By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
DUBLIN, Ohio -- You needed a boat, not a golf cart, to play Muirfield Village Golf Club last Thursday after nearly an inch of rain pummeled the prized property.
"We were actually saying it was Lake Muirfield," said Jack Nicklaus, the famed founder and architect of this signature layout.
Thursday's deluge was on top of the more than 12 inches that had fallen in the greater Columbus area since the beginning of April. In comparison, that's twice the total for the same two months last year.
With sunshine and 90-degree temperatures in the five days since the latest onslaught, though, Muirfield Village has recovered well. And the weather forecast appears to be cooperating for this week's Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance.
"I went back out on Friday, and I was amazed," Nicklaus said. "I played the golf course, I thought the golf course was really pretty good Friday, then it just started getting better each week or each day. The golf course is terrific."
Defending champion Justin Rose played nine holes on Tuesday, then headed into the air-conditioning for his pre-tournament interview session. He agreed with Nicklaus' assessment.
"(I) heard how much rain they've had, and no doubt the rough in some areas is a little squidgy, but the golf course is every bit as you expect it to be this time of year," Rose said. "Greens are looking fantastic, fairways are relatively firm considering it's rained something like 28 out of 31 days or something crazy.
"Course is in perfect shape."
Here is the live interview schedule for players speaking in the media center this week, which will be streamed live on PGATOUR.COM:
Tuesday, May 31
11 a.m. – Jack Nicklaus
2 p.m. – Justin Rose
3 p.m. -- Jose Maria Olazabal
4 p.m. -- Ben Curtis
Wednesday, June 1
10 a.m. -- Luke Donald
11:45 a.m. – Keegan Bradley
Noon -- Charl Schwartzel
3:30 p.m. -- Fred Couples
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Jack Nicklaus and Charl Schwartzel started by talking about hunting.
Soon, though, that casual conversation over lunch at Ernie Els's pro-am last year took an abrupt turn. And the next thing Schwartzel knew, Nicklaus was taking him through Augusta National -- hole by hole by hole.
To get advice from the six-time Masters champion, well, that was priceless. And a bit intimidating at the same time.
"I tried to (take notes)," Schwartzel said. "I was in such awe. Luckily Mr. Johan Rupert (a South African business tycoon) was sitting there and he also remembered what he was saying.
"You can't get better advice than that."
Schwartzel appears to have taken Nicklaus' words to heart, too. The young South African went on to tie for 30th in his Masters debut last year and Friday he found himself on the leaderboard at 4 under after polishing off a second-round 71.
Schwartzel teed off in the first group of the day with Charley Hoffman and Stuart Appleby. The dew was still on the fairways and he said the course played fairly long, as a result.
"This morning was pretty tough I thought," Schwartzel said. "I didn't particularly hit the ball as good as I did yesterday but I thought I putted a little bit better. All in all, I would take 71 and run."
Schwartzel bogeyed the fourth hole, which he thought was the easiest of the par 3s on Friday, when he short-sided himself in the bunker on the right. He got the stroke back at the par-5 eighth, though, when he hit 5-wood to the front edge of the green and chipped to a foot.
Another birdie followed at the 10th hole where a 4-iron produced a 10-foot putt. But Schwartzel bogeyed No. 12 when his tee shot landed in the back bunker and he had to play out to the left side of the green and take his medicine at the par 3.
But as difficult as the 12th can play, No. 13 offers opportunity. Schwartzel hit a 3-wood around the corner on the par 5 and a 4-iron to 20 feet for the two-putt birdie that capped his scoring for the day.
"A couple loose tee shots, but it was that sort of round where I could have shot 74 today, but pulled a 71 out of it," Schwartzel said. "Those ones almost sometimes feel better. Kept myself in it."
Ironically, one of the things that stood out from his conversation with Nicklaus was how he plays the 12th hole. The World Golf Hall of Famer told Schwartzel he never went outside the bunkers -- of course, he didn't want to go in them.
"Always aim it at the bunkers and if it's long, you're never going into the bush so, that was his line," Schwartzel recalled. "That was a particular hole that always sticks with me that that is always my line."
In addition to Nicklaus' advice, Schwartzel has also had the counsel of his countryman Ernie Els. They played Augusta National together several times before the Masters, and the two shared a practice round earlier this week.
Schwartzel learned something in that practice round that helped him finish with a par at the 18th on Friday, too.
"He chipped from the left side of the green, which looked to be a very good little chip, a chip and run," said Schwartzel, who was facing a putt from a similar position with about 10 feet of break. "And he went at the hole, and it went down and it actually went off the green.
"I think if I don't play with him, I probably would have putted it at the hole and tried to let it just trickle down. I just decided that the risk is too high, after witnessing what Ernie did in the practice round, I just went to the left and figured the longest I'm going to have is six feet if I hit a decent putt up there.
"Wasn't particularly wanting to finish with another three putt like I did yesterday. Happy with that two putt."
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Honorary starters Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who’ve combined to win 10 Green Jackets, opened the 75th Masters by hitting ceremonial tee shots early Thursday morning at Augusta National.
It’s the second consecutive year the two legends have opened the Masters together.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – The marquee threesome at the Par 3 Contest has just teed off and between them, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player have 13 Masters titles.
Of the Big Three, Nicklaus has the most recent win in the season’s first major -- and that came 25 years ago when he was 46 years old. In fact, he’s playing the Par 3 Contest with a replica of the oversize MacGregor Response ZT putter he used in 1986.
* Kevin Streelman, who is playing in his first Masters, gave his caddie, Michael Christensen, the afternoon off. He will have his father on the bag at the Par 3 Contest instead.
* And so far, there’s only been on ace at the Par 3 and that came on the 130-yard first hole by Craig Stadler. It was the 73rd hole-in-one in the competition, which began in 1960.
* And don’t look now – but Luke Donald, who is ranked No. 4 in the world, is leading the Par 3 after shooting 5 under.
The Englishman is one of the pre-tournament favorites. So maybe Donald can buck the trend that no Par 3 winner has gone on to win the Masters in the same year.
At least the winner walks away with a crystal bowl.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Wednesday’s highlight at Augusta National is the annual Par 3 Contest held on the adjacent course across the road from the Butler Cabin.
Players often have their children – or, in the case of the legendary Jack Nicklaus, their grandchildren – caddy for them in the competition, which will be televised on ESPN at 3 p.m.
Nicklaus’ grandson, Nick O’Leary, will be on the bag, and the six-time Masters champ admitted the two will look like Mutt and Jeff. O’Leary, who will play tight end at Florida State next year, is 6-foot-4 and a solid 235 pounds.
Lee Westwood’s 10-year-old son Sam will be caddying for his dad although the world No. 2 expects his daughter, Poppy, who is 6 to be tagging along as well.
“It will be nice to get them out there,” Westwood said. “I don’t think they realize what I do until they see this.”
Of course, as much fun as players have during the Par 3 Contest – and as nice as the crystal prizes are, it’s not a tournament the pros exactly want to win. No one has ever won the Par 3 Contest and gone on to win the Masters.
Louis Oosthuizen was the most recent player jinxed after winning in 2010. That doesn’t mean he’s not going to play today – the reigning British Open champ just has his priorities set.
“My little girl is going to walk with (me),” Oosthuizen said. “So I’ll probably try and get her to kick the ball or something so that my score doesn’t count.” – Helen Ross
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. -- A year ago this week, Jhonattan Vegas was playing on the Nationwide Tour.
On Monday, though, the 26-year-old from Venezuela, who burst on the scene with a win at the Bob Hope Classic in January, was playing in the same group with Jack Nicklaus in the prestigious Seminole Pro-Member. And on the heels of his World Golf Championships debut at the Cadillac Championship this week, no less.
"It was a great day," Vegas said. "Every time you have a chance to spend time with somebody like that, you know, he's a legend in this game. I mean, I'm a rookie on the PGA TOUR. So I tried to learn a lot from him. I talked to him, asking a bunch of questions, questions about the PGA TOUR and the majors and all this stuff. It was fun, just sharing that moment with a guy that has done so much for this game.
"It was great. When I go back and think about one of the great moments for me in golf, that's going to be one of those. It was pretty special”
Among the subjects they discussed? Not surprisingly, Augusta National. Vegas will be making his Masters debut in April -- which is 25 years after a 46-year-old Nicklaus won his record sixth Green Jacket.
"I did. I did," Vegas said when asked if he angled for some tips. "He told me a few questions and one of the things that he said was just keep it around the middle of the green, you're going to have a good chance making birdies from there. It was good. It was nice just to hear some of that advice and just to share a nice round with him, and great guy, man."
Vegas figures to have plenty of company as he plays TPC Blue Monster for the first time in competition this week. Not only is he paired with Rickie Fowler and Ryo Ishikawa during the first two rounds. but Miami is home to an extremely large Latin American population.
The amiable Vegas has seen the demands on his time increase this week, too. He conducted an interview session in English and Spanish on Tuesday afternoon, for example. He's had breakfasts and lunches with Venezuelan groups "sharing some of these great moments with them."
Vegas hopes the Latin American fans will throw their support his way at Doral, not unlike they have done for Colombian Camilo Villegas. Villegas is a favorite in South Florida after winning The Honda Classic last year and nearly winning the final Ford Championship at Doral as a rookie.
"I know that back in Venezuela, me having some success here on the PGA TOUR has been great news and I really hope that transcends into a lot of people here," Vegas said. "I know there's a huge community here in Miami, so I really hope for them to come and support.
"I know they have done it for Camilo here, so I really hope that we get ten times more than Camilo gets; so that's good." – Helen Ross