AUGUSTA – (Special to Dgital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – There nothing that depicts winter turning to spring for sports fans more than the playing of The Masters.
It is at Augusta National Golf Club where the change in seasons melds with the professional golf calendar, the pursuit of major championships and with the privilege and fame that goes with winning one of the game’s most important events.
Ninety-four invited golfers will tee it up on Thursday for a shot at golf immortality. Win here, you become a member of one of the world’s most exclusive golf clubs and can come back and play in this tournament as long as you like.
The total purse here is $10 million, with $1.8 million going to the winner. But those that capture a victory here amongst the Georgia pines can expect that payout to be much more though the years — and nothing holds the clout in the world of golf than donning the tournament’s famed green jacket.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, 2015 winner Jordan Spieth, Australia’s driven, powerful and passionate Jason Day and Northern Ireland’s four-time major winner Rory McIlroy head the field that includes the top 50 players in the world.
Among those golfers is 2016 champion Danny Willett of England, who outlasted the field when Spieth — who had a five-shot lead as he began play on the back-nine in the final round — dropped six strokes in three holes.
“Obviously being back anywhere and defending champion is pretty special,” Willett said. “And to be able to drive down Magnolia Lane with a green jacket in the car and to come back and to be announced on the tee as the defending champion … words can’t really quite describe the feeling.”
Willett said the key to winning at Augusta National is finding the correct place to miss shots.
“The more and more you play here, you realize certain areas where you can’t go,” Willett said. “You’re not going to have to hit perfect golf shots, but you’re going to have to leave it where you can get up and down or where you can 2 -putt from wherever that may be.”
Johnson might not get a chance to join the green jacket club after injuring his lower back following a fall on a staircase, his agent said.
“At roughly 3:00 p.m. (Wednesday), Dustin took a serious fall on a staircase in his Augusta rental home,” his agent David Winkle of Hambric Sports said in a statement, per Golf Digest. “He landed very hard on his lower back and is now resting, although quite uncomfortably. He has been advised to remain immobile and begin a regimen of anti-inflammatory medication and icing, with the hope of being able to play (Thursday).”
Spieth has finished tied for second, first and tied for second in the past three years at The Masters.
“I like the golf course specifically. I like the elevation changes, the sidehill lies, the pull to Rae’s Creek, the way it affects putts,” Spieth said. “It’s imaginative golf. It’s feel golf and I really enjoy that; when I can go away from technicality and toward feel, it’s an advantage for me personally, compared to how I play other places.
“Even more, I really love the tournament,” he added. “It’s pure golf. “When we get to the driving range, it’s just us. It’s myself, my caddie, my coach. You can just get out there and get done what you want to get done.
Spieth said he has shrugged off last year’s disappointment and expects to play well and contend this week.
“I’m excited about the opportunity ahead, which is now I can go back and really tear this golf course up,” Spieth said. “I’ve got the opportunity now to go back and really create more great memories on the back nine of Augusta, which we’ve had in the past on Sunday. And if it happens this year, fantastic. I will do all I can to see all the positives and to grind it out like we did in 2015. And if it doesn’t happen this year, then I’ll be ready the next year to do it.
Archives for April 6, 2017
1. Dustin Johnson, United States — (WITHDREW on THUSDAY) Many people thought DJ was the best golfer in the world for a while now, and he has proved it by winning his last three starts, including two World Golf Championships. He has taken a firm hold on the No. 1 spots in the Official World Golf Rankings and the FedExCup standings by finishing sixth or better in five of his six starts on the PGA Tour this year. And Johnson finally got the major monkey off his back last year when he captured the U.S. Open at Oakmont by three strokes over Jim Furyk, Shane Lowry of Ireland and Scott Piercy, shrugging off a one-stroke penalty after his ball moved slightly on the ninth green and he did not place it back on the original spot. Johnson is making his seventh start in the Masters and recorded his best results the last two years, tying for sixth in 2015 before tying for fourth last year, two of his 13 finishes in the top 10 in the major championships.
2. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland — Rory will make his third bid to become the sixth player to complete the Career Grand Slam this week in the Masters, and even though he has yet to win at Augusta National, he has proved that his game seems to be a good fit for the first major of the year by finishing in the top 10 each of the last three years. However, his most memorable Masters came when he took a four-stroke lead into the final round in 2011, only to implode with an 8-over-par 80 and skid to a tie for 15th. However, McIlroy showed his moxie when he bounced back to win the U.S. Open by eight strokes two months later at Congressional, the first of his four major championships. However, he hasn’t won a major since claiming the PGA Championship for the second time in 2014, a month after winning the Open Championship. McIlroy is playing well, having tied for fourth in the WGC-HSBC Champions and the WGC-Mexico Championship, and tied for seventh in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in his three PGA Tour stroke-play events this year.
3. Jordan Spieth, United States — What Spieth needs this week is a case of amnesia after he blew a five-stroke lead on the back nine of his title defense last year in the Masters, closing with a 73 to tie for second, three strokes behind Danny Willett of England. Looking beyond that, Spieth is another player who makes it appear that Augusta National was made for him, as he has tied for second, claimed the Green Jacket and tied for second again in his three appearances in the first major of the year. Two months after he won the Masters in 2015, he captured his second major title by one stroke over Dustin Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, and he has six finishes in the top 10 at major championships in the last three years. Spieth has been in good form this year, winning the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and finishing in the top 10 in four other PGA Tour events, even though he missed the cut last week in the Shell Houston Open. It was the first time he missed the weekend since the Players Championship last May.
4. Rickie Fowler, United States — In recent years, Fowler has joined the club of best players without a major championship, especially when he finished in the top five of all four of the Grand Slam events in 2014. Unfortunately, he has failed to crack the top 10 in the last eight majors, missing the cut three times, with his best result a tie for 12th in the 2015 Masters. Rickie is making his sixth start at Augusta National and his best result was a tie for fifth two years ago, when he was two shots out of the lead before finishing with a 73. He has to stay away from the big numbers, as he has carded 13 double bogeys in his six starts in the first major of the year. Fowler has four top-10 finishes this season, including his fourth PGA Tour victory by four strokes in the Honda Classic at the end of February, and he prepped for the Masters with a tie for third last week in the Houston Open.
5. Jason Day, Australia — At some point, Day figures to join Adam Scott as the only Aussies to claim the Green Jacket, but this week Day’s concern over his mother’s battle with cancer might prove to be too much of a distraction. That’s what happened when he withdrew during his first-round match in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match play a few days before she was scheduled for surgery. Day did not pick up a club again until he went to Augusta National to practice last week, but who knows, this time the situation might inspire him since his mother seems to be better. This will be Day’s seventh appearance in the Masters and he has been close, finishing two strokes behind winner Charles Schwartzel of South Africa in 2011 and winding up third, two strokes out of the playoff in which Scott beat Angel Cabrera of Argentina in 2013. He also tied for 10th last year in the Masters, one of 13 top-10 finish he has in the Grand Slam events, including his only major title in the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
6. Justin Rose, England — Since claiming his only major title in the 2013 U.S. Open by two strokes over Jason Day and Phil Mickelson at Merion, Rose has had several more chances and four of his 12 top 10s in the majors have come in the last two years. He is making his 12th start in the Masters and his best result was a tie for second two years ago, when Jordan Spieth beat him by four strokes. He also tied for fifth in 2007, tied for eighth in 2012 and tied for 10th last year at Augusta, among his seven consecutive finishes in the top 25 in the first major of the season. Rose claimed the Olympic gold medal last year at Rio de Janeiro in an event that felt like a major for those who were there, and he has played solid golf this season. After finishing second at the Sony Open in Hawaii, he tied for fourth in both the Farmers Insurance Open and the Genesis Open, and more recently he tied for 13th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and tied for 15th in the Shell Houston Open.
7. Jon Rahm, Spain — The 22-year-old has been so impressive in his rookie season on the PGA Tour that he is given a solid chance to become the third player to win the Masters in his first attempt, joining Horton Smith (the first Masters), Gene Sarazen (the second) and Fuzzy Zoeller (1979). After earning his PGA Tour card last year in limited events after leaving Arizona State, he has five top-10 finishes this year (all in his last six starts), including his first victory on the circuit in the Farmers Insurance Open. He also lost to top-ranked Dustin Johnson in the final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, tied for third in the WGC-Mexico Championship, tied for fifth in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and tied for 10th last week in the Shell Houston Open. He was low amateur in the U.S. Open at Oakmont, tying for 23rd in his first major last year, and he tied for 59th in the Open Championship last July at Royal Troon after turning pro.
8. Phil Mickelson, United States — Lefty counts three Masters titles among his five major championships, and even though his game as shown some life this season, it might seem to be a long shot that he could win again this week at Augusta. However, Mickelson is 46, and that just happens to be the age Jack Nicklaus was when he claimed his 18th and final major championship is a stunning performance in 1986. Phil the Thrill claimed his Green Jackets in 2004, 2006 and 2010, and added the 2005 PGA Championship, but hasn’t won any event since the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield to claim a third leg of the Career Grand Slam. Mickelson played his best golf this year by tying for second in the WGC-Mexico Championship and tying for fifth in the Dell Technologies Match Play last month. He tied for 55th last week in the Shell Houston Open, but sometimes its difficult to tell if Lefty is playing the tournament or practicing for the upcoming major when he plays the week before.
9. Henrik Stenson, Sweden — One of four players who earned his first major championship last season, joining Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson and Jimmy Walker, Stenson will again try to figure out the mysteries of Augusta National. Although he would seem to have the game to contend in the first major of the season, he has never finished in the top 10 in the Masters, but he’s too good for that to continue. His best result was a tie for 14th in 2014 and he has finished in the top 25 in six if his 11 appearances, including the last four in a row. Stenson outdueled Phil Mickelson to win the Open Championship at Royal Troon last July for his first major title and tied for seventh in the PGA a month later to give him 11 top-10 results in the majors. However, he is coming into the Masters after missing the cut in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Shell Houston Open, but earlier this year he finished second in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, tied for eighth in the Abu Dhabi HSBS Championship and tied for seventh in the Valspar Championship.
10. Bubba Watson, United States — Even though Bubba has been struggling for most of this season, Augusta National has brought out the best in him twice in the last five years. In 2012, he closed with a 4-under-par 68 to finish 72 holes even with Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, and then claimed his first Green Jacket with a brilliant hook shot out of the trees that set up a winning par on the second playoff hole. Two years later, Watson was tied for the lead with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, but shot 69 on the final day to win by three strokes over Spieth and Jonas Blixt of Sweden. Bubba’s best result in six others Masters appearances was a tie for 20th in 2009, but it’s hard to imagine any other two-time winner at Augusta coming in more under the radar this week. His only top-10 finish this year on the PGA Tour was a tie for ninth in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in his last start, as he won his group with a 2-0-1 record before Ross Fisher of England knocked him out, 4 and 3. Weather could be a factor and negatively effect his game.
@DigSportsDesk NOTE: We also like Sergio Garcia (Spain) and Brandt Snedeker (USA) for their ball-striking ability and consistency in bad weather and wind.
AUGUSTA – (Wire Service Report) – Arnold Palmer’s green jacket adorned a white lawn chair nearby as teary-eyed friends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit ceremonial tee shots to open the 81st Masters on Thursday.
Jack Nicklaus Salutes the late Arnold Palmer
“This is a wonderful and difficult day,” said Masters chairman Billy Payne. “Arnold Palmer was more than a king. He was my friend. He was your friend.”
Palmer died in September and Nicklaus spoke at memorial services. He said Tuesday, “life goes on, but it’s not the same.”
Nicklaus and Player wiped tears during a moment of silence before they approached the tee box for the traditional tournament-opening shots without Palmer for the first time since 2007. Nicklaus joined Palmer for the ceremony in 2010 and Player in 2012.
“The Masters did make Arnold in many ways because of his wins in ’58, ’60, ’62 and ’64. But in another way Arnold made the Masters,” Nicklaus said. “I think Arnold put the Masters on the map. They were very good for each other.”
Combined, the legendary trio won 13 Masters.
Honorary starters were first used at Augusta National in 1963.
This is the first Masters Tournament without Palmer since 1954.
Palmer’s widow, Kit, was present along with many golfers in the tournament field
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta
AUGUSTA – (Wire Service Report) – World No. 1 golfer Dustin Johnson withdrew from the Masters at the first tee on Thursday after testing his injured back on the practice tee and apparently deciding he couldn’t make it through the round. Johnson, who is the reigning U.S. Open champion, was scheduled to tee off at 2:03 p.m. ET. He arrived at the hole and informed officials that he was withdrawing from the tournament.
Johnson met with the media immediately afterward and explained that he had taken a fall off three steps in a rental home, noting he was wearing only sox and not shoes at the time of the fall.
Johnson began hitting shots off the practice tee around an hour before his starting time. He began by softly hitting irons to see how the back felt before taking a more aggressive approach.
Johnson’s trainer earlier told Golf Digest that he was making progress, one day removed from injuring his lower back while falling down stairs.
“We got him to the point where he got mobility,” Joey Diovisalvi told Golf Digest on Thursday morning. “He was up and moving around and definitely going in the right direction. He was very much in an under-control point going to bed last night.
“He was walking around, a lot more mobility, took a couple of practice swings slowly without a club.
BOSTON – Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts will be placed on the bereavement list and miss Friday’s game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski announced the roster move after Thursday’s game at Fenway Park — the scheduled series finale of a three-game set with the Pirates — was called due to rain.
To fill Bogaerts’ spot on the roster, the Red Sox promoted infielder Marco Hernandez from Triple-A Pawtucket
Ottawa at Boston
When: 7:00 PM ET, Thursday, April 6, 2017
Where: TD Garden, Boston
Special Preview for Digital Sports Desk by SportsDirect
BOSTON – The red-hot Boston Bruins have clinched a postseason berth but are still jockeying for position as they prepare to face a potential first-round opponent in the playoffs. The Ottawa Senators have as many points as the Bruins and also hold a game in hand over their Atlantic Division rival, but they have yet to wrap up a playoff slot entering Thursday night’s matchup in Boston.
David Backes (42) of Boston
Ottawa needs one point to punch its ticket to the postseason in a tightly bunched division race in which the Senators, Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are separated by one point. After snapping a five-game losing streak by shutting out Detroit on Tuesday, Ottawa could catch a break with Boston leading scorer Brad Marchand expected to face disciplinary action from the league as a result of a spearing incident. The Bruins ran their winning streak to six games and halted a two-year playoff drought by blanking Tampa Bay on Tuesday. “The city of Boston deserves the playoffs,” netminder Tuukka Rask said after winning his fourth consecutive start and registering his career-high ninth shutout.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, RDS, TSN5 (Ottawa), NESN (Boston)
ABOUT THE SENATORS (42-27-10): Veteran forward Clarke MacArthur was ruled out for the season by general manager Pierre Dorion after failing a baseline concussion test in January, but he was medically cleared last week and returned to the lineup Tuesday. It was an emotional return for MacArthur, who had been sidelined October 2015. “It’s been two years of never knowing if you are going to get back or what’s going to happen, so, just happy to be back playing,” MacArthur said after playing 9:44.
ABOUT THE BRUINS (44-30-6): Marchand, who has established career highs with 39 goals and 46 assists, is likely facing a suspension after spearing Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin in the groin during Tuesday’s game. Marchand, who has a hearing with the NHL Player Safety Department on Thursday morning, admitted the infraction was “undisciplined” — a sentiment echoed by coach Bruce Cassidy. “We’ll have a talk with Brad,” Cassidy said. “He’s got to be more responsible, but at the end of the day, it happened.”
1. Ottawa has won five in a row against the Bruins, including all three meetings this season.
2. Boston improved to 18-7-0 since Cassidy replaced Claude Julien.
3. Senators D Erik Karlsson hobbled off the ice Tuesday but coach Guy Boucher said his captain suffered a stinger on the heel.