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
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods may have equaled the longest stretch he has gone without winning a major, but Jack Nicklaus said Wednesday he still believes Woods will surpass his record of 18 major championships.
"I still think he’ll break my record,” Nicklaus said before playing in the Honda Classic pro-am with musician Kenny G and NFL players Jason Taylor and Tim Tebow. “I’m surprised that he has not bounced back by now. I think he’s got a great work ethic. He’s so determined to what he wants to do. I’m very surprised that he has not popped back.”
When Woods plays in next month’s Masters, he will have gone 34 months since he won his last major, the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. That matches his longest previous winless stretch from the 2002 U.S. Open to the 2005 Masters.
Woods, 35, remains four behind Nicklaus’ total, failing to win last year at favorite venues such as Pebble Beach and St. Andrews as he went through the fallout of his extra-marital affairs. Nicklaus said Woods’ performances in the majors this year will give everyone a better indication of whether he will reach or pass 18.
“You probably can ask me that same question at the end of this year and we’ll see what the answer is,” Nicklaus said. “It will probably define a lot of what will be the answer.”
It has been 15 1/2 months since Woods won any tournament, which also is the longest spell he’s gone since turning professional in 1996. Nicklaus went through a similar stretch in 1979 when he failed to win a PGA TOUR event for the first time since he turned professional in 1961.
Nicklaus responded in 1980 by winning the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, his last two majors before he shocked the world by winning the 1986 Masters at 46.
Nicklaus said he only touched a club three times during the last four months of 1979, as he wanted to basically start over when the 1980 season started. During that time, he took lessons from chipping guru Phil Rodgers to correct his biggest weakness.
Even so, Nicklaus said he wasn’t feeling confident about his game when he showed up at Baltusrol for the 1980 U.S. Open. But after a first-round 63, Nicklaus was back in contention at a major.
“You just keep working at it and you keep doing things, and all of a sudden, something happens that kicks in, and I think that’s what will happen with Tiger,” Nicklaus said. “Sometimes the little things have to happen to you, and I think that’s where you're talking about Tiger and his problems, I think that will happen to Tiger.
“I think when you have as much talent as he has, that will happen. He's not going to go anywhere. I mean, how does he win 14 majors? He doesn't get there by playing poorly. He has won a lot of tournaments hitting it all over the world, but he still figured out a way to get the ball in the hole to win that golf tournament. He’ll do it again.” --Craig Dolch, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
The 54-hole leader/co-leader has won 48 times, most recently Tiger Woods in 2008.
The third-round leader/co-leader has gone on to win 11 of 24 stroke-play events on the PGA TOUR this season, most recently Jason Day at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.
Third-round leads of the previous four U.S. Opens hosted at Pebble Beach Golf Links:
|2000||Tiger Woods||8-under 205||10 over Ernie Els|
|1992||Gil Morgan||4-under 212||1 over three players|
|1982||Bill Rogers, Tom Watson||4-under 212||2 over four players|
|1972||Jack Nicklaus||Even par 216||1 over three players|
Did you know that the previous four U.S. Open winners at Pebble Beach also won an AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am?
Jack Nicklaus, who won the 1972 Open here, won the the AT&T in 1967, 1972 and 1973. Tom Watson, the 1982 winner, won the AT&T in 1977 and 1978. Tom Kite, the '92 champ, won the AT&T in 1983, while Tiger Woods ('00) won the AT&T earlier in 2000.
Of the current top 10 only Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson have won an AT&T (1998, 2005 and 2007). - - Melanie Hauser
Obviously, it's early yet. But Edoardo Molinari is bidding to become the 12th man to win the U.S. Amateur and go on to capture the U.S. Open later in his career.
The 29-year-old Italian won the U.S. Am at Merion in 2005. He just made a double bogey at the difficult par-5 14th but he's still just two strokes off the lead at even par.
The last player to complete the U.S. Am-U.S. Open double was Tiger Woods. He won the 1994, '95 and '96 U.S. Ams and the 2000, '02 and '08 U.S. Opens. That 2000 victory also came at Pebble Beach.
The other players who have won both are Francis Ouimet, Jermone D. Travers, Charles Evans Jr., Bobby Jones, John Goodman, Lawson Little, Arnold Palmer, Gene Littler, Jack Nicklaus and Jerry Pate. -- Helen Ross