, who could do no better than 73, knows that feeling. But he was all over the flag when he was asked to assess the plethora of red numbers.
“(The course) was as easy as I’ve ever seen it,’’ said the big left-hander, whose driver got so out of control he managed to hit more bunkers and trees than fairways (six). “The club wants to see some excitement, I guess . . . and we might see that again on Sunday.’’
Mickelson just hopes he’s playing better than this time around.
“I drove it terrible, putted terrible, played terrible and just put it in terrible spots all day,’’ he said. “But if you played well, you could shoot a number.’’
Just ask Greg Norman, who is back after a six-year hiatus and opened with a 70. With his 24-year-old son Gregory on the bag and new wife Chris Evert in the gallery, it could have been even better, but the 54-year-old Great White Shark missed six putts inside eight feet.
Asked why the crowds have flocked to him this week, Norman broke into his sly smile of yesteryear.
“Everybody loves me. Nothing wrong with that is there?’’ Norman said with a wink. “I think no matter where I play in the world, I’ve always been connected to the gallery.
“When I come here, people probably feel for me, some of the things that have happened around here, so they really enjoy seeing me back.’’
Perhaps an even bigger surprise was the play of 50-year-old Mize, an Augusta native who won the green jacket in 1987 with an amazing chip-in birdie on the second playoff hole (No. 11) to beat Norman and Seve Ballesteros in sudden death.
Mize’s 67 tied a record for low score among players over 50, an ambiguous milestone of sorts. Jack Nicklaus had held that mark, shooting 67 twice, the last time at age 55.
Even short hitters like Shingo Katayama of Japan (67), South African Tim Clark (68) and 2003 Masters champ Mike Weir (68) took advantage. In fact, when the day was done 38 players had broken par.
That translated into a first-round scoring average of 72.26, the lowest first round since 1992, when the average score was 72.06. By comparison, the average score for the last two years in the opening round was 74.18 last year and 76.18 the year before.
Those are numbers that, added to Campbell’s explosive performance, will make things considerably more difficult the rest of the way. Hey, as we all know by now, you don’t fool Mother Nature and you definitely don’t mess with the Masters.
Clark, who was the early leader Thursday, is the kind of player who could snap the 49-year-old Par 3 jinx at Augusta National.
Since its inception in1960, the year Sam Snead captured the pre-tournament event, no player has ever gone on to win the Masters after prevailing in the Par 3. In fact, the last four winners have missed the cut in the big tournament.
But the part-time Scottsdale resident, who has lived in the Valley for eight years, is a pure putter despite the long shaft and has soft hands around the greens. Plus he hits it longer than it seems possible for his 5-foot-7 frame. All those attributes add up to what you have to do well to win the Masters even if the South African never has won on American soil.
Clark got to the top of the leader board early by being in the second group off in morning, and birdied all four of the par-5s, which is always a good thing. And here’s another little tidbit that bodes well for Clark, a very nice guy who plays most of his golf when he’s home at Silverleaf in Scottsdale: He finished second here to Phil Mickelson in 2006, and also has tied for 13th here twice.
“I just played sensible, really: laid up at the par 5s and ended up with four birdies,’’ explained the 33-year-old Clark, who has won three times on the European Tour and twice on the Nationwide Tour.
“(Finishing second in 2006), obviously gave me a lot of confidence that I can come out on this golf course and compete and play well. Last year I missed the cut by miles (75-76) but I think I was trying too hard, trying to get myself in position.
“This week my mission has been to have fun and enjoy the fact that I’m here at the Masters. I think that’s helped me stay relaxed, and on these greens you need to be relaxed or you’re struggling.’’
And the Par 3 jinx, Tim, how big does that loom?
“I guess it gives you no chance to win the tournament,’’ Clark said with a laugh. “But, no, I’m not too worried about that. Someone’s got to do it some time, so why not me?’’
How do you know the pros from the pretenders? The true pros struggle with their swing, lose five balls, shoot 77 and keep smiling and laughing and chatting with friends; the pretenders pout.
Such was the case during the first round with Billy Mayfair.
“It was a tough day; very frustrating,’’ reported the Scottsdale pro who grew up in Phoenix and starred at Arizona State. “And I wasn’t expecting much, because I haven’t been hitting the ball very good since the Tour Championship last fall.
“A couple of good rounds here and there, but I have yet to put four together. I guess the good news is that I’m not that far off from breaking through.’’
There was evidence of both on Thursday as Mayfair’s day started off with a bogey and then three straight balls into the creek at No. 2, where he took a penalty stroke and still managed to par the hole.
“That was strange situation there at (No.) 2: I hit it in the trees, and then three straight balls into the creek but only one shot (penalty),’’ Mayfair said of the situation, where he had an awkward stance by the creek and his drops kept hitting the pine needs and plopping into the tiny stream, where the balls quickly floated away.
“I also hit balls into the water at 11 and 13,’’ he said, chuckling at the thought. “By the time I got to 15 (another water hole), I’d hit five balls in the water and was down to my last ‘new’ ball.’’
But the pressure of having to go to the old balls in his bag finally produced a result.
“Unbelievably, I birdied 15, 16 and 17 just to shoot 77,’’ he said again, laughing at the thought. “Welcome to the Masters!
“It was easy today and I kind of let it get away. From here on out, I expect it to get harder and harder. So I kind of let one get away.’’
Chez Reavie, another former ASU All-American who lives in Scottsdale, said his 75 sounded worse than it really was.
“I didn’t play that bad,’’ explained Reavie, who got stung with three straight bogeys beginning at the 14th hole, and thus his final margin. “I just missed a couple of shots by a couple of feet, and that was it.’’
Reavie is playing in his first Masters as a professional after missing the cut here in 2002 as the U.S. Public Links champion. This time around he qualified by winning the Canadian Open last summer.
“I guess I’m a little bit better player than the first time here, but Augusta National remains a very tough test for everybody,’’ said the 27-year-old Reavie, who has made just four cuts in nine tries this season, his best finish being a tie for 12th in the season-opening Mercedes Championship.
Asked what he remembered most about his first try at the Masters, Reavie managed a slight grin.
“I remember them calling my name on the practice green to go to the first tee, and my body went numb,’’ he recalled. “I remember Tom Watson, who I was paired with, coming over and telling me, ‘Don’t worry kid, I still get nervous every time they call my name, too.’
“I remember thinking, ‘Yeah, sure, you’re Tom Watson, you’ve already won two Masters. I doubt you get nervous when they call your name.’
“But it was special: I remember everything.’’
It’s been a whirlwind for Reavie recently, as he got married three weeks ago and still has managed to play in two golf tournaments.
SEEN IN THE CROWD
New Scottsdale resident Angie Watson, the wife of Bubba Watson, followed her husband on his way to a 72. Angie, a former member of the WNBA’s Charlotte franchise who retired after four years due to injures, said she and Bubba “just love Scottsdale.’’
“When he’s home in Milton (Fla.), Bubba, Boo (Weekley) and Heath (Slocum) are so well-known it’s hard to (keep a low profile). But since we’ve moved to Scottsdale, we can kind of get lost in the crowd out there, and we like that.’’ . . .
Kathy Wilkes, the former executive director of the Southwest Section, drove up from her home in Jupiter, Fla., to attend the Masters. Wilkes now works in the national office of the PGA of America in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., as national director of employment.
“Life is good in Florida, even better than I expected,’’ Wilkes said. “Jupiter is beautiful and right by the ocean, plus I’m lucky in that I live right next to the ‘dog beach,’ which is perfect for my dog.’’
NEED A TICKET?
Scalpers have stood side by side this week on Washington Road outside of Augusta National hawking badges to the Masters, once considered the most sought-after ticket in sports.
In some cases, the scalpers have actually held up a fistful of badges, meaning there are a lot of tickets that are going unsold due to the state of the economy. Apparently the Masters isn’t recession-proof after all.
In the past the badges have brought up to $5,000 for the week and $2,000 for a single day. But this week you could get one for $2,000 for the week, with the daily badges going from $400 on Thursday, $500 on Friday, and $700 for either Saturday or Sunday, although they might get cheaper as the weekend develops.
Georgia has a law against scalping, but it’s rarely enforced. But this year, because of the ubiquitous scalping, these hawkers have been going to jail.
The charge? Disorderly conduct.
The Masters Chronicles XX: Pretournament
By BILL HUFFMAN
AUGUSTA, Ga. – As the 73rd Masters gets ready to bloom, the “Paddy Slam’’ is not in big, red letters on the marquee outside Magnolia Lane.
No, the headliner this year – as it has been at Augusta National in recent memory — is “Tiger vs. Phil.’’
Apparently Padraig Harrington’s pursuit of his third consecutive major championship will have to wait even if it would move the Irishman into some storied company such as Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Woods, who have all won three big ones in a row.
It’s just the way it is, even if Tiger doesn’t like to talk about Phil and Mickelson doesn’t like to talk about Woods. Hey, we in the media try to stir it up every year, but for the most part Tiger and Phil march to their own beat.
Asked about his rivalry with Mickelson, Woods gave the usual misdirection answer.
“Well he and I certainly have competed head-to-head quite a few times, and primarily it’s been in the States,’’ Woods said, choosing his words very carefully so as not to stir up his angry caddie, Stevie Williams.
“I would say the person I’ve gone head-to-head against most is Ernie (Els), and that has been all over the world.’’
Notice that Woods, who in 15 years at the Masters still has not muttered a memorable quote while collecting four green jackets, called Phil “he,’’ which is OK because Phil doesn’t like to use Tiger’s name, either.
Asked if he thought his three majors would have been enhanced had he beaten Woods, Mickelson said he thinks . . . not.
“I don’t know. I don’t feel as though any of last year’s majors when he didn’t compete were detracted. I think they are still every bit as important,’’ Mickelson said of Woods’ absence in the British Open and PGA Championship when Tiger was recovering from knee surgery.
“I don’t know, as far as enhancing the tournament wins when he’s in the field. I haven’t sat down and looked at how many tournaments I’ve won with him in the field as opposed to against.’’
Actually, in Phil’s two Masters wins in 2004 and ’06, Woods finished tied for 22nd (worst finish here as a professional) and tied for third, respectively. But even in ’06, Woods never got closer than the final three strokes of Mickelson.
However, there was one close Masters encounter, and for Lefty it was not the best of memories.
That came in 2001 when golf’s dynamic duo were paired together in the final group on Sunday, and Tiger, who entered the day with a one-shot lead, put up a 68 to Phil’s 70 to win by three shots.
The following year, when Woods repeated, Mickelson again finished third but was never really in it, finishing five shots back.
So will this time around bear any similarity to 2001? Well, both enter the Masters in classic form, as Tiger won his last time out at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in dramatic fashion, while Mickelson missed the cut last week in Houston.
If there is two things we know by now it’s that Woods likes to win back-to-back and Mickelson is often at his best when he misses the cut the week prior.
With 10 players in the 96-player field, the Valley of the Sun will be well-represented this week at the Masters – IF you don’t mind calling international players with second homes in Arizona “home boys.’’
Hey, Aaron Baddeley, Paul Casey, Tim Clark, Mathew Goggin and Geoff Ogilvy live in the Scottsdale area most of the year so why not?
The rest of the local contingent includes PGA Tour players Billy Mayfair, Pat Perez, Chez Reavie and new resident Bubba Watson along with amateur Drew Kittleson, who was invited as the runner-up in the 2008 U.S. Amateur Championship.
There are 18 ways you can qualify to play in the Masters. Ogilvy was the “most qualified,’’ as he showed up in five categories. Fellow Australian Baddely was next with four categories.
Ogilvy deserves the role as favorite "home boy,” as he has won twice this season including the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson and the season-opening Mercedes Championship. But Casey, a former Arizona State star from England, might be the hottest as he is coming off his first PGA Tour win ever in last week’s Shell Houston Open.
Reavie and Perez were winners of the Canadian Open and Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, respectively, while Watson and Mayfair got in because they qualified last year for the season-ending TOUR Championship. South African Clark is currently in the top 50 of the world rankings, while Aussie Goggin was a member of that top 50 at the end of 2008, which also gets you in.
FYI, Reavie will be playing in his first Masters as a professional after missing the cut in 2002, when he qualified as an amateur by winning the U.S. Public Links Championship. Kittleson, a Florida State sophomore from Scottsdale, will be playing in the biggest tournament of his life after just turning 20 last week.
UNDER THE RADAR?
With all the attention on Woods, Mickelson and Harrington, Ogilvy may have a good chance to slip under the radar. The Aussie is having his best year yet, and he said he “feels good’’ about Augusta National as he enters his fourth Masters.
“I love this place. I love coming here every year,’’ said the 2006 U.S. Open champ. “I’ve always thought this was my best chance in a major (championship) because this course best suits my game.’’
It just hasn’t turned out that way for the 31-year-old Ogilvy, as his best finish in the annual chase through the azaleas and dogwoods has been a tie for 16th in 2005 — although he’s never missed a cut.
“The first year you come here you’re a bit of a tourist, aren’t you?’’ said the congenial Ogilvy, who talks softly but carries a big stick. “You get that out of your system, and then you’re trying to win it. . . .
“The greens here are very similar in style to the Sandbelt (courses) in Melbourne, where if you miss it on the wrong side, you’ve got no chance. The putts also break like they do in Melbourne . . . so there are a lot of things that suit me.’’
But mostly Ogilvy said Augusta National is a “learning experience’’ and this will be his senior year.
“On this course more than others, you have to know where to hit it and know where not to hit it; avoid the places you’re uncomfortable with,’’ he said. “I know I’m a good player, and I know I could (win here), but lots of stuff has to go your way.’’
DREW DRAWS RAVE REVIEW
Mickelson and Kittleson hooked up for a practice round this week, and the play of the kid impressed the veteran.
“Drew Kittleson has a heck of a game, hits it a long way and has a good short game,’’ Lefty reported. “I think he’s going to have a good week.’’
Like Mickelson, Kittleson has been working recently with noted guru Butch Harmon. Being from the Harmon “stable’’ automatically makes them the two players “buds,’’ Mickelson concurred.
“I do enjoy playing with guys who are in their first couple of Masters,’’ Mickelson said of a tradition started by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. “I would take him to a couple of spots (on the greens) that were putts that we would always have to certain pins – 40-, 50-foot putts that are tricky and might break one way or another.’’
But to Mickelson’s surprise, Kittleson already knew the freaky routes of Augusta National’s greens, primarily because he has driven up from the FSU campus in Tallahassee, Fla., on numerous weekends since he got his invitation. That’s one of the perks of the Masters is that you can play the course as much as you want after you get the letter in the mail.
“He’s been out here practicing and knows the greens,’’ Mickelson noted. “That’s why I said I think he’s going to have a good week. There were not any surprises for him on this course.’’
But one thing you can count on, there will be!
CLARK HAS ‘NO CHANCE’
Clark captured the Par 3 Tournament on Wednesday, which is like breaking your arm before the Masters even starts.
No player in the 49 years of this special event held on the short course at Augusta National has ever won the Par 3 contest and gone on to claim the green jacket. The part-time resident from Scottsdale finished 5-under par for the nine holes, including a hole-in-one at his ninth hole.
But the highlight of the day was Greg Norman planting a big kiss on his caddie, wife Chris Evert, after scoring an ace at the sixth hole. The Shark, who has not played in the Masters since 2002, got an invitation this year for his tie for third in last year’s British Open.
Obviously, Evert, who accompanied him to Royal St. George’s last year, is a bit of a good luck charm. Now if she can help Norman overcome his six previous disasters at the Masters, including his debacle in 1996, when he lost a six-shot lead in the final round to Nick Faldo, that would be the story of the year in golf, hands down.
Apparently the Tiger-proofing of Augusta National is complete, as tournament chairman Billy Payne announced that the club actually took 10 years off its length this year, trimming it back to 7,435 yards. To do that the first hole was shortened to 445 yards.
“I think we have it about right,’’ Payne declared. But asked if that’s the final number, Payne deferred: “I won’t be the chairman when that decision is ultimately made.’’
Payne’s answers have become so patented that this year for the first time in recent memory, no one asked the chairman when Augusta National would admit its first female member.