Masters week is finally here, and we’d just salivate for an Augusta playoff as captivating as what transpired at the LPGA’s first major. Ian Poulter creates his own theater by winning in Houston, and The Starter wonders if anyone asks Tiger Woods about that new book this week. Plus, an ignominious 50th anniversary.
1. Pernilla Lindberg stands tall in major marathon. The Swedish pro slugged it out with Hall of Famer Inbee Park for eight extra holes at the ANA Inspiration before ramming home a 25-foot birdie. Not only was it Lindberg’s first major title, it was her first win at any level since turning pro a decade ago.
2. Ian Poulter won’t be denied a Masters berth. A week after bad info may have contributed to falling short of Augusta at the WGC Match Play, the English pro grabbed the last-gasp slot by capturing a Houston Open playoff. A 20-foot birdie to end regulation sent Poulter to extra holes vs. Beau Hossler.
3. Tiger Woods has issues with the new book about him. Agent Mark Steinberg says the biography contains “egregious errors” and authors Armen Keteyian and Jeff Benedict did “zero fact checking” with the Woods camp. The authors say Woods rebuffed several interview requests unless conditions were met.
THIS WEEK’S LINEUP
Tournament: The Masters
Dates: April 5-8, 2018
Where: Augusta, Ga.
Course: Augusta National
Distance: Par 72, 7,435 yards
Architect: Alister McKenzie, Bobby Jones
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $1,980,000
Defending Champion: Sergio Garcia
Marquee Players: Garcia, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Tommy Fleetwood, and Jason Day.
If there’s any consolation a Hall of Famer can draw from being on the wrong side of an epic playoff, Inbee Park is now back among the top three in women’s golf.
Park’s runner-up finish at the ANA Inspiration moved her up six spots to No.3 in the newest women’s rankings, trailing only No.1 Shanshan Feng and No.2 Lexi Thompson.
A delayed start to Park’s season – which included being the third-from-last torchbearer to open the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang – nearly dropped her outside the top 20 before she played her first round of 2018. But she won the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in her second start and went 67-67 at Mission Hills to catch Lindberg and join the playoff.
Lindberg, by the way, rose 61 spots to No.34 this week. And Jennifer Song – who bowed out after three playoff holes – is up to No.40.
STAT OF THE WEEK
The eight-hole ANA Inspiration showdown now stands as the longest sudden-death playoff in any major championship, two holes longer than the previous standard.
The old mark belonged to the PGA Tour Champions circuit, where The Tradition went six extra holes in 2000 before Tom Kite outlasted Larry Nelson and Tom Watson. The LPGA previously saw a pair of majors go four sudden-death holes, at the 1962 Women’s Western Open (won by Mickey Wright) and 2008 LPGA Championship (Yani Tseng).
The longest sudden-death finish in a PGA Tour major has been just three holes, twice in a three-year span at the PGA Championship. Lanny Wadkins prevailed in 1977, followed by David Graham in ’79. The Masters has never gone more than two sudden-death holes.
STAT OF THE WEEK II
Should a first-time major champion be crowned at the Masters, he’ll become the 30th major winner since Tiger Woods last put a major trophy on the shelf at the 2008 U.S. Open.
Rory McIlroy has the most majors in that span with four, followed by Jordan Spieth with three. Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer and Padraig Harrington each have two of the past 38 majors.
That leaves 25 with one major in that stretch: Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink, Y.E. Yang, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Darren Clarke, Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els, Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jason Day, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker, Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas.
HOLE OF THE WEEK
No.13, Augusta National GC
Par 5, 510 yards
2017 average: 4.638 (easiest)
Considered by many to be the quintessential risk/reward par-5 in golf, Amen Corner’s exit seems to have provided more reward than risk in recent years. Nonetheless, No.13 manages to find a way to draw up Sunday drama.
It nearly marked the demise of Sergio Garcia’s bid a year ago, when his drive caromed off a branch and settled underneath an azalea bush to necessitate a penalty drop. But the Spaniard saved par, keeping him two behind Justin Rose, allowing for a birdie/eagle sequence to draw them even.
(Garcia’s newborn daughter, don’t forget, was given the same name as No.13 – Azalea.)
Phil Mickelson’s third Masters win is remembered for his shot from the pine straw at No.13, firing 6-iron through a 4-foot gap between trees on the way to eagle. Likewise, Arnold Palmer used a 3-wood to set up a 15-foot eagle for his first green jacket.
No.13 could be in for a modification in coming years, as Augusta National recently acquired land behind the tee that could add perhaps 50 yards to the hole. That would create a riskier call on the second shot, with the Rae’s Creek tributary standing guard front and right of the green.
2017 Masters: 6 eagles, 128 birdies, 131 pars, 22 bogeys, 5 double bogeys, none higher
Bob Goalby sensed something wasn’t quite right when he saw Roberto de Vicenzo still at Augusta National’s scoring table when he arrived from his Sunday round 50 years ago. Even so, he first went about checking his scorecard in anticipation of a Monday playoff.
Instead, there was no playoff. Goalby was alone at the top after de Vicenzo signed an incorrect scorecard, accepting a par at No.17 when he’d actually made birdie. Somehow playing partner Tommy Aaron was the only one who didn’t notice, and de Vicenzo didn’t correct it at the table.
In the end, the Rules of Golf left officials no choice but to accept de Vicenzo’s mistaken score as official and drape the green jacket over Goalby’s shoulders.
“I felt no elation, nothing like you’d expect from winning the biggest tournament of your life,” Goalby told Golf Digest recently. “It was tragic for Roberto, but it was equally unfortunate for me. I never did get full credit for what I’d done.”
Goalby got hate mail after the win, with detractors arguing he should have refused victory without the playoff. But he says that would have been disrespectful to both Augusta National and the Rules of Golf.
DID YOU KNOW
Seven months after Hurricane Harvey left significant parts of the Houston area under water, more than 40 families are getting help back on their feet from relief efforts spearheaded by PGA Tour pros Chris Stroud and Bobby Gates.
Stroud announced at last week’s Houston Open that their fundraising surpassed $1.1 million, much from a pro-am held last December at the Tiger Woods-designed Bluejack National in the city’s northwest suburbs.
That event included an auction for a private golf lesson with Woods, which went for $210,000 in heated bidding.
Though fans still can’t bring a cellphone onto the grounds at Augusta National, TV viewers this year will find a now-familiar sight joining the Masters broadcast.
Welcome, shot tracer.
“The tracer technology showing up at Augusta is the greatest thing since whatever… sliced bread,” said ESPN analyst Curtis Strange, admitting that he feels he’s missing something if he doesn’t see those digital arcs.
Though the technology has been in use since at least 2014, Augusta National has been typically measured in its embrace. The tracer got a trial run online last year before the club granted CBS’s request to add it to its arsenal.
Even so, fans will be able to see tracer results on just five holes this week: the ninth, 10th, 13th, 15th and 18th. Hey, it’s a start.
“One of the biggest emotional roller coasters I’ve had – not knowing whether to play, packing my bags (to go home) on Friday morning, and I’ve really been able to turn it around. This was a big win for me.”
– Ian Poulter