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LPGA Debuts New Tournament This Week

Monday April 21, 2014
You may have heard the name Swinging Skirts before - it has appeared on some pro-am tournaments in other parts of the world. Particularly Taiwan, where the Swinging Skirts organization - which promotes women's golf and tries to encourage more women to take up the sport - is based.

This week, the first Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic takes place in San Francisco at Lake Merced Golf Club. The tournament is notable not just for its maiden outing, but because it is cosanctioned by the Taiwan LPGA. It's the first LPGA event played in the U.S. that is cosanctioned by another tour. (Which means that a handful of golfers from the Taiwan LPGA will join the 120 LPGA golfers in the field.)

Michelle Wie, coming off victory in the Lotte Championship last week, headlines the field. Alas, Lexi Thompson is skipping a tour stop for the second consecutive week. But most of the other big names are playing, and Suzann Pettersen will attempt to play after missing time with back problems.

The PGA Tour is in Louisiana for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. The defending champ is Billy Horschel. The field also includes Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els, Patrick Reed, Nick Watney and Justin Rose.

The European Tour is playing the Volvo China Open this week. The defending champ is Brett Rumford. The field is topped by Henrik Stenson, Jason Dufner and Ian Poulter.

Stellar Final Round Gives Michelle Wie Win in Hawaii

Saturday April 19, 2014

Michelle Wie does the hula after winning the 2014 LPGA Lotte Championship in Hawaii

Michelle Wie is finally a winner again on the LPGA Tour and, for the first time, in her home state of Hawaii.

Wie's two previous victories were at the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational and the 2010 Canadian Women's Open. And now she adds the 2014 Lotte Championship to that list. The wait was a long one, but it was worth it for Wie and her fans.

Wie earned this victory with a stellar final round. She entered Round 4 trailing leader Angela Stanford by four strokes. But while Stanford had some shaky holes, particularly on the front nine, en route to a 73, Wie was outstanding throughout the round. She shot a 67 that included six birdies and no bogies until a meaningless one on the final hole.

Wie's score on the day could easily have been lower. She was all over the flags on Saturday, hitting 15 of 18 greens and giving herself many good looks at birdie.

So now Wie has three LPGA wins and has made three Solheim Cup appearances. That's pretty good! Not the stuff of legend, but Wie still has plenty of time. Even though we've been watching her since she was 12 in 2002, Wie is still only 24 years old.

It's been a very good 2014 so far for Wie, who was runner-up two weeks ago in the first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Her finishes thus far have been 13th, 4th, 9th, 12th, 16th, 2nd and 1st.

How is she doing it? Surprisingly, Wie's putting has not improved in 2014. Her putting average is slightly higher than in 2013 and her putts per GIR identical. But she ranks a respectable 41st so far in putts per GIR.

Wie's improvements have been in accuracy in the long game. Off the tee - where she routinely sacrifices distance - Wie's fairway percentage has improved from 62-percent to 69-percent. But it's her iron play that has been outstanding in 2014. Last year she ranked 32nd in GIR, hitting 69-percent of greens. But this season Wie was hitting 80.8-percent of greens entering the Lotte Championship - best on tour - and she led the field this week, hitting 59 of 72 greens.

When you're giving yourself that many looks at birdie, you don't have to be a great putter to score well.

And Wie is scoring great this year: She also leads the LPGA so far in scoring average (69.75 entering the Lotte).

The Lotte victory will push Wie back into the Top 15 in the world rankings; she ended 2013 at No. 61.

Photo: Michelle Wie gets her hula on after winning the 2014 Lotte Championship. (Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

On the Web:
The Lotte Championship on LPGA.com

See also:

'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.

Round 4 Pairings/Tee Times for 2014 Masters

Saturday April 12, 2014
Here are the final round pairings and tee times for the 2014 Masters on Sunday:
  • 10:10 a.m. - Larry Mize
  • 10:20 a.m. - Stephen Gallacher, Joost Luiten
  • 10:30 a.m. - Mike Weir, Brandt Snedeker
  • 10:40 a.m. - K.J. Choi, Sandy Lyle
  • 10:50 a.m. - Francesco Molinari, Nick Watney
  • 11 a.m. - Brendon de Jonge, a-Oliver Goss
  • 11:10 a.m. - Thongchai Jaidee, Thorbjorn Olesen
  • 11:20 a.m. - Lucas Glover, Billy Horschel
  • 11:30 a.m. - Darren Clarke, Stewart Cink
  • 11:50 a.m. - Vijay Singh, Jose Maria Olazabal
  • Noon - Steven Bowdith, Hunter Mahan
  • 12:10 p.m. - Martin Kaymer, Bill Haas
  • 12:20 p.m. - Louis Oosthuizen, Jamie Donaldson
  • 12:30 p.m. - Bernhard Langer, Henrik Stenson
  • 12:40 p.m. - Jimmy Walker, Rory McIlroy
  • 12:50 p.m. - Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Russell Henley
  • 1 p.m. - Chris Kirk, Steve Stricker
  • 1:10 p.m. - Adam Scott, Jason Day
  • 1:30 p.m. - Ian Poulter, Kevin Streelman
  • 1:40 p.m. - John Senden, Gary Woodland
  • 1:50 p.m. - Kevin Stadler, Fred Couples
  • 2 p.m. - Thomas Bjorn, Justin Rose
  • 2:10 p.m. - Lee Westwood, Jim Furyk
  • 2:20 p.m. - Miguel Angel Jimenez, Rickie Fowler
  • 2:30 p.m. - Matt Kuchar, Jonas Blixt
  • 2:40 p.m. - Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson

Jimenez Scores One for the Old(er) Guys

Saturday April 12, 2014
Miguel Angel Jimenez scored a 66 in the third round of the 2014 Masters on Saturday. What's the big deal about a 66? Well, for one, it was the lowest score so far this week at Augusta National.

And for two, it ties the tournament record for best round by any golfer over 50. In the history of the Masters before Saturday, only Fred Couples and Ben Hogan had shot 66s among the 50-and-over set.

Hogan did it in the third round of the 1967 Masters, when he was 54 years old. Couples did it in the first round of the 2010 Masters, when he was 50. Jimenez turned 50 in January.

The 66 also moved Jimemez way up the leaderboard - all the way into a tie for third place at the time he finished the round (the leaders had yet to tee off at that point, however). Jimenez's three-round total is 3-under 213.

View the Masters recordbook

Third-Round Bests, Worsts at The Masters

Saturday April 12, 2014
Time for the third round of the 2014 Masters, which begins with 2012 champ Bubba Watson holding a 3-stroke lead. Will Watson be leading at the end of the day? Or will, in what golf fans know as "moving day" (a tournament's third round), someone else be the one who makes the move?

Let's take a look at some of the bests and worsts from third-rounds-past at The Masters:
  • The best score ever shot in a Masters third round is 63, by Nick Price in 1986. That was also the first 63 shot in The Masters, and there's only been one since.

  • The worst third-round score shot in any Masters since the institution of the 36-hole cut is 87, by Calvin Peete in 1983.

  • The highest third-round score by a golfer who went on to win is 77, and that's happened twice. First, Sam Snead did it in 1952. And Nick Faldo did it in 1989.
Snead's 77 didn't hurt him because the third round that year was played in high winds and scores soared across the board. Snead only had to shoot 72 in the final round to win by four.

Faldo, on the other hand, had to go low in the final round to make up for his 77 - he shot 65 the next day. And then he beat Scott Hoch in a playoff.

The 54-hole record at The Masters is almost certainly safe. Only Watson has a chance at it. That record is 201 (shared by Raymond Floyd and Tiger Woods), meaning Watson will have to shoot 64 to tie it.

Round 3 Pairings, Tee Times at 2014 Masters

Friday April 11, 2014
Here are the pairings and tee times for the third round of the 2014 Masters (times Eastern):
  • 10:15 a.m. - Rory McIlroy
  • 10:25 a.m. - Jason Day, Joost Luiten
  • 10:35 a.m. - Jose Maria Olazabal, Darren Clarke
  • 10:45 a.m. - Miguel Angel Jimenez, Sandy Lyle
  • 10:55 a.m. - Billy Horschel, Gary Woodland
  • 11:05 a.m. - Chris Kirk, Martin Kaymer
  • 11:15 a.m. - a-Oliver Goss, Francesco Molinari
  • 11:25 a.m. - Nick Watney, Thongchai Jaidee
  • 11:35 a.m. - Bill Haas, Thorbjorn Olesen
  • 11:55 a.m. - Ian Poulter, Rickie Fowler
  • 12:05 p.m. - Steven Bowditch, Brendon de Jonge
  • 12:15 p.m. - Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose
  • 12:25 p.m. - Vijay Singh, Bernhard Langer
  • 12:35 p.m. - Steve Stricker, Larry Mize
  • 12:45 p.m. - Mike Weir, K.J. Choi
  • 12:55 p.m. - Henrik Stenson, Stewart Cink
  • 1:05 p.m. - Lee Westwood, Brandt Snedeker
  • 1:15 p.m. - Louis Oosthuizen, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano
  • 1:35 p.m. - Lucas Glover, Matt Kuchar
  • 1:45 p.m. - Kevin Stadler, Jamie Donaldson
  • 1:55 p.m. - Stephen Gallacher, Russell Henley
  • 2:05 p.m. - Jim Furyk, Kevin Streelman
  • 2:15 p.m. - Fred Couples, Jimmy Walker
  • 2:25 p.m. - Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth
  • 2:35 p.m. - Thomas Bjorn, Jonas Blixt
  • 2:45 p.m. - Bubba Watson, John Senden
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