Tiger Slam? Stop That Train

Tiger Woods celebrates after winning the 2019 Masters during the final round of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Augusta, Georgia. [MICHAEL HOLAHAN/THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]

Dreaming again of White Chocolate Georgia Pecan cookies and hanging out under the ol’ oak tree.

Thrusting me back into reality was a question posed somewhere on the interwebs. A golf fan asked a golf writer if Tiger could win the Grand Slam. Simmer down, please.

Yes, what he accomplished at Augusta National last week was special, significant and signals his return to pro golf’s elite – if for some reason observers didn’t include him there after he finished top-6 in the final two majors of 2018 and won the Tour Championship.

Yes, he’s won before at the next two major championship venues. He claimed the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, site of the PGA Championship, May 16-19. And has a rich history at Pebble Beach, where the U.S. Open returns in June, winning by a record 15 shots 19 years ago. Those two facts will give the TV folks plenty of material in the weeks ahead.

Also, don’t be surprised if Woods challenges for the No. 1 spot in the official world golf ranking by the end of the season. He jumped from 12th to sixth Sunday night and Paul Azinger said Monday morning forget the rankings, Woods is No. 1 right now. Per usual, Zinger makes a good point.

But he’s not going to win the Grand Slam. (Yes, I remember writing Saturday morning that he wasn’t going to win the Masters). There are too many talented players and too many variables in golf. Do I expect him to contend? Sure. Just don’t get carried away. The pro golf landscape has shifted since last Thursday, not changed entirely. Dozens of players are talented enough to win a major. Remember that 26 pros won their first major in between Woods’ victories at the 2008 U.S. Open and 2019 Masters. Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and a host of others are on that list and aren’t likely to go anywhere.

Love or hate CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz, but he’s covered the biggest sporting events for more than three decades and calls the 2019 Masters the best of them all. Bold statement made two or three days after the green jacket was slipped on Woods’ shoulders.

One more thought: Yesterday, I was standing in line in my local grocery store. The manager was helping the cashier by bagging meat and produce bought by the customer who was ahead of me in line. The customer was not wearing golf clothes. I can’t say for certain that either man plays the game. The manager said to him, “That was some golf tournament last weekend, wasn’t it?” Three days later in a town 275 miles away, a major golf tournament was still in the conversation. No offense to Koepka, Rory or anyone else. But that’s how Tiger moves the needle. He’s the only golfer, ever, whose presence transcends the sport.

Still, it was special.

If you haven’t had enough yet, here are words to read from the 2019 Masters.

Below is my four-part series for Augusta.com on the enhanced fifth hole at the Masters.

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four

I wrote this for Forbes SportsMoney

Michael Bamberger wrote this for Golf.com

Jon Gordon’s book, The Energy Bus, is a favorite. Read his thoughts on why Woods’ win was so popular.

Here are final thoughts on the week for StarNewsOnline.

A Tiger Storm at The Masters

Tiger Woods celebrates his birdie putt on #15 during the second round of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Friday, April 12, 2019, in Augusta, Georgia. [NIGEL COOK/FOR THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]

There’s a big storm coming. Saturday’s third round should be completed without interruption, however, the southeast U.S. sits in the bullseye for a classic spring storm – lightning, wind, rain, etc. – as a cold front bears down on Augusta, expected to arrive Sunday afternoon.

Geoff Shackleford, whining less than usual, makes a good point. If the forecast remains this dire, push the final round of the 83rd Masters Tournament to Monday. He’s spot on with this take, what we have entering Saturday is quite possibly the best Masters leaderboard of our lifetime – deep with talent, rich with storylines. It deserves a uninterrupted conclusion. And the safety issues are real.

And oh yeah, Tiger. My words for the Augusta Chronicle and Gatehouse Media on Woods’ second-round 68. If you’re looking for more details on the security guard’s slip and trip in the Augusta straw, check out John Boyette’s column here. Also, hat tip to Golf.com writer Dylan Dethier for tracking down the security guard.

While we’re on the Tiger subject, I don’t think he’s going to win this weekend. (Then again, I picked Justin Rose who is down the road). It would be a incredible moment, one of the best in golf history if he ended a nearly 11-year major championship drought and earned a fifth green jacket. The impact he makes on golf fans was on display in high definition in the waning light Friday afternoon as he created electricity that only he can.

Still, there are two areas he has to improve over the final 36 holes if he wants to add another remarkable page to his unparalleled legacy:

Par 5 scoring: Woods has birdied only three of the eight so far. Throw in a sloppy 3-putt bogey on No. 8 yesterday and he’s only 2-under on the holes which present the best scoring opportunities at Augusta National. Here’s how Woods and the other contenders have fared on the par-5s.

Short Putting: Woods is 26 of 29 on putts inside of five feet, which is 89.7 percent and tied for last among those who made the cut. He’s 4 of 8 on putts from 5-10 feet, which is T-48 in the field. On a jam-packed leaderboard, filled with major champions and world class players, avoiding mistakes this weekend will be critical. Missed short putts are momentum crushers. Woods made 58 feet of birdie putts on 14 and 15 in the second round, sandwiched between 20 feet of missed opportunities on 12, 13 and 17. Even one of the all-time greats has jangled nerves at age 43. Making the ones he never used to miss is an essential step in Tiger’s path to victory.

The Sun Is Out, The Sky is Blue-ish

Kevin Kisner walks off the #13 green during the first round of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Augusta, Georgia. [ANDY NELSON/FOR THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]

Brooks Koepka’s comments after his opening 66 Thursday at the Masters reminded me of those Tiger Woods used to make.

Because he teed off in the last threesome of the first round a reporter asked if he’d paid attention to the scores shot earlier in the day.

Koepka watched a few holes to check out hole locations and see how putts breaking.

“But I mean, I could care less what other people are doing. Doesn’t matter to me. I’m there to play a round of golf, and whatever they do isn’t going to affect me.

Later, he was asked if he’d paid any attention to comments Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee made earlier in the week, criticizing Koepka for losing 20 pounds as he prepared for a . Chamblee, never bashful about sharing his opinion, called it “the most reckless self sabotage that I have ever seen of an athlete in his prime.”

Koepka’s responded with his 66 and these comments: “Well, I lift all the time. I lift too many weights, and I’m too big to play golf. And then when I lose weight, I’m too small. So, I don’t know (laughter). I don’t know what to say. I’m too big and I’m too small. Listen, I’m going to make me happy. I don’t care what anybody else says. I’m doing it for me, and obviously it seems to work.”

He glanced over at the leaderboard before the last phrase.

Here’s a quick recap of the first round for Forbes Sports

Tiger drove it better but missed a half-dozen quite makeable putts in a 2-under 70.

The bigger, badder 5th hole was big and bad on Thursday, ranking 4th most difficult on the course.

Alan Shipnuck sat down with Jack Nicklaus, the man who knows more than anyone about the Masters and Augusta National Golf Club.

Welcome to The 2019 Masters

Came up a hair short on the approach to No. 9. Easy bogey.

About six or seven years ago, my wife and I came to Augusta National for a Monday practice round. The day was ideal. Two nights before we’d been to a smoking Neil Young solo show at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. As we walked the grounds, she told me she understood why I loved this place so much, calling it a Disney World for golfers. We sat under the pine trees in Amen Corner and enjoyed a sandwich and a drink as the breeze whispered above, sharing a peaceful moment in a spot unlike any other. This place is special. It’s not perfect and scars linger from past injustices, but the powers that be are moving in the right direction. The par-3 Contest is one of the things that sets Augusta apart.

The time has come to lengthen the 13th hole, the par-5 which requires only a mid-to-short iron second shot for the game’s longest hitters. Pushing the tee back 30 yards would prohibit players from carrying the trees on the left corner, and would restore the integrity and original intention to the hole.

Last year, I was one of the lucky ones, winning the media golf lottery and playing Augusta National the Monday after the Masters. Here are my thoughts a year later.

My colleague Doug Stutsman and I caught up with Masters champions on Wednesday and asked them about Tuesday night’s dinner. Apparently, the 90-year-old Bob Goalby, 1968 champion, held court with great tales about the legendary Ben Hogan.

Doesn’t matter how many times a man has driven down Magnolia Lane, the feeling remains the same. Fuzzy Zoeller, who has been here for the last 40 years since he won as a Masters rookie in 1979, still gets the chills.

Caught up with three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo, the CBS Analyst on Wednesday at the par-3 contest. Here are his thoughts on the tournament. He feels the softer conditions give more players a chance to claim the green jacket.

I think it’s opened up the field, more guys have a chance particularly guys who don’t have a lot of years under their belt here. Traditionally when it’s firm and fast you really have to know where to land it. You have to be really smart, you have to know where your misses are going. Just cause you’ve got a wedge in your hand, you can’t get carried away. You hit it six feet right of the flag, it’s a good shot, but it’s the wrong six feet. You can miss the green. You’ve got to know where to go left, right, short and long. With it being soft, as we’ve seen in the past, you can just aim and fire. And just go for everything for a while. It will be treacherous by the weekend.

Super Tuesday

No. 12 from a different point of view on another day

Tuesday at Augusta is the big interview day. One by one, the stars of golf and Masters legends file into the Media Center Interview Room (no cell phones allowed). You’ve probably seen Player A and Green Jacket moderator sitting beside one another at the podium. There are chips in our badges which the moderator uses to identify the folks asking the questions. High-tech stuff. Koepka, Phil, DJ, Spieth, Rahm, JT, etc., etc. They all came in and gave their thoughts on their game and the course. Hole 5, extended 30 yards to 495 yards this year, has been a conversation piece. Expect to see a new front left hole location there. With these soft fairways and southern winds forecast, expect the fifth to play long and difficult. I won’t be surprised if it has the highest stroke average of any par-4 at week’s end.

Hard rain fell this morning but the skies cleared in the afternoon and the practice grounds were active. There’s a chance for rain / storms Thursday and Friday. It’s been 1983 since the Masters has needed a Monday finish. Hopefully that streak stays intact.

Here’s a insightful piece from a smart analyst, Mark Broadie, the inventor of the Strokes Gained statistics used by the PGA Tour, who explains the difficulty of hitting approach shots close to the hole at Augusta National. Longer putts equals more 3-putts.

Tiger Woods elaborated on this point during his Tuesday press conference, reflecting on his first decade at the Masters when the course played five hundred yards shorter and he often needed only a sand wedge and never more than an 8-iron, for his approach shot to most of the par-4s and could reach the par-5s with a mid-to-short iron second shot.

Tiger’s chances hinge on his performance with two clubs – the ones pro golfers use to start and finish most holes – the driver and the putter. His performance with both has been mixed this season but the rest of his game looks strong. Can he find some magic in his bag at age 43?

Patrick Reed is back in Augusta, this time as the defending champion of the Masters. He’s a enigmatic, if not divisive figure. Hardly the first golfer who marched alone to the beat in his earbuds, still relationship issues – teammates, parents, siblings, seem to follow him around.

For most, golf is a recreational release, a social endeavor enjoyed with friends and family. While certain characteristics might translate to the pro game, more frequently at this level it’s a solitary pursuit, one that demands supreme confidence and untold hours of time spent alone. Man, club, ball, hole. Don’t let the science of DeChambeau fool ya. It can be downright primal: see ball, hit ball, chase ball. Repeat. Reed is here this week, serving a bone-in Cowboy Ribeye to the Champions and trying to repeat but does anybody care? Words for Forbes SportsMoney.

This next part works best if read aloud in a thick Southern accent.

We conceive that the ideal here is that our greens should hold a shot well-struck with backspin but should not hold an improperly played ball. Our greens are of such generous proportions that it is not difficult to hit some part of them but the combination of slopes plus speed introduces serious problems for the player who has failed to place his approach shots reasonably close to the cup.

Bobby Jones, 1949

Just Another Masters Monday

No more chipping, no more driving, no more putting, no more watching

It’s wet, y’all.

Hard rain started falling at Augusta National sometime around 4 p.m. and there’s more in store. But we’re not going to let it dampen our spirits. Oh no.

Tiger Woods played nine holes this morning. He didn’t talk (to the media) so I stalked him for a few hours and wrote some words. Just doing my duty out there in the rye grass jungle. Tiger hasn’t putted so well this year. He looks very 43 on the greens.

I think Justin Rose is going to win the Masters. You can put your money where my mouth is at about 12-1 odds in Las Vegas, or Philadelphia – Pennsylvania or Mississippi, either one – or with your friendly neighborhood bookie, if you have one of those. Also, trying to predict golf tournament winners is hard. Justin Rose came to the interview room for his scheduled 15 minutes and I wrote more words.

Texas Tech 58, Virginia 53.

There’s a strict no cellphone policy at Augusta National, media included. We’re required to leave our phones in this beautiful building when we head out on the course. Each time, before I sit down in the golf cart that shuttles us to the area right of the first fairway – where the old press building was located – I double check my pockets to make sure I haven’t mistakenly left my phone in my pocket. I do not want to find out what happens to those who forget. I’ve been in my share of trouble on this Earth. While not having a phone can be inconvenient such as when you need to contact an editor and tell him the perfectly excellent reason you haven’t returned to the media center in four or five hours, it’s also refreshing as hell to look around a large group of people and see faces and not the tops of heads. People, myself at the top of the list, are forced to be present and observe. Nobody is shooting videos or snapping photos or hollering at somebody to watch the video they just shot or photo they snapped. It’s civil, really. As in civilized. Nobody loves their phone more than I do but being free of it for hours at a time is part of what makes this a special week.

Earlier today I interviewed another of my musical heroes, Warren Haynes, for 10 minutes from the back porch of the Augusta National Media Center. What a life this is. He’s playing Greenfield Lake in Wilmington the end of the month with his heavyweight band, Government Mule.

Bears in the kitchen, Tigers on TV …

Living Over & Over, Again

I’m writing words in many places these days and grateful for each opportunity.

Most of it gets posted on Twitter, but not everyone has Twitter. Sometimes I’ll throw a link on Facebook, but to be honest I have a strange relationship with Facebook. We spend weeks, months apart yet it’s my only line of communication with certain people. Sometimes a post will slip through the cracks, which helps explain my annual omission from the Pulitzer list. Sometimes my mom doesn’t know where to find my stories. And that other reader.  

Next week, I’ll be in Augusta, covering the Masters for the Augusta Chronicle. The newspaper, as it says on its Wikipedia page, is known for its Masters coverage. You can believe that. (I’d link to the page but I’m not sure if any of the other information is accurate). Having the opportunity to write words on those pages is a highlight of my year. Even though I’m ineligible for the media lottery this year I’ve decided to make the trip anyway. Guess, I’ll have to make my bogeys elsewhere on the Monday after somebody named Justin Rose slips into something green. While down there amid the azaleas, which I’m told are in peak bloom for the first time in four years, I will also be contributing to Forbes’ SportsMoney blog and The Caddie Network which are both great sites. I’d say that even if they weren’t kind enough to allow me space to scribble. Writing about caddies. Talk about a perfect fit.

Talk about how you feel after losing the game. Talk about what happened on the last play. Talk about your first pet. Talk about how you feel about losing Fluffy under the scorer’s table on the last play … Sorry for the aside, it’s possible I listened to three too many NCAA tournament press conferences.  

Sometimes, I even rinse off the old Blackberry and get a SCOOOOP!

Maybe there should be more of that. Reporting shall remain. 

There are so, so many talented writers. I read a lot, as much as I can digest, looking for tricks to steal and trying to figure out how a writer made a sentence work or hammered a theme or reported a story, in hopes that I can keep getting better. Otherwise, what’s the point? I’ll put some of that here. 

Sometimes I have opinions on things. Those will fit here. 

Time waits for no man. Like one of my heroes Gregg Allman sang, with soul: 

So I, ain’t a-wastin time no more
‘Cause time goes by like hurricanes, and faster things 

Come back, poke around.