DORAL, Fla. – There was some poetic symmetry at Trump National Doral this week, where the resort’s eponymous owner claimed Ernie Els called his revamped course “a masterpiece” (he didn’t) and maintained that most other competitors “loved it” (they didn’t). If there was ever a player who would fit right in inside one of Donald Trump’s gold-embossed boardrooms, where boasting with superlatives about oneself is less elective than prerequisite, Patrick Reed might be that player. Minutes after tapping in a bogey putt to win the WGC-Cadillac Championship by a stroke, he was asked on live television what he thought of a game that has yielded three PGA Tour wins in the past seven months, all before his 24th birthday. “I just don’t see a lot of guys that have done that, besides Tiger Woods, of course, and all of the other legends of the game,” he said. “I believe in myself – especially after how hard I’ve worked – that I’m one of the top five players in the world. To come out of a field like this and to hold on wire to wire like that, I feel like I’ve proven myself.” There’s a fine line between confidence and cockiness, between brashness and arrogance, between offering an honest opinion and articulating something better left to one’s inside voice. And it’s clear that Reed doesn’t mind walking that line, which also makes him something of a walking contradiction – a professional golfer who is comfortable telling the world how good he thinks he is. WGC-Cadillac Championship leaderboard WGC-Cadillac Championship: Articles, videos and photos Love it or hate it – and judging by initial reaction to his comments, there is no in between – you’ve gotta admit: We could use a Richard Sherman type in between the ropes. Me? I love that the kid’s got brass ones bigger than The Donald’s oversized cufflinks. I love that he isn’t afraid to wear a red shirt and black pants with Woods playing in front of him on a Sunday afternoon. I love that when asked about his chances at next month’s Masters, the first major he’ll ever play, he said, “I know that any event I tee it up at, I have a chance to win.” Maybe I’m in the minority on this one, but to those who disagree, I’ll ask this question: Who would you rather have competing for your country with the Ryder Cup on the line, a player who consistently talks about trusting the process or one who demands to run the anchor leg because he knows he’s going to win? Give me confidence in a 5-and-4 walkover every time. And just in case you were wondering, that’s exactly what Reed did back in college at Augusta State. He told the coach – yes, told; not asked – that he would go last. End result: He never lost in match play and the team claimed two consecutive national championships. When asked to list his top five, Reed named Woods, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell and Dustin Johnson along with himself. (Hey, maybe there’s a tie.) That wasn’t a direct swipe at Rory McIlroy or Jason Day or Henrik Stenson or anyone else. It was just him believing in himself. Before Reed gets slammed too much for speaking out of turn, it should be noted that he isn’t simply trolling his peers for the fun of it. In fact, just the opposite is true. He wants to earn their respect and cares what they think of him. “Of course I care,” he said. “It’s always nice to get congratulations from other PGA Tour players, especially a lot of the guys that are out here that are veterans, who have won a lot and all that kind of thing. I grew up watching those guys, and I was always watching them on Sunday coming down, winning events, and believing in myself and also dreaming about winning events.” He might not be the top-five player he insists he is – he’ll move to 20th on the newest world ranking – but a funny thing happened while we were waiting for Rory McIlroy to break out of his 18-month PGA Tour winless streak; while we were waiting for Jason Day to finally win that elusive major; while we were waiting for Rickie Fowler to win his second title; and while we were praising Harris English for doing that already. Under cover of obscurity and omission, Reed has emerged. He might not be the best of the bunch, but he certainly thinks he’s the best of the bunch. In the interminably mental pursuit of golf, sometimes just thinking it is good enough. Here in Donald Trump’s biggest and – believe it or not – most blustery boardroom, the champion didn’t just have the lowest score, he might have owned the most hubris, too. As the boss knows all too well, that’s always a vital commodity.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Martin Kaymer stopped thinking, started swinging and played his way into the record book Thursday in The Players Championship. Kaymer missed only two fairways. He putted for birdie on all but one hole. And the former PGA champion finished with four straight birdies to become only the fourth player to shoot 9-under 63 on the Stadium Course at the TPC Sawgrass, giving him a two-shot lead over Russell Henley. Kaymer took advantage of a perfect day for scoring – warm weather, hardly any wind and soft greens. The Players Championship: Articles, videos and photos There were 28 rounds in the 60s, which made the score by Adam Scott look even worse. With another chance – his best one yet – to get to No. 1 in the world for the first time, Scott finished with a pair of double bogeys from shots in the water and signed for a 77. It was his highest opening round at The Players since his first trip in 2002. Kaymer was flawless, hitting whatever shot he felt he needed. His final blow was a hybrid that ran through the ninth green and into a bunker, leaving a simple up-and-down for birdie. He had a 29 on the back, the first player in the 32-year history at Sawgrass to break 30 on either nine. Roberto Castro also opened with a 63 last year. The only others with 63 were Greg Norman in the first round in 1994, and Fred Couples in the third round in 1992. ”It’s just a nice bonus,” Kaymer said. ”It’s only the first round of a long, long tournament. It’s nice to make some history. No one shot 29 on that golf course before.” Kaymer would not have seemed like a good candidate. He has not won since the HSBC Champions in Shanghai at the end of 2011. He hasn’t had a top 10 all year. But the 29-year-old German has felt his swing start to come together in recent weeks. His name has been featured on leaderboards more and more. And he had a simple explanation. ”I stopped thinking,” Kaymer said, a former world No. 1. ”I thought a lot the last two years about swing changes … that every shot I made I reflect on it, what I did wrong, what I did right.” A few weeks before the Masters, he spent time with longtime swing coach Gunter Kessler in Phoenix, and then they had another good session in Germany. ”And then it just clicked a little bit,” he said. ”I thought, ‘OK, I know I can hit pretty much every shot when I needed to hit it.’ If it’s a draw, if it’s a fade, low or high, I know that I can do it. It’s just a matter of getting the confidence on the golf course and then letting it happen and really doing it.” Henley, who won the Honda Classic in a four-way playoff in March, made birdie on half of his holes to atone for one big mistake. He hooked a tee shot into the water on No. 7 and compounded that with a three-putt for double bogey. But he answered with six birdies on the back nine for a 65. ”I knew I was playing well and felt really comfortable on the greens,” Henley said. ”But it was one of those back nines where you get to 18 and I just realized that I had a putt for 7 under. So that was pretty cool.” Sang-Moon Bae had a 66. The group at 67 included Sergio Garcia, who spent last year in a war oF words with Tiger Woods that lasted right up until the Spaniard hit three balls into the water on the two closing holes and Woods walked away with the win. Garcia looked sharp, happy and was confident in his game. And he had loads of company. Lee Westwood, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose also were at 67. The group at 68 included Ernie Els and Dustin Johnson. There were 67 rounds under par, and the scoring average of 71.99 was the eighth-lowest for an opening round at The Players Championship. But it wasn’t easy for everyone. Rory McIlroy made three bogeys over his last seven holes and tumbled to a 70. That was nearly as bad as Phil Mickelson. Coming off a 76 in the final round at Quail Hollow last week, he started his round by missing a 3-foot par putt and shot 75. Of the four players with a mathematical chance to reach No. 1, only Masters champion Bubba Watson broke 70. He had a 69, while Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar each had a 71. Only four players had a worse score than Scott. Kaymer reached No. 1 three years ago, and then sought to change his swing because he could only hit a fade. He prefers to play by feel, not by mechanics. A swing change left him little choice but to think too much. Now, he can only hope it’s as simple as see the shot and hit the ball.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Jordan Spieth got knocked on his butt again Thursday at the Masters. He got busted in the chops again on the back nine at Augusta National. Spieth, though, sounded undeterred after signing his scorecard, because he knows he wasn’t alone this time, and he knows there’s so much more time to recover this year. With winds gusting up to 40 mph, the first round was mostly about who could endure a beating. Spieth sounded like a guy eager to show he can take a punch, and that just might be what it takes to win this kind of Masters. “Looks like something in single digits could win this,” Spieth said. “I certainly can still shoot single digits.” A year ago, Spieth took the kind of punch that can dizzy a player for the rest of his career. He made a quadruple bogey-7 at the 12th hole in an epic final-round collapse that cost him back-to-back Masters titles. Masters Tournament: Scores | Live blog: Day 1 | Full coverage In his return there Thursday, Spieth safely navigated his way through the 12th with a par, but he got walloped with another punch on the back nine he didn’t see coming. At the 15th, Spieth rinsed a wedge shot, spinning it off the front of the green and back into the water. He made another quadruple bogey, an ugly 9 there that included some uncharacteristically clumsy short-game mistakes. Spieth shot a 3-over-par 75. That’s the highest score Spieth has posted in his 13 rounds at the Masters. No player has ever recorded a score higher than a 7 on any hole and gone on to win the Masters. Still, Spieth was more defiant than disturbed. “I’m going to probably need to play something under par tomorrow, which adds maybe bit of pressure that I wouldn’t have put on tomorrow, because I was thinking even par for the two days was a good score,” Spieth said. “I feel like I need to snag something tomorrow, but do it through patience and taking advantage of the par 5s.” There was so much focus on Spieth Thursday, with anticipation high for his return to the 12th. The grandstand was packed full when Spieth got there. Patrons were lined shoulder to shoulder, teeming around the tee box, waiting to cheer Spieth through this. It wasn’t exactly an ideal arrival, though, Jeunghun Wang was making a mess of the hole in front of Spieth. Wang airmailed the green, searched the woods for his ball, then marched back to the tee box to play again. It added to the tension there with Spieth waiting. When Spieth finally made his way on to the tee, he got a standing ovation. “I always have nerves walking to that tee, I always have,” Spieth said. “It was a tough today, because you don’t know exactly what the wind is going to do to the ball.” Spieth wasn’t surprised at the welcome he got at the 12th tee. Past Masters champions are always welcome there. He was more surprised by the reaction his tee shot got when he hit the back of the green. “I was a bit surprised at how loud the cheer was when my ball landed about 35 feet away from the hole,” Spieth said. “But I was relieved to see it down and on the green. I guess everybody else felt that maybe more than I did.” Spieth followed with a birdie at the 13th to get within one shot of the lead before fading. At the 15th, Spieth laid up to 98 yards, looking to birdie the par 5. “I struck the shot well, I just hit the wrong club,” Spieth said. “I struck it very solid, but I used a club that would spin instead of one that would maybe take the spin off.’ Spieth took a penalty drop and moved up to 78 yards, thumping that shot over the green. Then he chipped 30 feet past the hole and three-putted for his 9. It didn’t take long for Spieth to rebound. He birdied the 16th and made a nice par save at the 18th to keep from drifting too far back. “I got three rounds to go,” Spieth said.
PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. – “They said I’d be paralyzed for the rest of my life,” smiles Edward Gizara as he pulls his driver back and launches a shot into a spring sky. Gizara is a medical miracle. He’s an inspiration and an unfiltered example of the best of us. But most of all he’s a survivor, not that any of those descriptions fit as he smothers another tee shot low and left. He may be a genuine hero, but a bad swing is still a bad swing, and Gizara pivots, annoyed more than angry, as his ball races toward a row of trees down the left side of The Legends at Parris Island’s practice tee. The entire episode lasts just seconds but is a shining example of what self-belief, support and some golf can do even with the bleakest of outlooks. In the summer of 1997 Gizara was living his dream. A career Marine who, after numerous deployments overseas, had returned to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island to become a drill instructor. For a select few it’s a rite of passage to return to where it all began to train the next generation. As he neared the end of his training and was sent to his first platoon, Gizara was volunteered to demonstrate the proper way to climb a rope on the combat endurance course. The ensuing 26-foot fall would fracture the L3 disc in his back and change his life forever. Gizara was medevacked to the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Augusta, Ga., where he underwent nine fusion surgeries on his back and spent eight months recovering before he could even go home. When he could finally join his family he spent six months on his back with his wife having to roll him every two hours. For a staff sergeant who spent his entire life leading men, Gizara’s physical limitations understandably became a psychological black hole. Two decades removed from those dark moments, he can now admit that he attempted suicide a “few times.” “Everything was no, no, no, and I just couldn’t take it anymore,” Gizara admits. Initially, Gizara’s focus was on beating the odds and his doctor’s long-term diagnoses. He worked so hard to walk again doctors had to replace rods that had been inserted into his back multiple times because of wear and tear. “You push yourself, so sometimes you break yourself,” he says. “I never thought I wouldn’t walk again; in the Marines you never give up and you never quit, you never stop fighting.” Overcoming paralysis, however, was just the beginning. Gizara was still a Marine and still needed a mission, which he found on the golf course of all places. Although he hadn’t played golf since 1997, a friend told him about an Adaptive Golf Program at The Legends that’s designed to encourage those with disabilities and challenges to play. Cody Carter – an assistant pro at The Legends – altered Gizara’s swing to match his abilities and designed an action that wouldn’t cause any further injury. What Carter didn’t need to do was find ways to motivate Gizara. That came naturally. “It makes you appreciate what you have, the determination people have. It’s definitely inspiring for me,” Carter says. “Golf makes them feel normal, it’s a chance to do what everyone else is doing.” For Gizara, as it is for so many who enter programs like Adaptive Golf, being on the course was much more than simply a chance to play a game – it was freedom. “It saved my life and my family understands that. That’s why I’m at the course so much,” Gizara says. Gizara, who lives in Savannah, Ga., was so inspired by the program he launched a chapter in his hometown and meets with a group of about a dozen players twice a month. Just as he did when he was in the Marines, he now leads by example. As one would expect from a former drill instructor, Gizara’s bedside manner is, well, unique. During last year’s RBC Heritage Gizara set up an Adaptive Golf booth at Harbour Town Golf Links when a man in a motorized scooter drove by. “Can you play golf?” Gizara asked. “Are you stupid or what?” was the man’s response. Gizara explained what the Adaptive Golf Program offered and how they could teach the man to play with the help of new equipment like the ParaGolfer, which is an all-terrain wheelchair that raises the player into a standing position and allows a more conventional swing. “He started playing golf and now he really keeps everyone motivated,” Gizara says of the man. “I was in the wheelchair, I was in the scooter, it gave me purpose in my life which I was missing for a long time.” The benefits of programs like Adaptive Golf go well beyond exceeding the physical limitations of a particular injury. For those like Gizara who finds themselves lacking a purpose and passion it’s a way to reengage with life. Steve Giammona is a physical therapist at Beaufort (S.C.) Memorial Hospital who initially began the Adaptive Golf Program at Parris Island as a way to extend his patient’s rehabilitation, but he quickly realized it was also a way for patients to re-socialize. “Part of what all this boils down to is it creates a social network and it gives them folks they can speak to who have been through similar situations and they can speak with them about how to cope with the world,” Giammona says. “So many ways I think golf mimics life and these folks have been faced with some of the biggest adversities. As they say on Parris Island, they [Marines] overcome and adapt.” They also say you’re always a Marine, and Gizara is certainly an example of that. Golf saved his life and gave him a purpose, which in many ways can be as debilitating as losing the use of your legs or a missing limb. Back on the range at The Legends, Gizara spins back toward the practice tee, he twists and bends to re-tee his golf ball before settling back in with his driver. He pauses, looks up with a glare straight out of the drill instructor’s handbook and offers one final thought, “It’s not about your inability, it’s about your ability.”
GOLD COAST, Australia – Former New Zealand Open winner Jordan Zunic shot a course record-tying 8-under 64 on Saturday to take a three-stroke lead after three rounds of the Australian PGA Championship. Zunic needed birdies on his final two holes for a 59, but bogeyed the 17th and double-bogeyed the 18th. The course record was first set at Royal Pines by Australian Rhein Gibson in 2015. ”What two holes? I just think of 16 good holes, that’s all I see in my mind,” Zunic said when asked about his 3-over finish. ”If you had told me that I was going to have 64 at the start of today, I would have taken it, that’s for sure.” Zunic, who played the European Challenge Tour this year, twice found bunkers on the 17th, then three-putt the 18th. Full-field scores from the Australian PGA Championship ”It was a shame what happened on the last two holes, but to be honest, I didn’t even do much wrong,” he said. In 2013, while playing as an amateur in the United States, the Sydney-based Zunic suffered severe head injuries and blood loss as a passenger in a car crash. He won the New Zealand Open in 2015. The 25-year-old Zunic, who was at 17-under 199, started the day three strokes behind co-leaders Marc Leishman and Adam Bland, but had seven front-nine birdies to move well into the lead. He had four birdies in a row before his bogey on 17. Cameron Smith was in second place after a 67 with Bland a further stroke behind after a 71. Leishman shot 74 and was tied for fourth, seven strokes behind. Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who was six strokes behind at the start of the day, drifted to nine out of the lead after a 70. Garcia said he’s tired after a year in which he won his first major at the Masters, was married and will become a father early next year. ”I am proud of myself because I feel like I’m going on fumes,” Garcia said. ”My head is not as sharp as it should be and I’m making stupid mistakes here and there. But other than that, I feel like I fought hard again today.” Canadian Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, shot 71 and was at 3-under Officials moved up tee times for Sunday’s final round by three hours attempting to finish the tournament before forecast heavy rain and thunderstorms. The players will go off from two tees, with the last groups off at 8 a.m.
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The U.S. Open lived up to its reputation in the return to Shinnecock Hills. So did Dustin Johnson. Fresh off a six-shot victory last week, Johnson managed all aspects of his game Thursday on a classic U.S. Open course that required nothing less. He wasn’t perfect, but he was under par – barely – and shared the lead at 1-under 69 in an opening round of strong wind, high anxiety and scores that made this feel like a U.S. Open again. ”You had to focus on every single shot you hit – putts, everything. It was just difficult all day,” Johnson said. ”Every day out here is going to be difficult.” It was plenty tough for Tiger Woods, who started with a triple bogey and added a pair of double bogeys on the back nine for a 78. Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth – the only three active players with three legs of the career Grand Slam – made only six birdies among them. They were a combined 25-over par, with Mickelson the low man in the group at 77. Johnson, Ian Poulter, Scott Piercy and Russell Henley were the only players under par. That’s a sharp contrast from last year at Erin Hills, where 44 players broke par in the opening round to set a U.S. Open record. Jason Dufner nearly joined them. He settled for a 70 with no complaints. ”I think it’s in fifth place,” he said. ”So beat about 151 guys.” U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage Most everyone else felt beat up on a course where wind that gusted to 25 mph made the fairways shrink and the rough look even taller. McIlroy needed a dozen people help him find a tee shot in the rough. He found the next shot on his own because he advanced it only 6 feet. Mickelson asked an official if there was a rule that allowed a player to see the ball as he was trying to hit it. ”People talk about the fairways are ‘more generous’ for an Open,” Charles Howell III said after a 71. ”When the wind starts blowing this way, they’re not generous.” Woods ran into problems on the short grass – it took him three shots to reach the putting surface behind the first green on his way to a triple bogey, and he four-putted on No. 13 for the first of successive double bogeys. ”It was pretty evident nobody was making any birdies in the morning – lots and lots of bogeys and ‘others,”’ Woods said. ”My game plan was not to make any ‘others,’ and I made three of them. So didn’t do very well there.” Piercy, the last man in the 156-man field as an alternate from qualifying, was so disgusted with his game in his final practice round that he walked off the course. He dropped only two shots, both on par 3s, and was the first to post a 69. Poulter also played in the morning, while Johnson and Henley played in the afternoon as the wind reached its full strength. Henley was the only player to reach 3 under at any point, and he promptly gave that back with a double bogey on No. 10. Even those at 71 felt as though they put in a hard day’s work, a group that included Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. ”It’s a different kind of enjoyment, right?” Rose said. ”I enjoy the battle. I enjoy the fight. I enjoy the grind, really. When you get a bit cut up and bruised, it can change pretty quick.” Johnson holed medium-length putts for birdies, a few nervy, short putts for par and picked up a bonus when his shot from a front bunker on the par-4 eighth rattled and rolled into the cup. He also got a break on the fifth hole. The only way he found his ball in the rough was that former PGA champion and Sky Sports reporter Rich Beem stepped on it. He still made bogey, but it beat having to go back to the tee to play his third shot. It didn’t take long to figure out what kind of test this was going to be, with the 15 flags atop the grandstand next to the 18th green already flapping as the first group teed off, and they were crackling by the afternoon. Spieth missed a 4-foot par putt on No. 10 to start his round, and then tried to get that shot back by playing a bunker shot at the flag on the par-3 11th. It trickled over the green and down the slope, and Spieth didn’t get back on the green until he played three more shots. He salvaged a triple bogey and shot 78. McIlroy was 10 over after 11 holes. From the middle of the first fairway, Woods went long over the green. He chipped once and it rolled back down the hill. Another try, same result. Finally, he rapped his putter up the hill and by the hole and missed the putt. He held it together until a four-putt on No. 13, the last three of those putts from 6 feet. ”Shoot something in the 60s tomorrow, and I’ll be just fine,” Woods said. ”I just think today was the toughest day we’ll have all week. But then again, I think they’re going to let these greens firm out a little bit. They’ll start to pick up a little bit of speed, and it will be a good U.S. Open again.” That already appears to be the case. The U.S. Open has gone to new courses two of the last three years, and Jack Nicklaus is among those who feared it had lost its identity. Even with wider fairways, Shinnecock Hills resembled a U.S. Open course from past years. And it played like one.
ANCASTER, Ontario – Brandt Snedeker’s early record-tying round didn’t stand up to late charges by Scott Brown and Matt Kuchar at the RBC Canadian Open on Friday. Snedeker fired a 10-under 60 to tie the Canadian Open’s record low score. That was good enough for an early clubhouse lead at 11 under at Hamilton Golf and Country Club. But Kuchar and Brown, playing in the afternoon, went low, too, shooting 7-under 63s and finishing the second round as co-leaders at 12 under. Brown and Kuchar agreed that Snedeker’s round was a mixed blessing. They said it challenged them to play their best and confirmed that low scores were possible. ”You kind of feel like you have to go out and shoot a good one, and then you kind of feel like there is a good one out there,” Brown said. ”So I think the key is just to not get crazy aggressive. I’ve kind of been conservatively aggressive.” Snedeker and Carl Pettersson are the only players to shoot 60 at the Canadian Open. Pettersson did it at St. George’s Golf and Country Club in Toronto at 2010 en route to a victory. Greg Norman also had a round of 10-under 62 at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario, in 1986. ”I’m not scared about going low. I realize these days don’t happen very often,” said Snedeker, who carded a 59 at the Wyndham Championship in August. ”Almost get more excited when I feel like it’s going that way. ”More often than not, you’re getting beat up. You have to take advantage of it.” Your browser does not support iframes. Full-field scores from the RBC Canadian Open RBC Canadian Open: Articles, photos and videos Most golfers coming off the 6,966-yard, par-70 layout spoke about wrestling with the poa annua greens that were playing exceptionally slow. The hilly course has sloping greens that need to be soft to prevent balls from rolling off. Snedeker was one of the few able to consistently drain long putts Friday. ”Didn’t help me yesterday. I think I left every putt a foot short yesterday,” said Snedeker, who had a 1-under 69 in the opening round. ”I was excited for this morning because I got out here and I knew they would be a little faster and I could still be aggressive, which I felt like needed to be.” Four Canadians were within four shots of the lead. Nick Taylor was tied with Snedeker for third after a second-round 65, good for 11 under. Webb Simpson was another stroke back at 10-under after a second-round 64. Rory McIlroy followed an opening-round 67 with a 4-under 66 and was tied with two others at 7 under. Brooks Koepka, fresh off his PGA Championship win, followed an opening round 70 with a 4-under 66 and was at 4 under heading into the weekend, along with defending tournament champion Dustin Johnson, the No. 2 players in the world, who followed a 1-over 71 with a 65. No Canadian has won the national championship since Pat Fletcher in 1954 at Vancouver’s Point Grey Golf and Country Club. Ben Silverman moved up the leaderboard Friday with a 9-under 61, second only to Snedeker. It also was a record for the best round by a Canadian at the championship.
Gone are the days when Tiger Woods needs to suit up for all five sessions of a U.S. team competition. The Americans now are too deep. Woods’ 43-year-old body is too brittle. And this year, at least, Woods has too many other responsibilities. For the first time since Hale Irwin in 1994, the U.S. Presidents Cup team will have a playing captain. That wrinkle adds some much-needed intrigue to what historically has been a lopsided affair, but it also creates a series of difficult decisions for Woods. The first: When to play? The first two rounds of match play are contested over two days, before a doubleheader of fourballs and foursomes on Saturday that leads into Sunday singles. The one-session-a-day format early would allow Woods to play unencumbered before fully turning his attention to putting his charges in the best position to win the cup for the 11th time in 13 chances. Woods has also mentioned, on a few occasions, the new rule that states a player needs only to compete in one team session before final-round singles play. That suggests Woods might already be thinking of taking on a light workload. Which brings us to the second question: With whom to play? Buy or Sell: Tiger the U.S. player under the most pressure at Prez Cup The co-winningest player in PGA Tour history hasn’t been nearly as dominant when forced to partner up. During a match-play career that dates to the 1997 Ryder Cup, Woods is only 29-35-2 in team competition. His partners have ranged from the plodding (Jim Furyk) to the powerful (Dustin Johnson), from the mild-mannered (Charles Howell III) to the mischievous (Phil Mickelson). Last year at the Ryder Cup, Woods’ partners were brash (Patrick Reed) and brainy (Bryson DeChambeau), but what they had in common were the losses – Tiger went 0-3 with the pair, setting the tone in what was a royal thumping in Paris. What makes Woods’ 2019 roster so unique is that seven players are 30 or younger. For the past few years they’ve been living out their childhood dream of playing against him in tournaments, but now there’s the possibility of playing with him, as partners, in what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They’d all be desperate to deliver not just for their captain, but also their boyhood idol. Some are better fits than others, of course, so here’s our unofficial ranking of potential Tiger partners with the matches now less than a month away: 1. Justin Thomas: Granted, everyone wearing red, white and blue will want a piece of Thomas, who led the Tour in birdie average last season and is 6-1-1 in team play across the last two cups. But he’s an ideal partner for Tiger in particular: They share a putting coach (Matt Killen), they’re good friends and they’re frequent practice companions. Thomas is also in the market for a new partner, with both Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler left at home. 2. Matt Kuchar: It seems like eons ago, but Woods teamed with Kuchar to go 3-1 at the 2013 Presidents Cup. Though his play of late has been ragged, Kuchar’s steadiness, accuracy and above-average putting is a perfect compliment to Woods’ elite game. 3. Webb Simpson: Like Kuchar, Simpson fits the mold of a classic Tiger Partner: compatible, ego-free and possessing a rock-solid all-around game. Maybe for Woods, Simpson is this generation’s Steve Stricker. They’d be a particularly potent team in foursomes. Buy or Sell: Reed should be paired with Tiger at Prez Cup 4. Patrick Reed: It remains to be seen how Captain America will be welcomed back by the U.S. team, but Woods could ease the transition by partnering with him. They were disastrous together in Paris, but Woods was gassed from the Tour Championship and Reed wasn’t in the best form. That’s not the case anymore, and Reed will be highly motivated to show the rest of the Americans that Woods made the right choice. 5. Xander Schauffele: Remarkably, this will be the first team competition for Schauffele, the No. 9-ranked player in the world, but he has the competitive makeup to do some serious damage at Royal Melbourne. X-Man isn’t scared of the moment, and he makes birdies in bunches. He and Woods make a lot of sense in fourballs. 6. Tony Finau: Perhaps no one on the U.S. side worships Woods like Finau, which cuts both ways in an event like this: He might try too hard to win for his hero, or he could play out of his mind with so much adrenaline and purpose. Finau’s 2-1 record on a claustrophobic Ryder Cup course should ease concerns about how he’ll handle a different test like Royal Melbourne. 7. Patrick Cantlay: This will be the first of many U.S. teams for Cantlay, who is arguably the Americans’ most complete player. Still, it’s a mystery with whom he’ll best team. He’s played a few times with Reed at the Zurich Classic, but a high-octane partnership with Woods could bring out a different side of the normally placid performer. Tiger: It’s time to start working on strategy, pairings 8. Dustin Johnson: Still recovering from injury and scandal, Woods linked up with DJ at the 2011 Presidents Cup, going 1-2 despite a bevy of firepower. Woods has always been complimentary of DJ’s immense talent, but the world No. 3 could be rusty after offseason knee surgery. 9. Gary Woodland: Chipping and putting are going to be paramount at Royal Melbourne, and those areas aren’t Woodland’s strong suit. Captain Woods would be better served pairing the explosive rookie with the dependable Kuchar. 10. Bryson DeChambeau: If not Woods, then who? Not everyone on the U.S. team can handle DeChambeau’s quirks, but Woods has at least taken an interest in the Mad Scientist’s unique approach to the game. That doesn’t mean they’re a formidable partnership, however, as they were smoked in foursomes at the Ryder Cup. Because the other options are limited, Woods is likely to give him one more chance. 11. Brooks Koepka: Sorry, but in team match play, there’s room for only one alpha.
Retrospect can be a professional golfer’s worst enemy. In hindsight, the slightest miscue can be painfully overanalyzed and that microscope becomes even more intense when the stage is the most scrutinized patch of turf in the entire game. Nearly a dozen contenders made their way through Amen Corner during the final round of last year’s Masters Tournament with at least an outside chance for victory, and nearly all of them came unraveled at the par-3 12th hole. News & Opinion Watching Tiger’s Masters win on TV after seeing it first-hand BY Ryan Lavner — April 6, 2020 at 8:00 AM Witnessing Tiger Woods win the 83rd Masters first hand was unforgettable, but watching it for the first time on TV was revealing. Under normal circumstances, that is to say, any turn that wouldn’t include a handshake in Butler Cabin followed by a green jacket fitting, the 155-yard hole perched on the edge of Rae’s Creek is little more than a seamless transition from the risk of the par-4 11th hole to the reward of the par-5 13th. “If there’s no wind it just depends if you hit a good shot. There’s nothing really that can stop you from hitting that green,” Francesco Molinari figured earlier this year. “I remember like the Saturday last year, I think I hit it a few inches from the hole with obviously a different pin position.” Last year, No. 12, dubbed “Golden Bell,” ranked squarely in the middle of the pack as the week’s ninth toughest hole with a 3.05 scoring average. Photos Augusta National: Hole-by-hole, flowery names A hole-by-hole look at Augusta National, home of the Masters Tournament, including the flowery names for each. But Sunday was different. Sunday at the Masters is always different. Of the top 11 players on the final leaderboard from the 2019 Masters there wasn’t a single birdie made, and the group was a collective 7 over par for the day on No. 12. It all added up to Golden Hell — sorry, Golden Bell — playing to a 3.34 average and the day’s toughest hole in a particularly brutal final round. Getty Images Playing in the day’s penultimate group ahead of Molinari, Tiger Woods and Tony Finau, Brooks Koepka seemed to set the tone for the 12th hole. Cruising along at 11 under par (the winning score would be 13 under), Koepka’s tee shot drifted dangerously to the right, brushed the bank just short of the green and bounded into the creek. He made a double bogey and would finish tied for second place, a stroke out of the lead. Playing with Koepka, Ian Poulter’s tee shot suffered a similar fate and he made double bogey. Both Molinari and Finau’s tee shots also found the creek (bookend double bogeys to Tiger’s par) and Woods emerged from the 12th with a share of the lead. “Sunday, when the wind is up and I think especially it was coming kind of into, from behind the green and those huge trees behind the green, so you never know how much wind actually it’s going to get,” Molinari conceded. “It’s just complicated.” Every player agrees the 12th is a “complicated” hole, but why it creates such a unique challenge depends on who’s swinging the club. Weather conditions created much of the guess work Sunday a year ago. The forecast led to Augusta National officials to move up tee times and send players off the first and 10th tees in threesomes to avoid an approaching storm. It was a shrewd and surprising move that allowed the tournament to avoid a delay, but it also led to some of the most challenging conditions in recent years. Winds from the southeast gusted to 25 mph as the final groups approached Amen Corner and swirled through the famous pines as each contender stepped to the 12th tee box with the traditional back-right Sunday hole location. “It’s the hardest wind for that hole, in and off the left. Even though it wasn’t howling it was enough to impact the golf ball for a lot of us coming down the stretch,” Finau said. “It’s just the hardest wind to play that hole. I’d prefer straight in or straight in and off the right to that green. The way the green is angled you don’t want the wind to come off the left.” Getty Images Molinari, who was 13 under par and in control of the tournament until the fateful 12th hole, agreed that the wind direction created an imperfect storm for every contender, but the Italian also acknowledged the gravity of the moment. “The situation, too; you get there, it’s Sunday afternoon, so I think a few of us hit in the water that day and, yeah, it shows how tough it was playing,” Molinari said. “That’s the beauty of the Masters and Amen Corner.” And then there’s the question of situational awareness and experience. For Woods, who would birdie three of the next four holes to win by a shot, it was his 22nd start and fifth victory at Augusta National. Of the remaining 10 players within the top 11 on the final leaderboard none had more than nine starts at the Masters. Woods also had the benefit of watching the carnage unfold in the final two groups. “[Finau] hit the best shot of all of us and he got stood up at the very end. It was a good shot. He hit it flush, but it stalled out at the top,” Woods said. “If I had gone at the flag, my ball would have done the same thing, because mine, I played left, and it stalled out at its apex, ended up short left, and I had a putt.” Unlike many of the would-be champions, Woods erred on the left side of the narrow green that angles away from the tee box and plays longer the farther right you attempt to aim. Getty Images “Watching [Molinari] hit an 8-iron there, and you could see it, and I know he didn’t quite hit it right, but I played it to the left,” Woods said. It was a pivotal moment and quintessential Tiger. Stewart Cink once said Woods was at his best when he was playing “prevent defense” and allowing those around him to fall away with unforced errors. Denis Pugh, Molinari’s swing coach, remembers watching the dynamic between Woods and the rest of the field flip in an instant as he loomed larger than life near his golf ball safely in the middle of the 12th green: “[Molinari] is waiting to hit his chip [third shot] and Tiger is waiting on the green. It’s where Tiger took control of the tournament like he always did,” Pugh recalled. Maybe Finau should have hit an 8-iron off the 12th tee. Maybe Molinari should have aimed farther left of that diabolical hole location. Maybe officials should have doggedly clung to tradition and sent players out in twosomes off the first tee. For those prone to hindsight it can be a brutal arbiter.