Matsuyama becomes first Japanese to win Masters; Conners T8
Golf New Brunswick
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Hideki Matsuyama delivered golf-mad Japan the grandest and greenest prize of all.
Ten years after Matsuyama made a sterling debut as the best amateur at Augusta National, he claimed the ultimate trophy Sunday with a victory in the Masters to become the first Japanese winner of the green jacket.
Matsuyama closed with a 1-over 73 and a one-shot victory that was only close at the end, and never seriously in doubt after Xander Schauffele’s late charge ended with a triple bogey on the par-3 16th.
Moments before Dustin Johnson helped him into the green jacket, Matsuyama needed no interpreter in Butler Cabin when he said in English, “I’m really happy.”
So masterful was this performance that Matsuyama stretched his lead to six shots on the back nine until a few moments of drama. With a four-shot lead, he went for the green in two on the par-5 15th and it bounded hard off the back slope and into the pond on the 16th hole.
Matsuyama did well to walk away with bogey, and with Schauffele making a fourth straight birdie, the lead was down to two shots with three to play.
The next swing all but ended it. Schauffele’s tee shot on the par-3 16th bounced off the hill left of the green and dribbled into the pond. His third shot from the drop area went into the gallery. It added to a triple bogey, and his third close call in a major.
Never mind that Matsuyama bogeyed three of his last four holes, the first Masters champion with a final round over par since Trevor Immelman shot 75 in 2008.
All that mattered was that uphill walk to the 18th green, needing only to blast out of the bunker and take two putts for the victory.
And that’s what he did, soaking in the moment with a few thousand spectators on their feat to celebrate a career-changing moment _ for the 29-year-old Matsuyama, and he hopes for an entire country.
“Hopefully, I’ll be a pioneer and many other Japanese will follow,” Matsuyama said.
Will Zalatoris, the 24-year-ld Masters rookie, holed an 18-foot par putt on the last hole for a 70 and was runner-up. It was the best performance by a first-timer to the Masters since another Dallas kid, Jordan Spieth, was runner-up in 2014 to Bubba Watson.
Spieth had a few fleeting thoughts of coming from six shots behind except for too many missed putts early and missed opportunities late. He bogeyed his last hole for a 70 and tied for third with Schauffele, who shot a 72 with a triple bogey and a double bogey on his card.
Matsuyama finished at 10-under 278 for his 15th victory worldwide, and his sixth on the PGA Tour.
He becomes the second man from an Asian country to win a major. Y.E. Yang of South Korea won the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine over Tiger Woods.
Canadian Corey Conners finished six strokes back of Matsuyama, tied for eighth with American Patrick Reed. The top-10 finish clinched his sport at next year’s Masters. Conners also finished in the top 10 at last year’s event.
There were moments, though, the native of Listowel, Ont., seemed poised to challenge for the green jacket.
Conners had a hole-in-one Saturday and sat in sixth after the third round. He climbed the leaderboard Sunday with a birdie on the second hole, but collapsed through the middle of the round with three bogeys and a double bogey before ending the day with a 2-over 74.
Fellow Canadian Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., finished in a six-way tie for 40th spot.
Returning to the 18th green for the trophy presentation, Matsuyama again put on the green jacket and raised both arms in triumph. Augusta National allowed limited spectators, believed to be about 8,000 a day, and most might have remembered him from a decade ago.
He won the Asia-Pacific Amateur to earn an invitation to the Masters, and he was low amateur — tied with defending champion Phil Mickelson that year — to earn a trip into famed Butler Cabin. He won in Japan as an amateur, and four times after he graduated college and turned pro. His first PGA Tour victory was at the Memorial in 2014, prompting tournament host Jack Nicklaus to say, “I think you’ve just seen the start of what’s going to be truly one of your world’s great players over the next 10 to 15 years.”
That moment came Sunday.
Matsuyama is not big on emotion, and he speaks even less even when cornered after every round by the large contingent of Japanese media.
Most of the media was absent this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, and Matsuyama had said on the eve of the final round that it has been a lot less stress.
There was plenty on the golf course, right from the start.
Matsuyama sent his opening tee shot into the trees right of the first fairway. He punched it under the trees from the pine straw, hit a soft pitch that rolled down the slope away from the pin and was happy to leave with bogey. Two groups ahead of him, Zalatoris opened with two straight birdies.
Just like that, the lead was down to one.
No one got any closer until the final hour. Matsuyama made birdie from the front bunker on the par-5 second hole. He didn’t make another birdie until the par-5 eighth, and it didn’t matter because no one could put any pressure on him.
Zalatoris misjudged the speed on No. 3 and three-putted for bogey from just off the back of the green. Schauffele was within three of the lead going to the third hole, only to go bogey-bogey-double bogey on the toughest three-hole stretch on the course.
Matsuyama delivered what appeared to be a knockout punch with a nifty up-and-down from right of the green on the eighth for a tap-in birdie, and a lob wedge to the dangerous left pin on the ninth that rolled out to 3 feet. That sent him to the back nine with a five-shot lead.
For the longest time, it looked as though Matsuyama couldn’t wait to get to Butler Cabin and see how he looked in green.
Schauffele, however, rammed in a 20-foot birdie putt from behind the 12th green. He two-putted from 10 feet for birdie on No. 13. He nearly holed out from the fairway for a tap-in birdie on the 14th. And with he nearly holed his greenside bunker shot on the par-5 15th for a fourth straight birdie.
And then all that that worked ended when his ball disappeared below the surface of the pond.
Matsuyama could afford a few bogeys, and all that affected was the final margin. He is the Masters champion, a major that defines his elite status in the game and gives Japan the biggest week it has ever had in April. The week started a week ago Saturday when Tsubasa Kajitani won the second Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Matsuyama wasn’t around to see it, but he was well aware of it. All he wanted was to follow her path and made Japan proud. His play spoke volumes.
Corey Conners sits 6th at Masters after hole-in-one; Matsuyama leads
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 10: Corey Conners of Canada reacts on the sixth green after hitting a hole-in-one during the third round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Golf New Brunswick
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Hideki Matsuyama showed he could handle Augusta National when he first showed up as a 19-year-old amateur. Ten years later, the Japanese star put himself on the cusp of a green jacket Saturday at the Masters.
In a stunning turnaround after storms doused the course, Matsuyama had four birdies, an eagle and a superb par at the end of a 7-under 65, turning a three-shot deficit into a four-shot lead as he tries to become the first Japanese player to win a major.
“This is a new experience for me being a leader going into the final round in a major,” Matsuyama said. “I guess all I can do is relax and prepare well and do my best.”
Matsuyama was at 11-under 205, and no one could stay with him after the delay. It lasted 1 hour, 18 minutes because of dangerous weather and just enough rain fell that crusty Augusta National was a little more forgiving.
He hit what he said was his worst shot of the day right before the delay, a tee shot into the trees on the right. He punched a 7-iron out to 20 feet for birdie and was on his way.
The break brought the Masters to life, and at times it was hard to keep up.
Xander Schauffele ran in a 60-foot eagle putt across the 15th green to momentary join a four-way tie for the lead. Seconds later, Justin Rose holed a 25-foot birdie putt back on the par-3 12th to regain the lead. That lasted as long as it took Matsuyama to rap in his 5-foot eagle putt on the 15th to take the lead for good.
The entire sequence took no more than two minutes.
But after that, no one could catch Matsuyama. When the round ended, Schauffele (68), Rose (72), Marc Leishman (70) and Masters rookie Will Zalatoris (71) were all at 7-under 209.
Canadian Corey Conners was close behind at 6-under after shooting a 68. It was a mixed day for the Listowel, Ont., native. After a bogey on the fifth hole, he shot a hole-in-one on the sixth. Conners had five birdies and three bogeys on the day.
Fellow Canadian Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., recorded his third-straight even-par score to sit in a tie for 21st.
Jordan Spieth was within two shots of the lead despite a double bogey on the seventh hole, but he couldn’t keep pace and shot 72 to fall six shots behind.
Matsuyama will play in the final group with Schauffele, a comfortable pairing. Schauffele’s mother was raised in Japan and he speaks enough Japanese to share a few laughs with Matsuyama during Saturday’s pairing.
Matsuyama will play in the final group with Schauffele, a comfortable pairing. Schauffele’s mother was raised in Japan and he speaks enough Japanese to share a few laughs with Matsuyama during Saturday’s pairing.
That won’t eliminate all the pressure. His lone shot at a major was at Quail Hollow in the 2017 PGA Championship when he was one shot behind with three holes to play and missed a crucial par putt. He was in tears after that round, a player under enormous pressure in golf-mad Japan.
Matsuyama wasn’t the first Japanese star of his generation _ that was close friend Ryo Ishikawa _ but he is by far the most accomplished. Matsuyama has 14 worldwide wins, five on the PGA Tour. He has reached as high as No. 2 in the world.
He won the Asia-Pacific Amateur in 2010 that earned him a spot in the Masters the following year. He was the only amateur to make the cut, finishing on the same score (1 under) as defending champion Phil Mickelson.
A decade later, he is on the cusp of history. The only other player from an Asian country to win a men’s major is Y.E. Yang in the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine.
Matsuyama wouldn’t have believed he could leave Augusta National on Saturday night with a four-shot lead. But he knew he was playing well, and he showed it. On a course that has played difficult all week, he delivered the first bogey-free round of the week.
The signature shot was his 5-iron to a left pin to 5 feet for eagle. Equally stellar was an 8-iron to the front right shelf on the par-3 16th to 5 feet for a birdie, and then his pitching wedge to 10 feet behind the hole on the 17th. His work still wasn’t through.
From a fairway bunker on the 18th, Matsuyama sent it soaring over the green and up the walkway toward the clubhouse, some 25 yards to the hole with little margin for error with a back pin. His chip bounced with enough spin to trickle out to 3 feet for par.
It was reminiscent of Spieth closing out his third round in 2015 with a tough par save on the 18th to take a four-shot lead into the final round. That’s what Matsuyama has on Sunday, with a nation watching.
He rarely can go anywhere on the PGA Tour without a dozen or more Japanese media following. Their numbers are limited this year because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
“Being in front of the media is still difficult. It’s not my favourite thing to do,” Matsuyama said through his interpreter. “It’s been a lot less stress for me. I’ve enjoyed this week.”
A victory would give Japan a sweep this week. Tsubasa Kajitani won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur last Saturday.
Corey Conners, Mackenzie Hughes, Mike Weir set to represent Canada at Masters
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 06: Mackenzie Hughes of Canada plays his shot from the third tee during a practice round prior to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 06, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Golf New Brunswick
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Three Canadians will tee it up in the first men’s golf major of the year today.
Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont.; Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont.; and Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ont., are in the field for the Masters at Augusta National.
Weir gets in by virtue of winning the 2003 edition of the tournament.
Hughes is in after qualifying for last year’s Tour Championship, while Conners gets his berth for tying for 10th at last year’s Masters.
The event is back on its traditional April date after being moved to November last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conners is 43rd in the world men’s golf rankings, Hughes is 51st and Weir is 808th.
Conners posts top 10 at the Masters, secures invite for next year
Corey Conners (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Nothing ever comes easily for Dustin Johnson in the majors, except for when he slipped his arms through that Masters green jacket Sunday.
Johnson overcame a jittery start that conjured memories of past majors he failed to finish off. He turned that into a command performance, making sure this one-of-a-kind Masters with no fans also had no drama.
Not even close.
Johnson tapped in for par on the 18th for a 4-under 68 to finish at 20-under 268, breaking by two shots the record set by Tiger Woods in 1997 and matched by Jordan Spieth in 2015.
His five-shot victory was the largest at the Masters since Woods won by 12 in 1997. All that was missing were the roars from a crowd for any of his pivotal putts early and his birdie putts on the back nine that put it away.
“It still feels like a dream,” Johnson said. “As a kid, you’re dreaming about winning the Masters, having Tiger put the green jacket on you. I’m here and what a great feeling it is. I couldn’t be more excited.”
The Masters, postponed from April because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was forced to do without patrons for the first time. Johnson still received a warm reception coming up the 18th from club members and their wives, his partner, Paulina Gretzky, and a few champions.
Two-time champion Bubba Watson was there to congratulate him.
“I always dreamed of having one of those,” Johnson said as he went to sign his card. “Now I got one.”
Johnson’s four-shot lead was reduced to one after five holes, and then he quickly restored control. Cameron Smith and Sungjae Im each shot 69 and were the only ones who really had a chance.
Smith got quite the consolation. He became the first player in Masters history to post all four rounds in the 60s, and all it got him was a silver medal. Johnson became the 12th Masters champion to never trail after any round, and his closing 68 broke another record held by Woods — it was his 11th consecutive sub-par round at Augusta National.
Canadian Corey Conners shot a 3-under 69 following through on a streak of solid gameplay that began with the Listowel, Ont., native posting a 65—the lowest score of the second round. An overall score of 9-under 279 earned him a tie for 10th place, securing a Masters appearance in 2021 for the fourth time in his career. The first appearance took place in 2015 as a member of Team Canada’s National Amateur Squad when he qualified via the U.S. Amateur and finished as the lowest scoring amateur on the course.
Nick Taylor (Abbotsford, BC.,) finished off his first Masters appearance in a tie for 29th, after a round of 72 and a final score of 3-under 285. 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir (Brights Grove, Ont.,) shot a 76 during his fourth round and closed the tournament at 2 over, finishing tied for 51st.
No one had a better finish than defending champion Tiger Woods, but only after the five-time Masters champion posted the highest score of his career — three balls in Rae’s Creek for a 10 on the par-3 12th hole. He finished with five birdies over the last six holes to salvage a 76.
The betting favourite and biggest basher in golf, Bryson DeChambeau, couldn’t even beat 63-year-old Bernhard Langer, who shot 71 and wound up one shot ahead of the U.S. Open champion.
These were only sideshows on a quiet Sunday at Augusta National.
Johnson, the first No. 1 player in the world to win the Masters since Woods in 2002, was the main event. He won for the 25th time worldwide and his second major — he won the U.S. Open from four shots behind at Oakmont in 2016 — comes with some big perks. He can return for the rest of his life and will host the Masters Club dinner next April for champions.
But even a record score, and the widest margin of victory since 1997, didn’t mean it was easy. This is Johnson, after all, who for all his talent has dealt with more than his share of misfortune, not all his own doing.
He was the 16th player to take at least a four-shot lead into the final round of the Masters, and only four had failed to win, most recently Rory McIlroy in 2011.
That lead was down to one shot after five holes.
From short of the bunker on the par-5 second, Johnson muffed his flop into the bunker and had to scramble for par at the easiest hole on the course Sunday. After he settled himself with a birdie on No. 3, he came up short of the green and took three putts for bogey, then found a fairway bunker off the fifth tee, had to lay up and made another bogey.
Im started with two birdies in three holes, and saved par with a fabulous flop over a bunker behind the fifth green. Suddenly, he was one shot behind. Ahead of them was Smith, suddenly two shots behind.
Just when it looked as though Johnson might he headed to a meltdown, it all changed on one hole.
Johnson’s tee shot to a pin on the top-right shelf at the par-3 sixth settled 6 feet away for birdie. Im chipped from just behind the green to 3 feet and missed the par putt. Johnson’s lead was back to three.
Then, with Johnson blocked by pine branches and having to punch low into a front bunker at No. 7, Im from the fairway sailed the green into a bunker, blasted out through the green and made bogey.
Smith was still within two shots when they made the turn, and the wind was stronger that it had been all week, but the Aussie could manage only one birdie, and by then it was too late.
Nothing is sweeter than that walk up the steep hill to the 18th green with a five-shot lead and a green jacket waiting. Except in this case, there was no one to cheer, hardly anyone to watch.
There were no roars this week. White and pink blooms of azaleas and dogwoods were replaced by gold and brown hues of Augusta in autumn. It really was a Masters unlike any other, except there was no mistaking that green jacket.
It’s a good fit for Johnson.]]>
Masters honours Lee Elder with scholarship and a tee shot
AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 1975: Lee Elder watches his shot during the 1975 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in April 1975 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. – In a year marked by racial injustice, Augusta National announced Monday it would honour Lee Elder with two scholarships in his name at Paine College and an honorary tee shot next year for the first Black player in the Masters.
“It’s mind-boggling every time I think about it,” said Elder, who made his barrier-breaking debut in 1975.
It was about time, according to Masters Chairman Fred Ridley, who said racial injustice and equality have been at the forefront of the nation this year.
“Our question was not so much what we can say but what we can do,” Ridley said.
The Masters for some two decades has provided scholarship money for Paine College, a private, historically Black college in Augusta. The Lee Elder Scholarship will be endowed for one man and one woman on the golf team. The fact Paine doesn’t have a women’s golf program was not a problem. Ridley said Augusta National would pay to start one.
Elder already was looking ahead to next April when he returns to the first tee, this time with a shot that doesn’t count toward a score but is more meaningful to him than when he first played the tournament.
“That is one thing that’s going to be significant to me, because 1975 was just an ordinary shot playing a golf tournament, even though it was the Masters,” Elder said. “It’s not as significant as this shot will be come April 8, 2021. Because my heart and soul will be into this shot.”
[caption id="attachment_101672" align="alignnone" width="1300"]
(New York, N.Y.: Lee Elder (L) and Arnold Palmer share a laugh.[/caption]
The criteria have changed over the years at the Masters, and when the club began issuing invitations to PGA Tour winners, Elder qualified by winning the 1974 Pensacola Open. That made him eligible for the 1975 Masters. He missed the cut, though Ridley said the moment was historic because of the message it sent that “I belong.”
Next April, he will join Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as the honorary starters. Ridley referred to it as a “special moment in time,” suggesting it will be a one-time appearance as honorary starter.
Elder ended his career with four PGA Tour victories. He played five more times in the Masters, with his best finish a tie for 17th in 1979.
“To know that I would be hitting a shot off the first tee alongside the great Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, you have to think about where you’re at and what you’ve accomplished and why you’re there,” Elder said. “A young man from the ghetto of Dallas, Texas, man, you’ve achieved world fame. The whole world will be watching and looking.
“For the chairman to present me with that opportunity is something I’ll never forget. Never forget.”
The connection to Paine College goes beyond it being an HBCU.
Elder arrived in Augusta more than 45 years ago to much fanfare as the first Black competitor in a tournament that for four decades only included Blacks as caddies or in catering.
Finding a place to eat dinner was difficult – Elder said that was more because he had some 15 people with him than “being segregated against.” Julius Scott, in his first year as president of Paine College, handled the catering for Elder all week.
From that week, Elder began a relationship with the college.
“Look at old yearbooks and you’ll see pictures of him with the golf team,” said Cheryl Evans Jones, the president of Paine College. “He’s made a a lot of contributions to the sport.”
Ridley said he did not know how much it would cost to start a women’s golf program and that was irrelevant. He said Augusta National would pay for everything.
“The times I have visited, a lot of the ladies came out to watch the men play,” Elder said. “I heard quite a number of times, `Gee, I wish we had a team so we could play.’ By Augusta National making that decision, it’s now going to give them a chance to fulfil that dream of being able to come to college, get a four-year scholarship plus compete on the golf team.”]]>
Tiger Woods makes Masters 15th and most improbable major win
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 14: Tiger Woods (R) of the United States is awarded the Green Jacket by Masters champion Patrick Reed (L) during the Green Jacket Ceremony after winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Fallen hero, crippled star, and now a Masters champion again.
Tiger Woods rallied to win the Masters for the fifth time Sunday, a comeback that goes well beyond the two-shot deficit he erased before a delirious audience that watched memories turn into reality at Augusta National.
Woods had gone nearly 11 years since he won his last major, 14 years since that green jacket was slipped over his Sunday red shirt. He made it worth the wait, closing with a 2-under 70 for a one-shot victory and setting off a scene of raw emotion.
He scooped up 10-year-old Charlie, born a year after Woods won his 14th major at Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S Open. He hugged his mother and then his 11-year-old daughter Sam, and everyone else in his camp that stood by him through a public divorce, an embarrassing DUI arrest from a concoction of painkillers and four back surgeries, the most recent one just two years ago to fuse his lower spine.
“WOOOOOOO!!!” Woods screamed as he headed for the scoring room with chants of “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger” echoing as loud as any of the roars on the back nine at Augusta National.
“It’s overwhelming, just because of what has transpired,” Woods said in Butler Cabin. “Last year I was lucky to be playing again. At the previous year’s dinner, I was really struggling. I missed a couple of years not playing this great tournament. To now be the champion … 22 years between wins is a long time. It’s unreal to experience this.”
Woods lost his impeccable image to a sex scandal, one of the swiftest and most shocking downfalls in sport.
He lost his health to four back surgeries that left him unable to get out of bed, much less swing a club, and he went two years without even playing a major. It was two years ago at the Masters when Woods said he needed a nerve block just to walk to the Champions Dinner. At that time, he thought his career is over.
Now the comeback is truly complete.
He wrapped his arms around his father when he won his first green jacket in 1997, changing the world of golf.
“Now I’m the dad with two kids there,” he said.
He wanted his children to see him win, once saying they saw him only as a YouTube legend. They were at the British Open when he had the lead briefly. They couldn’t make it to East Lake last September, when he won the Tour Championship for his first victory in five years.
“I wasn’t going to let that happen to them twice,” he said. “To let them see what it’s like to have their dad win a major championship, I hope it’s something they’ll never forget.”
Woods won his 15th major, three short of the standard set by Jack Nicklaus. It was his 81st victory on the PGA Tour, one title away from the career record held by Sam Snead.
“A big ‘well done’ from me to Tiger,” Nicklaus tweeted. “I am so happy for him and for the game of golf. This is just fantastic!!!”
It was the first time Woods won a major when trailing going into the final round, and he needed some help from Francesco Molinari, the 54-hole leader who still was up two shots heading into the heart of Amen Corner.
And that’s when all hell broke loose at Augusta.
Molinari’s tee shot on the par-3 12th never had a chance, hitting the bank and tumbling into Rae’s Creek for double bogey. Until then, Molinari had never trailed in a round that began early in threesomes to finish ahead of storms.
And then it seemed as though practically everyone had a chance.
Six players had a share of the lead at some point on the back. With the final group still in the 15th fairway, there was a five-way tie for the lead. And that’s when Woods seized control, again with plenty of help.
Molinari’s third shot clipped a tree and plopped straight down in the water for another double bogey. Woods hit onto the green, setting up a two-putt birdie for his first lead of the final round.
The knockout punch was a tee shot into the 16th that rode the slope just by the cup and settled 2 feet away for birdie and a two-shot lead with two holes to play.
Xander Schauffele failed to birdie the par-5 15th and scrambled for pars the rest of the way for a 68. Dustin Johnson made three straight birdies late in the round, but he got going too late and had to settle for a 68 and a return to No. 1 in the world.
Brooks Koepka, one of four players from the final two groups who hit into the water on No. 12, rallied with an eagle on the 13th, narrowly missed another eagle on the 15th and was the last player with a chance. His birdie putt on the 18th from just outside 10 feet never had a chance, and he had to settle for a 70.
“You want to play against the best to ever play,” Koepka said. “You want to go toe-to-toe with them. I can leave saying I gave it my all. He’s just good, man.”
Wood finished at 13-under 275 and became, at 43, the oldest Masters champion since Nicklaus won his sixth green jacket at 46 in 1986. That for years has stood as Augusta’s defining moment.
This was one is sure to at least rival it.
“This is definitely, probably one of the greatest comebacks I think anybody’s ever seen,” Koepka said, before rattling off Woods’ total PGA Tour victories and 15 majors.
Is the Nicklaus record back in play?
“I think 18 is a whole lot closer than people think,” Koepka said.
Koepka and Molinari both faced Tigermania in the majors and held their own, Molinari at Carnoustie to win the British Open, Koepka last summer at Bellerive to win the PGA Championship.
Molinari went 49 straight holes without a bogey, a streak that ended on the seventh hole. It was the double bogeys that cost him, and the Italian was gracious as ever in defeat.
“I think I made a few new fans today with those double bogeys,” he said.
Conners rides whirlwind week all the way back to the Masters
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 09: Corey Conners of Canada looks on during a practice round prior to the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 09, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
As the man in the green jacket recounted the incredulous events of the past week, Corey Conners cocked his head to one side and smiled ever so slightly.
Almost as if he couldn’t believe it, either.
A little over a week ago, Conners snatched the last spot in the Valero Texas Open by the skin of his teeth. Then he won the tournament with 10 birdies in the final round, claiming the last opening at the Masters.
So here he is at Augusta National.
Ready to compete for a green jacket.
“A special week, a crazy week,” Conners said. “Things are good.”
Certainly, the 27-year-old Canadian wasn’t thinking about the Masters on his way to San Antonio, where his first – and, really, only priority – was the chance to earn a much-needed paycheque. Because he was outside the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings, he had to earn his way into the Texas Open during Monday qualifying.
Up to 100 players go at it for 18 holes during Monday qualifying, with the top four finishers getting into the actual tournament. Conners went to the final hole needing a 20-foot birdie putt just to get into a six-man playoff for the last of those spots. He made the putt, and then poured in another birdie on the first of the extra holes to vanquish the other five contenders.
Dramatic stuff indeed.
Though, in all honesty, no one was paying much attention. Since 1980, only four Monday qualifiers on the PGA Tour had gone on to win the tournament.
Make it five.
Conners’ performance was impressive. His wife, Malory, even became a bit of a celebrity for her reactions while lugging a cup of white wine.
“She’s been my biggest fan for years and my biggest supporter,” Conners said. “I’m really lucky to have her by my side. It’s pretty cool to see her in the spotlight a little bit. Her reactions were awesome. You can see how much she cares about what I’m doing, and it means a lot to me. It was pretty cool. She got a lot of messages and gained a lot of followers on social media, so she was pretty pumped about that.”
“I loved the cameras being on her and you could tell what a big moment it was for the two of them,” the world’s top-ranked player said. “It was very special to see those stories out there because winning is difficult and it’s nice to see it when it does change someone’s life.”
But Conners takes issue with those who make him out to be some sort of Rocky, the hopeless underdog who makes for a good story early in the week but is quickly shoved aside as soon as the Rory McIlroys and the Tiger Woodses take to the course.
He tied for third at the Sony Open in Honolulu, shooting back-to-back 64s on the weekend, and finished second last fall at the Sanderson Farms Championship, four strokes behind winner Cameron Champ.
Conners is not even a Masters rookie. He qualified for the event as an amateur in 2015, though he was not ready for such a stiff test. He opened with an 80 and missed the cut.
Conners feels much better equipped this time around.
“Everyone was calling me the Monday qualifier, but I don’t feel like a Monday qualifier,” he said. “I’ve played well in a bunch of tour events this year.”
A little more time to prepare would’ve been nice, but that’s a minor complaint. Valero flew him to Augusta on a corporate jet, his clothing supplier sent along some new duds and his manager took care of housing and other arrangements that had to be made on short notice. Conners did have to do a bit of shopping after arriving in Augusta, “so I could get a couple T-shirts and a pair of pants to go to dinner in.”
He has got good memories from his last Masters appearance.
After that rough start, he bounced back to shoot a 3-under 69 in the second round.
“I’ve been playing rounds over in my head,” Conners said. “Although the course has changed slightly, a lot of the shots are going to be pretty similar to what I faced in 2015. … I think the course suits my game really well, so I’m really, really excited to get going.”
He already is playing with house money.
Might as well let it ride.
“I was excited to watch the coverage on TV back at home for an off week,” Conners said. “But, you know, I’m even more excited to be here playing.”
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 08: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and caddie Harry Diamond look on during a practice round prior to The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 08, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Rory McIlroy feels as prepared as ever for the Masters.
He is spending more time with his nose in a book than with his hands on a putter. “The Greatest Salesman in the World” by Og Mandino is among the best books he has read in the last year. He has been working with Brad Faxon on his putting, but their best sessions take place over a cup of coffee.
His morning routine goes beyond stretching. There is juggling – yes, juggling – meditation and mind training.
“I was watching the Women’s Amateur over the weekend and I saw a few women on the range juggling, so it’s catching on,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “How many balls can I juggle? Just three. I’m a rookie.”
It’s all geared toward becoming a complete person.
And whether it makes him a complete player by capturing the only major he has yet to win, well, that would be a bonus.
McIlroy is in the early stages of this process, and it’s hard to argue with the results, even if results don’t drive him like they once did. He has yet to finish out of the top 10 in his seven tournaments this year, which includes a victory at The Players Championship.
But that green jacket is a powerful pull on the mind, and McIlroy has reason to believe he can fit comfortably into one.
He famously lost a four-shot lead with an 80 in the final round in 2011 but, even at age 21, showed enough resolve and enormous talent to win the U.S. Open in the very next major. He played in the final group on Saturday in 2016 with Jordan Spieth until falling back with a 77. He played in the final group Sunday last year with Patrick Reed, three shots behind, and fell out of the mix before reaching the back nine.
“I know I’ve played well enough and I’ve shot enough good scores around here over the years that if I can put my best effort forward, I’m going to have a good chance to do well here,” McIlroy said. “But it’s definitely different. My mind set is a little different in terms of … I’m still practicing. I’m still getting better. I’m not getting ahead of myself, not thinking about the tee shot on Thursday or thinking about what is to come this week.
“I would dearly love to win this tournament one day,” he said. “If it doesn’t happen this week, that’s totally fine, I’ll come back next year and have another crack at it. But I’m happy with where everything is – body, mind, game.”
No one was particularly happy with Mother Nature on Tuesday, as more storms arrived that shut the course down for about three hours in the morning and pounded an already soft Augusta National with rain before giving way to patches of sunshine in the afternoon.
Wednesday is a short day of practice because of the Par 3 Tournament.
The curtain raises Thursday with a host of players capable of getting in McIlroy’s way of joining golf’s most elite club. Only five other players have captured the career Grand Slam – Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
This is McIlroy’s fifth crack at the Masters with a Grand Slam at stake. In the modern era of the Grand Slam that dates to 1960, no one went more than three years between the third and final leg.
Phil Mickelson is in a similar situation, if not worse. He lacks only the U.S. Open – he has a record six silver medals – and is 0 for 4 since the Grand Slam has come into view. He also believes McIlroy’s game is at a high level.
“That’s always a challenge when you put so much emphasis on playing a particular event, but it’s also the chance to bring out your best,” Mickelson said. “And he’s had such a phenomenal start to the year, he’s been playing such great golf consistently week in and week out, I think contending will be a given. He’ll be in contention. You just need those little breaks … that push you over the winner’s circle and that’s probably all that he’s waiting for this week.
“You can’t force it. It just has to happen.”
The books McIlroy has been reading are recommendations from successful businesspeople. Along with Mandino’s book, he liked Ryan Holiday’s “The Obstacle is the Way” and “Ego is the Enemy,” and he’s just now starting on the biography of Steve Jobs.
In an interview at the Match Play, he was asked if he was spending more time on his golf or on his attitude.
“Life,” he said. “I hit balls once last week. That was it. So much of this game is mental. It’s taken me a while to get to this point, but the proof is there of what I’ve been doing, the way I’ve been playing, how I’ve been approaching the game.”
So what happens if he’s right in the mix Sunday afternoon, facing the most dynamic back nine in golf, the coveted green jacket there for the taking? What if that Sunday afternoon includes Woods, who eliminated McIlroy at the Match Play in a finish so irritating that McIlroy left without speaking to the media?
“I haven’t thought about it,’ McIlroy said. ”I guess there’s a lot of bridges to cross until we get to that point.“
Moncton Golf and Country Club Youngster Qualifies for Drive, Chip & Putt
Written by Dwayne Tingley
Moncton Golf and Country Club general manager Marc Robichaud was immediately impressed with Carter Lavigne.
Lavigne was just five years-old, but his golf knowledge and etiquette belied his youth and his skills also caught the eye of Robichaud, who is also the club’s director of golf.
“For such a young player, he handled himself well and he certainly knew his way around the course,” Robichaud said.
Four years later, Lavigne is still marking significant achievements and turning heads in the game he loves.
The Grade 4 student has qualified to compete in the Drive, Chip and Putt championships on April 7 at the venerable Augusta National Golf Club, the Sunday before the Masters Tournament.
More than 17,000 youngsters tried to earn their way to Augusta from 226 qualifying competitions, but only 80 players advanced to the finals. Lavigne is just one of four Canadians who will be competing and attending a banquet with the Masters participants. The event will be televised by The Golf Channel.
“I am really excited and proud that I was able to get this far,” Carter said. “I remember my first golf experience was when I was two and I played the mini-putt course at Crystal Palace. I was scared and I couldn’t play the hole with pirates on it.
“I knew back then that I really liked golf and I wanted to play all the time. I don’t do mini-putts, but I still want to play all the time.”
He also plays year-round, under the watchful eye of Robichaud. He has one formal training session on the Trackman simulators each week and usually pops into the Moncton Golf and Country Club a couple of other times for other practice sessions.
Carter, who was born in Bathurst, also plays competitive hockey and baseball, but golf remains his passion.
“I like it when I get to beat my dad (Darsey),” he said with a laugh.
“I know that I am young, but I want to be a golf pro someday. That’s my dream.”
Robichaud said Carter should enjoy the experience and not put too much pressure on himself.
“He’s still a kid and we should never forget that,” Robichaud said. “We want him to have fun – no matter how it goes. I’m sure he will do very well, but it has to be fun. That’s the main thing, especially at this age.”
Darsey said Carter has always kept the game in perspective.
“He’s always been a very good player and he’s always had a good time on the golf course,” Darsey said. “That’s where he always wants to be. He could play golf every day if it was possible,”
There were no qualifying events in the Maritimes so Carter’s first foray in the Drive, Putt and Chip competition came last June, when he topped of field of 18 players in Freeport. Me.
From there, he placed second at a competition near Boston before he won the Northeast event at Winged Foot in New York in order to qualify for Augusta.
Drive, Chip and Putt competitions week golfers take nine shots – three drives, three chips from 15 yards and three putts of different lengths. All nine shots count toward a final score.
“It’s going to be exciting and I’m never going to forget the experience,” the nine-year-old said. “I want to be a better player. Right now, I want to keep my mind on getting better. I think this experience will make me a better player.”
Four Canadians punch tickets to Drive, Chip & Putt finals at Winged Foot qualifier
MAMARONECK, NY - SEPTEMBER 23: Girls 12-13 Vanessa Borovilos celebrates winning 1st place overall at Winged Foot Golf Club on September 23, 2018 in Mamaroneck, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for the DC&P Championship)
MAMARONECK, N.Y. – A quartet of Canadian junior golfers became one step closer winning it all at the esteemed Winged Foot Golf Club, one of 10 regional qualifiers for the 2019 Drive Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National.
“I heard that going to the Masters is a religious experience and this is pretty close,” said Darsey Lavigne, whose son Carter, from Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, advanced by winning the Boys 7-9 age group.
Earlier in September, Canadian Anna Jiaxin Huang of Vancouver advanced to the final in the Chambers Bay qualifier at Chambers Bay, Wash.
There are two more regional qualifiers to be conducted to fill the final field of 60 juniors.
All five juniors will look to be crowned champion at the Drive, Chip & Putt final on April 7, 2019.