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'Major' Change: Players Championship Goes to 3-Hole Playoff

Thursday April 17, 2014
Is The Players Championship a major? Right now, the answer is no. There are only four majors in men's golf, although many people refer to The Players as "the fifth major." The same way some people were once called "the fifth Beatle" when they weren't actually in the Beatles.

But there's no doubt the PGA Tour wants The Players Championship to be thought of as a major. And someday, the tour might just declare it to be a major. Eventually, such a declaration would pull everyone else - golfers, fans, media - along. There's recent precedent in the elevation of The Evian Championship to the fifth major in women's golf.

The PGA Tour took another step in that direction on Tuesday by announcing that the playoff format for The Players Championship is changing from sudden death to a 3-hole, aggregate score.

In years past, playoffs at The Players started at the island-green 17th and were sudden death. Now, they'll start at No. 16, continue to Nos. 17 and 18, and the total score over those three holes determines the winner. (If they players are still tied after three, they'll go back to the 17th and enter sudden death.)

The only tournaments in pro golf that don't use sudden-death playoffs today are majors: an 18-hole playoff at the U.S. Open, a 4-hole playoff at the British Open, and a 3-hole playoff at the PGA Championship. (The Masters uses sudden death, but The Masters could stage its playoff on a putt-putt course and much of the golf world would still call it the most wonderful thing they've ever seen.)

Is this a good move for The Players Championship? Well, if the goal is to someday start calling it a major, absolutely. In terms of the drama on the course? On that count I'd say yes, as well. Holes 16, 17 and 18 at TPC Sawgrass constitute a fantastic closing stretch, and now a fantastic playoff stretch. The sudden-death format combined the pressure of a playoff with the pressure of hitting into the island green to create a very special tension. That tension is still there under the new format, but is now joined by that intimidating tee shot on the 18th. Which makes the risk-reward value of the 16th all the more important.

Start Planning Now If You Want 2015 Masters Tickets

Monday April 14, 2014
If you've been lucky enough to attend a Masters Tournament, no doubt you want to go back. And if you've never been? Then you're probably already dreaming of heading to Augusta National for the 2015 Masters.

The first thing you need to know for 2015 is when The Masters will be played next year. The tournament dates are April 9-12. Masters week (and practice rounds) begins on Monday, April 6, 2015.

Now you just need tickets. The tickets page on Masters.com notes that 2015 ticket applications are not yet available. But you can go ahead and register your online account in preparation for the application process. Go here to do that.

If you've previously registered, no need to do it again. Once the application for 2015 Masters tickets is available, all those registered receive an email notification. Then you can fill out the application and hope. And tickets directly from the tournament aren't that expensive, especially for practice days. Most people reading this will find them affordable.

The catch is that the odds of getting practice day tickets directly through this online process are slim; the odds of getting tournament day tickets are vanishly small.

So hope for the best, but assume you'll miss out. Then what will you need? Money, and plenty of it, to buy 2015 Masters tickets through the secondary market (i.e., ticket brokers). If you're well off financially, that won't be a problem: You can buy the tickets you want. If, like most people, your budget is tight, then start saving now. Open a new savings account (or place a new shoebox under your bed) and add $30 a week to it. By tournament time next year you'll have around $1500 saved, and you might need all of it. Prices on the secondary market vary widely, and can swing wildly. What day you want to attend (practice day or tournament day? practice day tickets are much cheaper), how many tickets you want and your timing (2014 prices dropped dramatically after Tiger Woods withdrew) will affect prices. A single tournament day ticket can cost in the thousands on the secondary market, a practice day tickets in the hundreds - but availability and timing can drive those prices up or down.

Of course, you'll still to have to make travel and lodging arrangements (start early on that, too). Hey, nobody said it was easy to get to The Masters.

Bubba Goes Green for a Second Time at The Masters

Sunday April 13, 2014

Bubba Watson in the Green Jacket after 2014 Masters

Bubba Watson won his second Masters Tournament in three years on Sunday, beating 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt by three strokes.

Watson finished at 8-under-par 280, shooting 69 in the final round. Watson and Spieth started the day tied at 5-under, and it was Spieth who appeared the steadier player in the early going. He built a 2-stroke lead over Watson through seven holes. But the tournament turned on holes 8 and 9: Spieth bogied them both, Watson birdied them both. That 4-stroke swing put Watson in front by two at the turn, and he held that lead for most of the back nine, eventually expanding it to three.

So Bubba Watson is now the 17th golfer two win multiple Masters titles. Jack Nicklaus leads with six wins; Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods have four each. The 3-time champs are Jimmy Demaret, Sam Snead, Gary Player, Nick Faldo and Phil Mickelson.

And the nine golfers with two wins each are Watson, Horton Smith, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Ben Crenshaw and Jose Maria Olazabal. Not bad company.

Watson now has two wins in his first six starts at The Masters. The recordholder in that regard is Horton Smith, who won two of his first three times in the tournament (the first three Masters that were played). Next best are Jimmy Demaret, Arnold Palmer ... and Watson, each with two wins in their first six Masters starts. (Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods? Nicklaus won one of his first six starts, but three of those starts were as an amateur; Woods won one of his first six, but two of those starts were as an amateur.)

Watson is also just the second left-handed golfer to win more than one major. Mickelson is the only other multi-major champion among lefties.

The Masters didn't have any left-handed winners until 2003, when Mike Weir became the first. But six of the past 12 winners are lefties: one for Weir, two for Watson, three for Mickelson.

List of all Masters champions

(Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

A Few Facts & Figures for the Final Round of the 2014 Masters

Sunday April 13, 2014
It's time for a winner to emerge at the 2014 Masters. Will it be one of the co-leaders, Bubba Watson or Jordan Spieth? They are at 5-under. But there are 11 other golfers under par. There are still many in contention.

Or maybe someone will come from farther back by going very low. The Masters' final-round record is 64. That's a score that's been accomplished six times in the final round:
  • Maurice Bembridge, 1974 (34-30)
  • Hale Irwin, 1975 (32-32)
  • Gary Player, 1978 (34-30)
  • Greg Norman, 1988 (30-34)
  • David Toms, 1998 (35-29)
  • Bo Van Pelt, 2012 (34-30)
Of those six, only Gary Player won the tournament. He was seven shots off the lead when the final round of the 1978 Masters began, but he wound up winning it - his third Masters win and his final major win.

Nerves play a huge part in the final round of any major, of course, so scores won't necessarily be good today. Of the 13 golfers who enter the final round under par, four of them shot in the 60s in the third round.

What's the highest final-round score by a golfer who won the tournament? That's 75, and it's happened twice:
  • Arnold Palmer, 1962
  • Trevor Immelman, 2008
And what's the highest score in the final round among all golfers who made the cut? Jodie Mudd in 1983 and Lindy Miller in 1979 both shot 86s.

If Spieth (age 20) winds up winning, he'll be the Masters' youngest-ever winner; Rickie Fowler (25) would be fifth-youngest.

If Miguel Angel Jimenez (50) or Fred Couples (54) winds up winning, they would be not just the oldest Masters winner, but the oldest winner of any major.

Among those under par entering the final round, Spieth, Matt Kuchar, Jonas Blixt, Jimenez, Fowler, Lee Westwood, Thomas Bjorn, Kevin Stadler and John Senden would be first-time major winners.

Watson and Couples would be second-time Masters winners. Jim Furyk and Justin Rose would be first-time Masters winners but second-time major winners.

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