Here’s the leader board…
Here’s the leader board…
AUGUSTA, Ga. — They played deep into the shadows of a warm spring evening, a middle-aged man with a hiccup in his swing and an Argentine with a going draw. Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera comprised the final act of a wild Masters Sunday, a day of high drama and loud roars that recalled the old-time magic of this beloved tournament.
When the 39-year-old Cabrera saved par from the trees to the right of the first playoff hole — where the third man in the sudden death shootout, Chad Campbell, succumbed with a bogey — he earned a reprieve to keep battling Perry, and an already special Masters became just a little more intense. From the middle of the 10th fairway, the second playoff hole, Perry pulled his approach shot wide left of the green and missed his 20-footer for par. Cabrera hit his approach just below the hole and safely two-putted.
At dusk, the former caddie became a Masters champion.
For much of the last half hour of regulation, Perry seemed destined to become the oldest major champion in the sport’s history. Instead, the 48-year-old bogeyed the final two holes, spending a two-shot lead while fighting his swing. “I was determined to win,” Perry said afterwards, “and I lost the tournament.”
On the same day that Perry saw his major championship dreams die, the Masters made a triumphant return as the most glamorous, important and thrilling tournament in golf.
It became apparent as early as Thursday’s first round that this year’s Masters would be different, thanks to warm weather, soft greens and favorable pin positions. For the past two years Augusta National officials have received a barrage of criticism from players, fans and the media about the difficult course set-ups, which were further exacerbated by cold and windy conditions. The 2009 edition was reminiscent of the tournament’s glorious past, when birdies and eagles altered the leader board in a flash. On Thursday Campbell made a record five birdies in a row to start his round. The following day, Anthony Kim carded a record 11 birdies in his round.
Still, disaster was always just a single shot away, with Rae’s Creek claiming plenty of victims (including Mickelson’s tee shot on the par-3 12th on Sunday, leading to a double bogey) and slippery greens that tested even the most confident of putters.
“You know,” club chairman Billy Payne said on the eve of the tournament, “I think we have it about right.”
But it was the titanic pairing of Woods and Mickelson on Sunday that propelled this Masters on a day-long thrill ride. The long-time antagonists almost turned the first major of the year into made-for-TV match play, pulling thousands to their gallery on a gorgeous spring day. Mickelson’s wife, Amy, was part of the crowd. A dozen Nike employees, led by company founder Phil Knight, followed along wearing red shirts.
Trailing by seven shots as the day began, Mickelson shot a record-tying 30 on the front nine, carding six birdies in a seven-hole stretch in some of the best golf ever played at Augusta National. Woods, also seven shots down at the start, made his own ruckus, rolling in an eagle on the par-5 8th and threatening the leaders before a pair of closing bogeys sent him tumbling down the board. Woods finished with a round of 68, his best of the week but still four shots shy of the playoff.
Mickelson, too, was right in the mix, surging toward his third green jacket and fourth major title. He missed a four-footer for eagle on the 15th hole and then stalled with two straight pars and a closing bogey that left him with a round of 67 and solo fifth place, three shots back.
With Mickelson and Woods out of it, the Masters stage was left to Perry, Campbell and Cabrera. It was Cabrera who held off Woods and Jim Furyk to win the US Open at Oakmont Country Club two years ago, while puffing on a cigarette between shots. The burly Cabrera has since quit smoking, but he still hammers his golf ball like few in the business. After making birdies at 15 and 16, he made a four-footer to save par on the 72nd hole and earn a spot in a three-man playoff.
On the first playoff hole (No. 18), he looked finished after he pushed his tee shot into the woods on the right and then smacked his attempted escape off a tree. His ball ricocheted into the fairway, from where he made a superb up-and-down for par, rolling in a downhill, six-foot putt. One hole later he claimed the title.
“I had confidence,” Cabrera said. “I was just trying to enjoy the moment.”
He wasn’t alone. Golf shirts, sun dresses and birdie roars ruled the day, as expert shot making, heart-breaking bogeys, and various plotlines defined the tournament: Woods bidding to begin a run at the Grand Slam; Mickelson trying to break a major-less streak now three years long; Padraig Harrington searching for his third major in a row; Perry wanting to win a major for his elderly and ailing parents.
Everyone in the field had a story and, once again, Augusta National offered a great stage for them to be told.
“This is the Masters,” Cabrera said, the green jacket snug on his large frame. “It’s a course that you can do a lot of birdies, a lot of bogeys. A lot of magical things happen. It’s simply the Masters.”
Once more, it was simply the best.
To those, like my colleague Farrell Evans, who still are skeptical of the drawing power of 19-year-old LPGA rookie Michelle Wie: You’re wrong.
At last week’s SBS Open at Turtle Bay, Wie lost a three-shot lead on the back nine in last Saturday’s final round and finished three strokes behind victor Angela Stanford.
But the Valentine’s Day effort clearly won viewers’ hearts. As reported today by SportsBusiness Journal’s Jon Show, “Wie’s second-place finish in her first event as a member of the LPGA tour resulted in near-record interest from TV viewers and Web surfers.”
The three-day telecast by Golf Channel averaged 323,000 households, up 34% from the 2008 number. Final-round coverage drew 428,000 households, the fourth-largest audience for a single LPGA round on the channel. Show also reports that during the week of the SBS Open, LPGA.com registered 5.2 million page views, up 55% from last year’s event and the second-highest traffic since the site registered 6.1 million page views for the ’06 Evian Masters, an event in which Wie finished tied for second.
No doubt it helped that the telecast each night was live and edged into prime time in the viewer-heavy Eastern time zone.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Phil Mickelson was in contention for the first time all year and wanted to make sure he stayed there.
Moments after signing his scorecard following the second round – nine shots worse than his opening round – he called Butch Harmon in Las Vegas and asked if he could meet him on the range Saturday morning at Riviera.
The work paid off in a big way at the Northern Trust Open.
Mickelson made four straight birdies in the final hour of the third round to pull away from a strong leaderboard with a 9-under 62, topping his personal best at Riviera he had set two days earlier and building a four-shot lead going into the final round.
“He’s pretty good at what he does,” Mickelson said. “Having him be able to be right there and identify it was nice.”
Lefty had a chance to tie the course record until his 10-foot birdie on the 18th hole was struck too hard and missed above the hole, but that was no reason to complain. He was at 16-under 197, four shots clear of Andres Romero.
A parabola could be used to diagram his first three days – 63-72-62. All that matters to Mickelson is that after a sluggish start to his West Coast Swing, he believes he’s headed down the right path.
“I feel like – I don’t want to say back on track – but I have a direction of where I want to go, and my iron play was much, much better because of it,” he said.
Five players had at least a share of the lead at one point in the third round, but what had been shaping up as a shootout at Riviera soon turned into a showcase for Mickelson.
It began with a tee shot into 4 feet on the par-3 14th for the outright lead. Mickelson followed that with an 8-foot birdie on the 15th, a 35-foot birdie on the 16th, and an up-and-down from the bunker on the par-5 17th for his fourth straight birdie.
“To see a few putts go in, it’s obviously a great feeling because it rewards the iron play,” Mickelson said.
Just his luck, Harmon had returned Friday from a vacation in the Bahamas.
“We mostly worked on his lower body, keep it quiet,” Harmon said. The idea was to keep Mickelson’s legs more still to allow him more freedom to swing. It must have worked, for Mickelson only missed four fairways and two greens and put together his lowest score since he opened with a 62 at Spyglass Hill four years ago in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Romero did his part to keep close with birdies on his last three holes that he called “close to perfect,” giving him a 65. He will need a big round, but the Argentine has shown he is capable. He made 10 birdies in 16 holes two years ago in the final round at Carnoustie, the toughest links in the British Open rotation.
“I have a lot of confidence in the putter, just like when I made those 10 birdies at Carnoustie,” he said. “I am four shots behind Mickelson, the defending champion. It’s a tough job, but I will try to do my best. It’s not against him, it’s against the course. And if I play good against the course, maybe I have a chance.”
They will be joined in the last group by Fred Couples, who was poised to give himself a good chance to win with a 65, only to see a familiar face spoil the occasion.
The last time Couples was in the last group was the 2006 Masters – with Mickelson, who went on to win.
Couples, at 49 and in his last full year on the PGA Tour, shot 30 on the front nine and briefly held the lead on his favorite golf course east of Augusta. He shot a 65 and walked off the 18th green only one shot out of the lead.
By the time he reached the media center, Mickelson had run off three straight birdies. When Couples finished his interview, Lefty already had made his fourth in a row and posted his 62.
“This is my big day tomorrow to have a shot at winning,” Couples said. “I don’t want these guys being 19 under. When I was coming down in the cart, I was telling the guy I thought maybe another 6 under might do it. Might need a 9 under.”
The way Mickelson is going, even that might not be enough. This is his largest 54-hole lead since he was ahead by eight shots at the BellSouth Classic in 2006, winning by 13.
The Associated Press
Early last October, NBC unveiled the 16-member cast of “Celebrity Apprentice” to reporters. Everyone on hand at the locked-down news conference swore to keep the participants’ identities a secret until NBC said “go.”
With NBC now issuing its cue Thursday to go public, the major media can take pride at having kept the lid on names like country music’s Clint Black, TV personality Khloe Kardashian and former “Baywatch” babe Brande Roderick.
Also vying for the title of “Celebrity Apprentice,” when the reality series returns for its eighth season March 1, is former Olympic figure skating gold medalist Scott Hamilton, singer Brian McKnight, comedian Tom Green and former football great Herschel Walker, poker champ Annie Duke, LPGA golfer Natalie Gulbis (above), “Deal or No Deal” model Claudia Jordan, singer Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and former “Monster Garage” host Jesse James, a custom bike and car builder.
NBC’s own Conan O’Brien spilled a few beans during a “Late Night” monologue. After blurting out a couple of the show’s players, he cracked, “Apparently the new season of the show is called ‘Celebrity Apprentice: 1988.'”
“I have a competitive nature,” said Walker, who won the Heisman Trophy as a junior at the University of Georgia, “but this (show) is really different, where some people are conniving and cheating. I say, I’m gonna stay true to my morals … I tell ’em, I’m just a little country boy from Georgia.”
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Fifteen of his 34 victories have come during the West Coast swing, but the fact Phil Mickelson has failed to break 70 this year does not mean it’s time for him to panic just yet.
Even so, Mickelson only has two tournaments left – the Northern Trust Open and the Accenture Match Play Championship – to avoid leaving the West Coast without a single top 10 for the first time in his 17 years on the PGA Tour.
“It’s been more challenging this year, for whatever reason,” Mickelson said after he made a daring birdie on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach to make the cut on the number. He wound up tied for 55th when the final round was rained out.
Mickelson struggled with his driver at the FBR Open and missed the cut. He didn’t hole enough putts at Torrey Pines and tied for 42nd in the Buick Invitational. And whatever progress he was making at Pebble Beach was halted with one bad swing.
Lefty birdied his first three holes and was 3 under for the tournament until he hooked a 5-iron with a left-to-right wind. The ball hit a cart path and went out of bounds, leading to triple bogey. It was his second OB in as many days – on the other one, he salvaged a bogey on a par 5 at Poppy Hills.
“I’m making dumb mistakes, a couple of squirrelly shots, I haven’t putted the best,” Mickelson said.
Lefty has won on the West Coast seven of the last nine years, and he has had at least two top 10s on the West Coast during that stretch. The two years he won the Masters (2004, 2006), he had at least four top 10s in California and Arizona.
Mickelson is coming up on the two-year anniversary of when he began working with Butch Harmon, and while he lost the summer of ’07 due to a wrist injury, there remains speculation that his two-coach system isn’t best for his game.
Dave Pelz works with his short game and supplies more statistics than most golfers can digest. The long game belongs to Harmon, who is built more toward feel.
Mickelson has been around too long to worry over a ragged start, although he is starting to grind. In the hour before Sunday’s round at Pebble Beach was suspended because of rain, Mickelson was a lone figure on the range as he went through five buckets of balls.