Tiger Woods practices at Augusta

Tiger Woods during the final round of the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

Tiger Woods is excited and ready to go with Masters week just days away, and that’s according to none other than the man himself.

In an interview published Friday on his official website, Tiger Woods laid out where his mind and game are heading into next week’s Masters, his first since 2015, and the first major of his surprising comeback on Tour.

“I’m just really looking forward to playing,” said Woods. “It’s the best run tournament in the world. The golf course, the patrons, the entire atmosphere. It’s a golfer’s heaven… the course was in fantastic shape. My yardage book was basically the same.”

Woods revealed that he played two practice rounds at Augusta National last week, including some holes with rising PGA Tour star Bryson DeChambeau. He said the course played “brutally long” while noting that it “will play much, much faster in the tournament.”

Woods also got into just how shocking his most-recent return to the game has been, considering that less than a year ago he was bed-ridden recovering from a major fusion back surgery, not knowing whether he would ever swing a club again, let alone in golf’s greatest event.

“I got a second chance on life. I am a walking miracle.”

But don’t think that the miraculous nature of his comeback—which has seen him finish 12, T2 and T5 in his last three starts—has affected his usual sky-high expectations, as Tiger noted at the end of the article, “I’m just there to win.”

As for details on his preparation, Woods is testing new setups for his driver and fairway wood shafts, and he has yet to decide on a firm schedule for his practice rounds next week, though he did say he might play in the Masters Par-3 Contest on Wednesday.

courtesy of Kevin Cunningham (Golf.com)

Sergio is a Father!

Sergio Garcia’s wife Angela gave birth to the couple’s first child, a girl, early in the morning on Wednesday (at 1:54 a.m., according to Augusta Chronicle reporter Scott Michaux). The best part? They gave her an Augusta National-inspired name: Azalea.

Garcia had a momentous year in 2017, both on the course and in his personal life. The PGA Tour veteran finally captured his first major championship victory at the Masters, defeating Justin Rose in a playoff. Garcia was embraced on the green by his then-fiancée Angela Akins. The couple tied the knot in July in Akins’s home state of Texas.

Azaleas are a flowering shrub that can be found all over the grounds at Augusta National, which used to be a nursery before it was converted into the legendary course we know it to be today. The bright pink Azalea blooms are as much a part of the Masters as the CBS theme song for the event. The par-5 13th hole at Augusta, part of the famed “Amen Corner”, is named Azalea.

Garcia will return to Augusta National in just a few weeks to defend his 2017 title, which is now sure-to-be an even more memorable experience for the new father.

Courtesy of Kevin Cunningham (golf.com)

The Masters had its lowest TV rating in 13 years. Why?

On the surface, the 2017 Masters had all the makings of an engaging, captivating broadcast. A beautiful day in Augusta. The leader board littered with big names. A fight to the finish, one prolonged via sudden death. The enthralling narrative of a maligned soul finally breaking through. Must-see theater, incarnate.

Except, not that many people saw it.

According to Sports Media Watch, the final round of the Masters drew a 7.6 overnight rating. That’s 11-percent lower than last year, a 21-percent drop from 2015 and the tournament’s worst showing since 2004. And Sunday was far from an aberration; third-round coverage was down 19 percent from last spring, with Friday’s broadcast suffering an 18-percent drop. What gives?

Save for a rain delay, there’s rarely a clear-cut answer to viewership issues. However, Neal H. Pilson—the former president of CBS Sports and president of Pilson Communications, Inc.—has some theories.

Pilson’s first assertion involves the weather. Not at Augusta, but across America.

“The weather can be an important factor,” said Pilson, who also teaches at Columbia. “Extraordinarily good weather in parts of the country can bring numbers down. Cumulative number watching could be down for all television audiences.”

This was especially true in the Northeast and the South, the two biggest areas for golf viewership. “Good weather is a killer in swing months. In the fall, people are sneaking in one last trip to the park, and in the spring, it’s more pronounced, going outside for the first time,” Pilson says. “It was a gorgeous day in the Northeast, where 20 percent of America’s households are located. I had to struggle to stay inside myself.”

Then there’s the matter of the aforementioned big names. Or specifically, the lack thereof. While Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose are known entities to golf fans, they’re not recognized outside of the sport.

“To the people that watch only one or two tournaments a year, they’re not well known,” says Pilson. “All due respect to two guys who are very good, they’re not names that leap in front of the casual viewer. One is from Spain, the other England. I don’t think they resonate with the American fan, at least relative to who could have been leading.”

Speaking of which, the play of Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler did the broadcast no favors. Though the pair was in the penultimate group, they fell out of contention—and off our televisions—early.

“No Spieth, no Rory McIlroy or Jason Day,” said Pilson. “Dustin Johnson was not even in the tournament. They are the hottest golfers right now, and were absent on Sunday afternoon.”

However, the Masters’ ever-expanding second-screen experiences should not be chalked up for this decrease. To Pilson, the industry views these platforms as additions to the broadcast, rather than as substitutions. Watching featured groups or the action from Amen Corner doesn’t mean a viewer opts to put something else on the big screen.

“Besides, the people who watch the Masters are not the ones who go, ‘Well, I can watch this on my phone, I guess I can leave the house now,'” Pilson remarks.

Pilson doesn’t think this is part of a growing trend in sports viewership, one which saw a decrease in last summer’s Olympics and the NFL season. “Yes, we are dealing with overall drops in viewership, but this goes in peaks and valleys,” Pilson says. “It’s hard to say from just one tournament.”

It wasn’t all bleak news for the Masters. As Austin Karp of Sports Business Dailypoints out, the last 90 minutes of the telecast grew from 8.0 to 9.1 before peaking at 11.2. And the viewership of the Masters still far outweighs the expected returns from other major champions; last year’s U.S. Open pulled a final 3.4 rating on Sunday.

Courtesy of Joel Beall

Sergio wears “green jacket” at soccer match

The green jacket tour continues.

Sergio Garcia traded in the golf course for the pitch on Sunday as he took the ceremonial kick-off at the La Liga Clasico match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. And of course, he was wearing his Masters green jacket.

Garcia, a Real Madrid fan, was promised this opportunity by the club’s president, Florentino Perez, if he ever won a major. Mission accomplished.

courtesy of golf.com

Spieth and Sergio, polar opposites at Augusta National, converge for green jacket

Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth have played this Masters (and their careers) completely different.

One man came here at age 21, played the tournament of his life, and won. The other went to Medinah at age 19, played the tournament of his life, and finished second. This should not matter when Jordan Spieth and Sergio Garcia try to win the 2017 Masters, but of course it does.

Spieth will not play the final round in his green jacket, but he carries it in his mind wherever he goes. And Garcia cannot show up here Sunday and win the 1999 PGA or the 2002 Masters or the British Opens he could have won but didn’t. But he must make peace with those memories before he creates a better one.

This Masters leaderboard is like a menu where everything looks good: The Spieth was fantastic last time, the Rickie Fowler is always enjoyable, and another Adam Scott or Justin Rose might be OK if you’re into that sort of thing. But Spieth and Garcia are the most interesting golfers on the board.

For proof, consider Charley Hoffman’s second shot on 11 Saturday. Apparently, nobody else did. Hoffman hit a terrific shot from the left rough to 22 feet, and the crowd at Amen Corner barely noticed. I’ve heard louder cheers at divorce proceedings. Hoffman was leading the Masters at the time. Then Garcia hit his shot to 21 feet, and the crowd gave him his due.

Garcia is six under, tied for the lead with Rose, after holing a seven-foot par putt on No. 18. All week, he has looked and acted like a man who is not Sergio Garcia. Serene. Comfortable. At the 12th, where the flag was flapping but the tee felt windless, Garcia hit one of the best shots anybody hit there all day, to within 10 feet. And on 15, Garcia calmly waited for Hoffman to hit three shots before sinking his birdie putt.

Putting is supposed to keep Garcia down – well, putting and ghosts – but in 54 holes, Garcia has had just one three-putt. Spieth, the renowned putter, has had four.

After he finished the third round, Garcia talked about his good luck this week. Sure, he’s had some: On 13 Saturday, he hit a 4-iron that should have rolled back into the water but stopped on a bank, and on 10 Friday, he hit his tee shot into the trees, but it bounced back into the fairway.

But bad luck is a matter of perception. Garcia’s has changed. He is not dwelling on the perfectly struck balls that fly long because the wind died, and he has flicked off any potential annoyances like pieces of lint. He ignored the fans talking as he hit his tee shot on 17 Saturday. He seems at peace.

Garcia has not played any hole remotely like Spieth played No. 15 Thursday, when Spieth stood in the fairway, 100 yards from the pin, after two shots, and managed a nine. And that’s what makes Spieth’s current standing so impressive: he is four under, two shots off the lead.

Spieth can be volatile but he is such a compelling golfer because he is steely when he needs to be. He saved par from the sand on the par-three 4th, and he kept making nerveless pars until the putts started dropping.

Spieth came into the week answering a million questions about how he would handle the par-3 12th after his quadruple-bogey meltdown on Sunday last year. Actually, “a million questions” is not accurate – it was the same question a million times. He said he would be fine, but what he should have said was that he is 23 years old and already owns a green jacket, so who’s haunting whom here?

Fred Couples is a hero here, and in the World Golf Hall of Fame, for winning one Masters, his only major. Spieth has won a Masters, a U.S. Open and has, oh, two decades to add to that collection. He is too young and successful to lie awake at night, wondering what might have been, and he knows it.

Garcia? He is 37. One of his heroes, fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, was long done winning majors by that age – and Seve won five. Another hero, Jose Maria Olazabal, won his two green jackets at age 28 and 33. Garcia has time, but not that much time.

He is at the age where he can throw his toys on the ground and cry, or realize they are pretty nice toys and relax. He has chosen to relax. Maybe it’s the influence of his girlfriend, Angela Akins – Garcia once admitted he went into a slump after getting dumped. Maybe it’s just age. But consider these two quotes:

Garcia, 2009, on Augusta National: “I don’t like it, to tell you the truth. I don’t think it is fair. Even when it’s dry you still get mud balls in the middle of the fairway. It’s too much of a guessing game.”

Garcia, 2017, on Augusta National: “It’s the kind of place that, if you’re trying to fight against it, it’s going to beat you down. So you’ve just got to roll with it and realize that sometimes you’re going to get good breaks, like has happened to me a few times this week, and sometimes you’re going to get not-so-good breaks.”

Jordan Spieth, 23, has been blessed with the wisdom of 37-year-old Sergio Garcia. He has everything in his bag except demons. And maybe this would all be different for Garcia if Tiger Woods had made a few bogeys on the back nine at Medinah in 1999, but then Tiger wouldn’t be Tiger, Sergio wouldn’t be Sergio, and we wouldn’t be here, hearing him say, “right now, I’m pretty calm.” The next 18 holes may define Sergio Garcia’s golf life. He seems fine with it.

Courtesy of Michael Rosenberg (golf.com)

Heading to the Masters? 10 ways to be a proper patron

It’s obvious when you first step foot on the grounds of Augusta National for the Masters tournament that a certain kind of behavior is expected out of the patrons. It’s quieter, except for those birds chirping, and the patrons seem to have a reverent attitude. I mean, this is like going to the Holy Church of Golf. All the caddies are wearing white, many of the women are in their Sunday best, and yes, the golfers do plenty of praying, especially on Sunday.  But if you’ve never been before, how do you know how you’re supposed to conduct yourself as a patron? It’s not like we’re born with this ability; it’s learned. Admittedly, the list below seems to be more about don’ts than do’s, but it’s really not that hard. If you’re fortunate enough to have credentials (i.e. tickets), just follow these guidelines, and you’ll be fine.

par 3 contest

1. Down in front

Okay, there’s an order to things here at Augusta National. Areas for patrons with chairs are even roped off, and patrons get there mighty early in the morning to claim their spot. If you’re wandering the course, trying to follow a particular group, you’ll need to be tall or find a nice hill or bleachers to watch the action. A great viewing area, by the way, is the bleachers behind the 12th tee, where you can see the 11th green, the par-3 12th and much of the par-5 13th, better known as Amen Corner.

Also, it’s a big no-no for patrons to run while on the grounds, whether it’s to get a front row spot to spy Jordan Spieth going for 13 in two or to get in line for a pimento cheese sandwich. You may be lucky to get away with a warning.

2. Leave your cell phones in the car

Or in the hotel room. I mean, they’re adamant about this. Forget the fact that almost all PGA Tour events allow cell phones on the course, even encouraging you to download the tournament app so you can follow the leaderboard, this is a tradition like no other, which means those mechanical scoreboards have done the job in the past and are doing the job today. And if you were planning to use your camera as a phone, fuhgeddaboutit. Even during practice rounds, when you can take your camera, you can’t bring those fancy Androids or iPhones that take better pictures than most $500 cameras.

3. Don’t wear a green blazer

If you’re going to be a good patron, you’ve got leave that green jacket in the car or at home or in the hotel room. Those are reserved for members and past champions. You don’t want to cause any confusion out there, impersonating Doug Ford or Condoleezza Rice. If you must wear a blazer, pick a plaid one from the tournament that follows the Masters.

Be sure to leave the denim at home and, while we’re at it, consider saving the Loudmouth Pants for another week.

4. Smoke the fattest cigar you can find

I don’t know if there’s a better place to smoke cigars than where most of the old legends used to smoke Lucky Strikes and Camels. (There’s a great Frank Christian picture of Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer waiting on the tee puffing away, during the 1966 Masters.) But please make sure it’s a good one, like a Cohiba, since everyone around you will be smoking it, too.

5. Shop, but not ’til you drop

Okay, if you’re going to the Masters, you have to bring back lots of souvenirs for everyone, but not too many. After all, if you’re one of the those patrons who comes out of the massive Masters merchandise building with $50,000 worth of memorabilia, it’s pretty obvious you’re hitting the secondary market for your own gain, and that ain’t cool.

Just buy your closest friends a gift. They love those $16 coffee mugs. Every golfer who has received one of those from me drinks out of it every day.

6. Save room for Masters Mini Moonpies

I mean, other than the Masters, when do you get to eat these things? I don’t even know where to find regular moon pies in the grocery stores anymore. They’ve had them at Augusta National forever. I think there’s marshmallow in them and there’s chocolate on the outside, a winning combo. It gives you energy to climb all those hills, which look way bigger in person than on TV. So don’t fill up on $1.50 pimento cheese sandwiches or Masters potato chips or Masters trail mix or Masters peanuts; save room for those sweet little saucers.

7. Arrive early and stay at Augusta late

What else are you going to do while in Augusta? Sleep in at your $300-a-night Super 8 crash pad? Breakfast at the Waffle House and dinner at Hooters (two of many blue collar staples on Washington Rd.)? Instead, take it all in. Get there at the crack of dawn and stay until the last putt is holed. And why not? Food is affordable at the Masters.

8. No ‘Mashed potatoes!’ please

No, “You da mans,” “Get in the hole” or any other lame comments. This is the Masters, man. A polite golf clap will do nicely and when they do something really spectacular — like when Tiger Woods holed out that pitch shot from behind the 16th green — you can let loose like any other golf tournament.

9. Adults: Lay off the autographs

If you’re over say, 25, no autographs. Leave that for the kids. We know what those 50-year-olds are likely doing with those autographed flags they’re supposedly bringing back for family and friends: cashing in with the collectible guys.

10. No scalping tickets outside the grounds

Okay, so you’ve got tickets for the whole week and you want to take a day off to play golf at the nearby River Club in North Augusta or Aiken (S.C.) Golf Club just 20 minutes away. Don’t even think about scalping those tickets near the grounds to pay for the green fees. This is punishable by jail, fine or even worse, permanent expulsion from Magnolia Lane.

courtesy of Mike Bailey (golfadvisor.com)

Agent: Tiger still undecided on Masters, report that suggests otherwise is “comical”

After withdrawing from the Dubai Desert Classic, Tiger Woods’ status for the Masters is still up in the air.

We’re less than three weeks away from the Masters, and it’s still unclear if Tiger Woods will play or not.

This “will he or won’t he?” isn’t new regarding Woods and the season’s first major. He missed the 2014 and ’16 Masters with reports coming in all along the way about his health and practice regimen. This year appears to be no different.

On Friday, Golf Digest released a report with sources claiming Woods hasn’t been able to play or practice since back spasms forced his withdrawal from the Dubai Desert Classic. Mark Steinberg, Woods’ agent, offered the following rebuttal to the Golf Channel where he specifically mentions the author, Brian Wacker.

“I have no idea who Mr. Wacker’s really close sources are,” Steinberg said. “I can tell you this, nobody spoke to him; so how he could know something that Tiger and I don’t know is comical. I talked to Tiger four hours ago on the phone. We’re not in a situation to even talk about playing in the Masters now. He’s gotten treatments and is progressing and hoping he can do it. There’s not been a decision one way or the other. I couldn’t give you a fair assessment, but to say it’s doubtful is an absolutely inaccurate statement.”

The most interesting takeaway: Even though the opening round of the Masters is 19 days away, Woods isn’t in “a situation to even talk about playing in the Masters.”

Steinberg was also asked about Woods’ practice routine, and he said, “I don’t want to talk about specifics yet. When we’re ready to get into that, we’ll disclose it. He’s working hard at getting better, he’s working hard at progressing.”

Woods will be in New York City on Monday to sign copies of his new book. If you’re in the area, you can go straight to the source and ask him about his Masters plans yourself.

courtesy of Coleman McDowell (golf.com)

Jordan Spieth Tabs Texas Barbecue for Masters Champions Dinner

SpiethmastersbubbaWhen Jordan Spieth parred the 71st hole of the 2015 Masters to maintain a four-shot lead, CBS commentator Ian Baker-Finch said, “I think they’ll be serving Texas barbecue at the champions dinner next year.”

As it turns out, Finch was right.

According to a GolfNewsNet article which cites Reuters, Spieth spoke Tuesday from the Bahamas ahead of the Hero World Challenge about his desire to serve Texas barbecue at the 2016 champions dinner.

“I’ve still got a bit of time before I have to advise the officials at Augusta National but I am leaning towards a Texas-like barbecue,” said Spieth, who is defending his title this week at the Hero World Challenge. “So it will be a choice of Texan meats as my meal choice.”

This would be a major step up from this year’s champions dinner, where Bubba Watson served mac and cheese, but it’s not the first time the state’s famous brisket delighted golfers in green; Ben Crenshaw, a fellow Texan and former Longhorn, served Texas barbecue at the 1996 Masters champions dinner.

How does Spieth’s choice stack up against other first-time winners’ menus? Well, Tiger Woods served cheeseburgers in 1998 but upgraded to steak and sushi after victories in 2001 and 2002. Phil Mickelson served lobster ravioli and caesar salad in 2005, then chose seafood paella and machango-topped filet mignon in 2011.

Will Spieth win another Masters? More importantly, what will he serve if he does?

courtesy of  Brendan Mohler (golf.com)