Masters notebook: Tiger, Phil practice together
April 03, 2018
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- April 03, 2018
- Long-time rivals Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson shared nine holes of practice Tuesday. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the longtime rivals who have combined to win seven Masters, aren't likely to share any secrets with each other. But they did play the back nine together Tuesday at Augusta National.
"Never thought I'd see the day," joked Rory McIlroy after running into Woods on the range.
Believe it. Woods and Mickelson were in the same practice foursome with another Masters champ, Fred Couples, along with Thomas Pieters, the big-hitting Belgian who finished T-4 in his Masters debut last year.
It was, according to the Golf Channel, the first time since the 1998 Nissan Open (now Genesis Open) that Woods and Mickelson had practiced together in a non-team event. Mickelson said he couldn't remember another time but "I don't think it was 20 years ago."
How did it come about? Woods said Mickelson approached Joe LaCava, Tiger's caddie, and asked if they were free for a game. Woods was free Monday, but Mickelson was taking the day off. Woods and Mickelson spoke later and worked out a plan for Tuesday.
Mickelson has recently started prepping for majors by curtailing his practice routine to nine holes a day, taking the cue from the approach Tiger has used for many years. "It's taken me a while to catch on to what Tiger's been doing," Mickelson said.
The two were partners against Couples and Pieters -- and ending up winning handily.
"It was a long golf course for Fred, but he had a young stud as his partner," Woods said. "It was good, though, because it was an appearance fee, so we enjoyed it."
Tiger eagled both par 5s on the back and Mickelson ran off a string of five consecutive birdies starting at the 13th hole
"We had a five-hole stretch, we were 7-under," Mickelson said. "That was some fun play. I thought we did a good job partnering up."
"They enjoyed beating us badly," Couples said. "I feel bad for Thomas. I couldn’t help Jack Nicklaus in his prime today.”
Woods acknowledged that his friendship with Mickelson "has gotten stronger over the years" as they've moved into toward the latter stages of their careers.
"We've had a great 20-year battle," Woods said. "Hopefully we'll have a few more, but we understand where we are in the game now versus where we were in our early 20s, battling for who is going to be No. 1. That was then and certainly this is now."
Mickelson said the common goal of trying to end European dominance at the Ryder Cup was the "kind of impetus where we really started to work well together. And therer's nothing that brings you closer than working together on a common goal like that." It was a goal ultimately achieved at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.
As for the Woods-Mickelson partnership, Couples said: "They’re different people on the golf course. If Tiger would’ve kept winning majors, maybe they wouldn’t have played today. They’re good buddies. I think there’s fun times for them ahead. Tiger is going to be Presidents Cup captain and Phil will want to be on that team. They have to be together for us to win. This tournament, obviously is all individual. They had a good time today.”
Given their track records at Augusta National and that each are playing well, Couples wouldn't be surprised to see them paired Sunday. "They’re playing extremely well and they love the course," he added.
And as for this budding bromance?
"I don't know if I would phrase it the way you did," Mickelson said when asked about it Tuesday. "But I don't want to hold you back."
Defending champ Sergio Garcia tweeted out the menu for the annual champions dinner that he will host Tuesday.
So excited and honored to host my first Champions Dinner @TheMasters! I hope everyone will enjoy the food. Can’t wait to sit around all those great champions and listen to their stories! pic.twitter.com/Qcs3Tmj8Oj— Sergio Garcia (@TheSergioGarcia) April 3, 2018
Two straight majors?
Justin Thomas won the most recent major, the PGA Championship, last August. Not only did they allow him to avoid the dreaded best-player-without-a-major topic, but he said it also gives him plenty of confidence going into this week.
"I'm able to look back at the PGA Championship and just remember the things that I went through and the feelings I felt, the emotions that I had and just try to kind of learn from that and use it to my advantage," Thomas explained.
Of course, it also helps that he won the FedExCup last year ... and that he's won twice on the PGA TOUR this year ... and that he's atop the current FedExCup standings. Oh, and if he wins this week, he could assume the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.
It was the same opportunity he had two weeks ago at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play but fell short after losing his semifinal match to eventual champ Bubba Watson.
"I was a little upset with myself, that I got kind of wrapped up in ... because I was playing my match to become No. 1 in the world instead of playing my match to have a chance to win a tournament," Thomas said. "And that's very immature of me. That's very not mentally strong. It's just unlike me. So that was frustrating.
"But it is a huge deal (to become No. 1) and when and if it's meant to be, and however long, that it will happen. So I just need to go out and try to play well this week."
Thomas has finished T-39 and T-22 in his two Masters starts and has yet to shoot a round in the 60s.
Feeling better with the putter
A lot has been made of Jordan Spieth’s struggles with the putter, and for good reason. Spieth admitted he was panicked after shooting 76-71 at the Valspar Championship. He ranks 185th in Strokes Gained: Putting.
However, he saw positive signs at last week’s Houston Open. His third-place finish at the Golf Club of Houston was his best in an official TOUR event since finishing second in the first two events of the FedExCup Playoffs.
“It’s getting there,” said Spieth, who won both the Masters and FedExCup in 2015. “Last week was a tremendous stepping stone in the right direction.”
He’s contended in all four of his Masters appearances, no matter how he played the previous week in Houston. He’s twice missed the cut in Houston but has never finished worse than 11th at Augusta national. The slick, sloping putting surfaces bring out the best in his putting stroke, while the undulating fairways help him draw upon his athletic instincts. That could help take his focus off the technical faults in his setup that have hampered his putting. Playing well in Houston helped his confidence, as well.
“You have to play off a lot of feel,” he said. “I think that that's helped me kind of settle in and not overthink things out here and get into a nice groove, and it's led to some success at this event.” -- By Sean Martin
Not just another pretty name
If and when Sergio Garcia and his wife Angela have more children, you can rule out the names Juniper, Magnolia, Camellia, Nandina and Holly.
Three weeks ago, Angela gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter they named Azalea in a nod to the name of the par-5 13th at Augusta National. But the defending champ said Tuesday that any future children will not have Masters-inspired names, nor any other references to other majors.
"That was a one-time deal," he said.
Garcia said it was Angela's idea early last year to draw inspiration from the course on which Garcia would win his first major win. Garcia loved the idea, and it just so happened that two months later, he broke through at Augusta National. They looked at several different naming possibilities but opted for Azalea.
"First off, because we thought it was a very pretty name," Garcia said. "You write it the same way in English and in Spanish, which is great. And also because of it's the hole that kind of turned things around on the final round and kind of got me going to be able to win the Masters last year.
"So it's just one of those nice stories that we'll be able to tell her when she grows up a little bit."
Garcia made a huge par save at 13 last year that jump-started his back nine en route to beating Justin Rose in a playoff.
"The only thing that was missing was a tie." -- Tiger Woods, discussing Phil Mickelson's long-sleeve button-down shirt that he wore Tuesday.
"I have a tie -- and I'll wear it tonight." -- Mickelson's response, alluding to the Champions dinner
"Can you blame me?" -- Defending champ Sergio Garcia, when it was mentioned that he seemed to take the green jacket with him everywhere during the past year
"I'm going to take it really easy." -- Dustin Johnson, when asked about his plans on Wednesday. A year ago, he injured his back falling down some steps and had to withdraw before his first round
"If there's 5,000 ways to play one regular course, there's probably about 50,000 ways to go around Augusta National. That's the beauty of it." -- Jon Rahm, noting that the Masters course does not favor one style of player
"If I say I want to play against him, I can't beat him. And then if I say that I don't want to play against him, they say that I'm backing down from a challenge. So I don't really know what to say." -- Justin Thomas, when asked whether he'd want to play against Tiger Woods in his prime
"I'm pretty sure I didn't put it on right. Like I think I kind of like twisted instead of just put the arm in the sleeve. But I promise, if I get another opportunity, I'll do it correctly next time." -- Jordan Spieth, when asked about his green jacket
"It's the best road that I've driven on. I drove through the Magnolia Lane today and every time you get there, you get goose bumps." -- India's Shubhankar Sharma, making his Masters debut this week after getting a special invite
Rory McIlroy has played 90 practice holes at Augusta National in recent weeks -- 54 last week and 36 a couple of weeks before that. And this is his 10th Masters start, so "I know the golf course pretty well. ... I feel as prepared as I ever have."
Sergio Garcia is wearing a green ribbon in his cap this week in honor of good friend Rob Chapman, an Augusta National member who passed away in July of a brain aneurysm. Chapman was one of the people Garcia hugged on the 18th green. "He wanted me to win so badly and fortunately at least he got to see that," Garcia said. "So I hope he's enjoying it up there."
A year ago, Dustin Johnson rated his confidence level entering the Masters as a "10" after winning three straight events. Of course, he had to withdraw after suffering a freak back injury. This year, he has three top-10s (but no wins) in his last five starts and comes off an early exit at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. So how does he rate his confidence level now? "Probably a 9-1/2," he said, explaining, "Starting to swing it a lot better. Feeling a lot better on the golf course, for sure."
Shubhankar Sharma first saw Tiger Woods in 2014 when Woods played an exhibition in New Delhi. Sharma said he ran "one green to another" to catch a glimpse of his hero. Now they are in the same field after Sharma received a special invite, and Sharma's excited about the prospect of meeting him. "Arjun Atwal is a good friend of his, and he told me just go up and say hi to him and he'll be nice," Sharma said. "So I'll go and talk to him ... Definitely will be a fanboy moment for me."
Latest weather forecast calls for dry days on Thursday and Friday, with a 60 percent chance of afternoon showers on Saturday, and early morning showers possible on Sunday.
Tournament officials announced that the fairways were mowed at 3-8ths of an inch Tuesday, with the second cut at 1 3/8ths inch, the tees at 5-16ths, the collars at 1-4th and the greens at 1-8th.