Posted on: April 7, 2011 9:27 am
Edited on: April 7, 2011 9:30 am
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The honorary starters, true to the form they displayed while winning 10 Masters titles between them over the years, both spanked drives right down the chute on the first hole on Thursday morning, kicking off the opening round at Augusta National.
A few moments before Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer arrived at the opening tee box, their names were posted on a wooden banner above the tee area, with the numbers 81 and 71 next to their names. That would be their ages, if you hadn't guessed.
The both piped their drives in the chilly morning dew, two pretty good shots for being old and cold.
"Who are you calling old," Nicklaus deadpanned. "It said 81 and 71 and I was the 71. So compared to him, that's not old."
The fans, allowed in the gates at 7:30 a.m., hustled to the first tee to watch the game's two greatest living figures hit the ceremonial first shot at 7:40.
Nicklaus started the wisecracks immediately. After he was introduced by Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, Nicklaus theatrically bent over and put his ball on the tee, and said of his shot, "If I can get back up."
Palmer and Nicklaus reminisced on the practice tee while warming up and can hardly believe how the years have flown past.
"You stand on the first tee and say, 'Hey, I used to be here and this was fun,'" Nicklaus said. "Arnold and I looked at each other on the practice tee and he said, '1955 was the first time I hit it out here.' I said, 'I wasn't far behind you in 1959.'
"So, 56 and 52 years, that's a long time. I guess it's still kind of fun to whop it off the first tee and be part of a great event."
Nicklaus and Palmer hit their opening salvos and then adjourned to the towering oak tree outside the clubhouse to mingle with friends.
"I was quite happy to take my glove off after that opening shot," Nicklaus cracked.
One of Nicklaus' 21 grandchildren, 18-year-old Nick O'Leary, served as his caddie for the opening and was shaking his head in amazement at the reception the six-time Masters winner received.
"All the people out here to see him hit one shot, it's kind of crazy," O'Leary laughed.
Palmer probably enjoys the honorary starter festivities more than Nicklaus, because the King has always reveled in the interaction with his fans. Arnie's Army was invented at Augusta National, after all. He even admitted to having a few butterflies.
"Sure do," Palmer said. "When I stop getting nervous, I won't be here ... There's no tournament that comes with the heritage, the history. Just to be here with the surroundings, the people, is special."
Posted on: March 26, 2011 1:33 pm
Edited on: March 26, 2011 1:35 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Arnold Palmer is 81, but the King's spirit is as young and willing as it ever was.
Case in point:
Saturday, his grandson Sam Saunders was playing the par-5 16th hole at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, paired with veteran Kevin Streelman.
Palmer rolled up in an electric cart ot watch a few holes. Another man in the cart said to Palmer, "This would be a good hole for Sam to pick up a shot."
"A good hole to pick up two shots," Palmer corrected.
Streelman and caddie Mike Christensen loved it.
"Classic Arnold," Christensen said.
Saunders, playing on a sponsor exemption, shot 69.
"First time I have seen him," Christensen said, "but he's good enough to play out here."
Posted on: March 23, 2011 12:10 pm
Edited on: March 23, 2011 12:45 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. -- At a certain point, Arnold Palmer never recovered.
Others learned to fight off the affliction to a greater degree, like Vijay Singh, who might be only Hall of Fame player who willed himself into being a competent putter in his 40s.
As a rule, the King affirmed on Wednesday, when the putter goes, it's not coming back. The host of the Arnold Palmer Invitational laughed when he was asked if he could recall when the putts he once dropped with regularity began defying him.
"Yes, I can," he said. "And I can tell you that it becomes more and more difficult as you get older."
Bad bounces and lip-outs become recurring nightmares.
"Those are the things that start happening, and you, as a player, begin to wonder," Palmer said. "I can't say that I know anybody that doesn't have that happen to him at some time if they play good and they have had a good career, that all of a sudden, once in awhile, the bounces go the wrong way or the putts rim around the cup rather than going in the cup.
"Yes, it will happen to him and it will happen to anybody else that plays golf as much as let's say we all have on our way through our career."
Him, being you-know-who.
The whole premise of the question related to the declining state of former world No. 1 Tiger's Woods' short game. Not only has Woods, 35, changed his swing, he has retooled his putting stroke, which was mostly frightful in his last start two weeks ago at Doral, when he swapped putters in mid-event.
Even last week at the Tavistock Cup, prominent players in his grouping were remarking outside of his earshot about how short Woods' putting stroke seemingly had become. Piecing together a swing with 13 clubs is tough enough, but Woods is also fighting to find consistency with the one club that for a decade almost never failed him.
But for the last three years, at minimum, putts that nearly always fell when the pressure grew strongest no longer are going in. In a broader sense, it's not an opinion-based observation that his putting has regressed, either. See if you can spot the trend in Woods statistics over the past five seasons.
Here is where he has ranked on tour in putting average: 2007 -- 4th; 2008 -- T10; 2009 -- T23; 2010 -- 40th; 2011 -- 101st.
No coincidentally, Woods hasn’t won at Augusta National since 2005, and has complained about poor putting at that venue almost every year.
Woods is playing this week at Bay Hill, where he has won six times as a professional. However, the green surfaces have been changed since he play played in 2009. Woods played nine holes on Tuesday night and 18 in the pro-am on Wednesday.
Posted on: March 28, 2010 6:16 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. -- It might seem like a reprieve, but Ernie Els wasn't sure his nature-imposed timeout on Sunday was a positive development.
Els was cruising toward his second victory in as many starts, this time at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, when a downpour of mistakes and precipitation began.
In short, a five-stroke lead Els had built with six holes remaining had been reduced to two shots when play was suspended for the day because of thunderstorms, just after the 40-year-old had completed the 14th hole.
Els cooled his jets for more than three hours before the round was formally pushed back until Monday at 10 a.m., but whether it was a fortuitous bit of kismet was a matter even he could not decide.
Just when it seemed he was ready to saunter to his second career title at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, he double-bogeyed the 13th and bogeyed the 14th, allowing Kevin Na to move within two shots. Na's ball was on the 15th green when play was halted.
Thanks to the rain, Els got to hit the reset button at a time when he was leaking oil, but he said the delay also gave him extra time to hammer himself over the mistakes.
"I don't know if there's ever a good time," he said. "What can I say, I was disappointed, you know? It's never the way go go into a break. It is what it is.
"[But] that's what I will be thinking about all night tonight. It won't be a very peaceful night, I don't think. I have to come out tomorrow and get it done somehow."
Els has to maneuver his way through three of the four toughest holes, statistically, for the week. Holes Nos. 15-18 rank second, 18th, fourth and first-toughest on the course.
The mistake that opened the door came at the 13th when he drove into a bunker and chunked a ball out of fluffy sand into a greenside hazard. He missed the green at the par-3 14th and bogeyed.
Els clearly needs to let both mistakes go, but the mistakes seemed to fester instead.
"Obviously I'm not totally at ease with myself right now," he said. "I'm a little angry or disappointed or whatever you want to call it. There's still work out there to be done, and I've got to get it done. I've basically got to go out there and play hard tomorrow morning, as good as I can, basically four holes as good as I can."
"I've got to regroup, basically, and come out firing," he said.