By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The Official World Golf Ranking is top-heavy with European players, but Rory Sabbatini thinks the South Africans will make some noise this week at Augusta National.
In fact, they already have, with Retief Goosen starting his round with an eagle on the par-4 first hole. Goosen is now 4 under through five holes and tied for the early lead with England’s Ross Fisher.
There are seven South Africans in the field this week -- Goosen, Sabbatini, Tim Clark, Ernie Els, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. Immelman, the 2008 Masters champ, is the last South African to win at Augusta National.
Fifty years ago, Gary Player won the first of his three Green Jackets. He and Immelman remain the country's only two Masters winners, although Els, Clark and Goosen each have produced second-place finishes since 2004.
Asked about his country's chances, Sabbatini replied: "Obviously I think it's strong as always. You got Ernie, Retief, Louis, Charl, obviously Tim's having trouble with his wrist, so he's a little unsure, but I think it's looking really good this year."
Oosthuizen ran away with the British Open last year at St. Andrews. Schwartzel won on the European Tour earlier this year and Sabbatini won The Honda Classic a month ago.
Those three seem to be the most in-form of the South Africans, but don’t forget about Els. In 17 previous Masters starts, Els has six top-10 finishes and has twice finished second. The last time was 2004; since then, however, he has missed three cuts and not been in contention the other two times. This year, he has struggled with his putting.
"I would say you have to favor especially the longer hitters, so I think that me, Ernie, and Charl are the three longer South Africans," Sabbatini said. "I definitely think Charl with his mental aspect of the game is phenomenal and I see Louis just has a good all-around game.
"And we'll all know Ernie's record here, so it would be nice to see him come through and get himself a Green Jacket."
Oosthuizen's win last year at St. Andrews gave a nice jolt to South African golf. Sabbatini would love to see the major momentum continue for his country.
"I definitely think it was fantastic for South African golf," he said. "... There's waves that have come through and Charl and Louis seem to be that next wave."
FOLLOW THE SOUTH AFRICANS
|TIM CLARK||Click for Masters scorecard|
|ERNIE ELS||Click for Masters scorecard|
|RETIEF GOOSEN||Click for Masters scorecard|
|TREVOR IMMELMAN||Click for Masters scorecard|
|LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN||Click for Masters scorecard|
|RORY SABBATINI||Click for Masters scorecard|
|CHARL SCHWARTZEL||Click for Masters scorecard|
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM producer
The allure of the belly putter was on full display at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, as Martin Laird and Spencer Levin played in the final group all weekend with the longer flatsticks.
Are the unconventional putters a full-fledged trend on TOUR? Maybe not yet, but it’s worth noting that two of the top 30 in the world ranking now play with them – No. 28 Adam Scott (the full split-grip long putter) and Laird, who cracked the top 30 at No. 21 after winning at Bay Hill with a belly putter.
For Levin, the new putter has a complete game-changer. He switched after he secured his 2011 card late last year, and now he has three top-10s in his last six starts.
“When you're playing, you don't really think about it but looking back, I think I've obviously made more putts with it than I was before,” said Levin, who finished T2 in putts per round at Bay Hill.
“Since I got that belly putter, I've definitely noticed I've been making some more mid-range putts. Before with a normal putter, I was always good -- I was always a good short putter but I wasn't a very good 12- to 20-foot putter. (Now) I feel like I'm making a couple more a round, which is I think probably why I'm scoring better for sure.”
Reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen is getting into the act too; check out the Ping belly putter he bought at Augusta National here .
● Speaking of the Masters, world No. 2 Lee Westwood talked Wednesday at the Shell Houston Open about possible changes in his bag for the season’s first major.
“I generally keep the same stuff in, decide last minute whether it's 2-iron or 5 (wood). Augusta is generally 5 because you need to fly the ball in high,” Westwood said. “I've been doing a little bit of work with different bounces on sand irons. It's nice to take a bit of the bounce off the lob wedge at Augusta with the lies you get there and the firmness of the sand in the traps. It's nice to get under the ball a little bit.”
● Tiger Woods went back to his standard Nike VR blades at the Arnold Palmer, taking out the newer-version Nike VR Pro blades he put in the bag at the Chevron World Challenge last year. The VR blades will go to the Masters, too.
As for his continuing putter saga, Woods made an adjustment to the heel-shafted Nike Method that lately has replaced the Scotty Cameron that had been his constant through the years.
“We softened the grooves up to make sure it's not as quick, as I said, and I wanted something more suited for faster greens,” Woods said. “So we softened up the grooves, and it's coming off very similar to my Cameron and releasing obviously how I like it.”
Something more suited for faster greens … hmm. Sounds like a Masters putter.
● Laird won last week with a TaylorMade white driver, but not the more-ballyhooed R11. He used the Burner SuperFast 2.0 while ranking fifth in distance for the week.
“I put that new driver in at Doral three weeks ago, and I’m not someone that changes equipment much,” Laird
said. “I had had my driver before for three years and Taylor Made had been pushing me to try this new one, and I’m glad they did because this thing is unbelievable.”
● K.J. Choi turned heads with the three hybrids he used to finish tied for sixth at Bay Hill (read more here ), but another money club was the Odyssey putter he returned to. Choi’s trademark with putters is the SuperStroke extra-wide grip, said to keep the wrists from breaking down. He used one to win the AT&T National in 2007 and has had it ever since.
● Retief Goosen is going back to the Yes! model putter he used to win two U.S. Opens, our Melanie Hauser writes here .
● PLAYERS champion Tim Clark and others have played with Srixon’s yellow ball, which the company says offers improved visibility , not to mention a distinctive look.
On Twitter, a fan asked Titleist if they would make an orange ProV1 to match Rickie Fowler’s standard Sunday Oklahoma State-inspired outfits. The response: “Highly unlikely!”
● Jack Wulkotte, inducted over the weekend into the Palm Beach County (Fla.) Sports Hall of Fame, owns a pretty significant place in golf history. He was Jack Nicklaus’ personal clubmaker while with MacGregor. That ZT Response putter that Nicklaus won with at the 1986 Masters (and that you’ll hear plenty about over the next week)? Wulkotte put the grip on it. Read his story .
DORAL, Fla. – Tim Clark and Ben Crane withdrew from the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship on Thursday prior to the start of competition.
Clark has been battling tendinitis in his right elbow and has not played since he tied for second at the Sony Open in Hawaii seven weeks ago. Crane pulled a muscle in his ribcage during his third round loss at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship two weeks ago.
Neither Clark, who is the reigning PLAYERS champion, nor Crane will be replaced in the field, which now consists of 67 players. The charities of their choice will receive last-place money.
In addition, Mike Weir has withdrawn after nine holes at the Puerto Rico Open presented by seepuertorico.com after injuring his wrist during the round. He shot 41 on the front side.
Boo Weekley also made an early exit after 12 holes in Puerto Rico, citing a hand injury. Weekley started on the front and didn’t made a par – posting six bogeys and three birdies. He made two pars and a double bogey on the back before withdrawing.
MARANA, Ariz. – Tim Clark has withdrawn from the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship due to an injury.
The South African, who won THE PLAYERS Championship last year, has been replaced by J.B. Holmes.
Holmes will now play Camilo Villegas in Match 4 at 9:55 a.m. ET on Wednesday. The match is in the Sam Snead bracket.
Holmes has only played in one Accenture Match Play Championship, nearly pulling off an upset of Tiger Woods in 2008 before losing 1 down.
Clark has not played since he tied for second at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He developed severe blisters on his foot there, then was sidelined by an elbow injury and withdrew from the Bob Hope Classic, AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and Northern Trust Open.
The next alternate is Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher, followed by Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand and Lucas Glover of the United States. – Helen Ross
It hasn’t been the healthiest of starts for reigning PLAYERS champion Tim Clark this season.
Clark had to withdraw from the Bob Hope Classic due to blisters on his left foot that developed during the 36-hole finish at the Sony Open in Hawaii in which he shot 66-64 in the final two rounds to finish tied for second.
Clark was scheduled to play in last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am but had to withdraw after suffering an elbow injury.
That same injury may have knocked him out of this week’s Northern Trust Open, although no official reason has been given.
Clark is ranked 22nd in the Official World Golf Ranking and is hoping to play in next week’s World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. Perhaps taking this week off will allow him to heal in time for the first round at Dove Mountain a week from Wednesday.
Clark was replaced in the field by Brandt Jobe.
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Tim Clark withdrew prior to his round due to an elbow injury. The reigning PLAYERS champion was replaced in the field by Cameron Percy.
Jeff Quinney is now the first alternate.
HONOLULU – Tim Clark started the final round five shots off the lead but a sizzling 6-under 64 put him within arm’s reach of the lead when he rolled in his final putt on the 72nd hole.
At 14 under for the tournament, Clark walked to the scorer’s trailer one shot off the lead held by Mark Wilson, who still has four holes remaining in his round. Considering one of those holes is the par-5 18th, Clark knows he needs help in order to force a playoff or win.
“Going into today, I was quite well back,” Clark said, “but I kind of figured if you could get it going around here, you might have a chance.”
Clark shot a 4-under 66 in Sunday morning’s third round before following with a 64. Had he been able to convert a 15-foot, 8-inch putt for eagle on the ninth hole (his 18th of the round after teeing off the 10th tee), he would have jumped into a tie for the lead at that point.
Clark turned it on his final nine holes, shooting 4-under 31 coming in. He birdied three of his last four holes … but he really needed that eagle putt to drop.
“The back nine I got it going with some iron shots,” said the reigning PLAYERS champion. “A few putts would’ve helped. But I’m very pleased.”
Clark said it never really crossed his mind that he was climbing rapidly up the leaderboard.
“It wasn’t like I was going crazy low, although 64 is nice,” he said. “I just felt steady. Never felt like I was going super low.” – Mike McAllister
BLISTERS FOR CLARK: The Golf Channel reported that Clark is suffering from blisters after his round, likely a result of walking 36 holes on Sunday. Although Clark was practicing for a possible playoff, the Golf Channel also reported that the blisters are severe enough that Clark may pull out of next week’s Bob Hope Classic.
HONOLULU – With tee times crunched in order to finish all 36 holes Sunday, players had to go off on both the first and 10th tees in each of Sunday’s two rounds.
That left open the remote possibility of the winner finishing on the ninth hole, just like Derek Lamely did last year when he won at Puerto Rico.
But it appears unlikely to happen Sunday.
Steve Stricker teed off from the 10th tee in the final round and he just eagled the par-5 18th. He’s now at 10 under for the tournament, four shots off the pace currently set by Mark Wilson. He’s the highest player in the leaderboard who started his final round on the 10th hole.
Stricker is tied for fourth, but he’s running out of holes. He’d need to stay hot – he’s 5 under on his last eight holes – then post a number and wait to see if the leaders collapse.
One of Stricker’s playing partners, Tim Clark, is in the same position. He’s 10 under with nine holes remaining and needs to make a charge.
Chris Riley, also teeing off on the 10th hole, is at 9 under for the tournament and even par through the first 11 holes of his final round.