Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The biggest stories of the masters

1. Tiger Woods

Even with his high standards, Woods caused a stir when he said in January that the calendar Grand Slam was "easily within reason." Then he won his first four starts of the year, including a back-nine charge at Dubai on the European Tour. Along the way, he surpassed Arnold Palmer and caught Ben Hogan on the PGA Tour's career victories list.

2. Drug Testing

Golf does not begin drug testing until July, but mandatory meetings to outline the process was such an eye-opener that some players have begun asking about the need to form a union. Augusta National is part of the World Golf Foundation, meaning drug testing likely will take place at the Masters next year.

3. Slow Play

The PGA Tour has twice changed its cut policy to limit the size of fields on the weekend, particularly the final round, which has led to outrage among players who feel as though playing opportunities are being taken away. But it has renewed focus on the real problem - slow play - and more players are being singled out as the culprits. Two getting the most attention are J.B. Holmes and Sean O'Hair.

4. Phil Mickelson

He remains an enigma on the golf course. Mickelson appeared to hit his stride when he won at Riviera, giving him a victory at every PGA Tour stop in California and winning for the 16th time on the West Coast. But he didn't get out of the second round at Match Play, and he didn't finish inside the top 20 at Bay Hill or Doral.

5. The Golf Channel

It won't be a part of the Masters telecast, but it drew the wrong kind of attention in January when anchor Kelly Tilghman, responding to Nick Faldo's suggestion that players gang up on Tiger Woods, suggested they "lynch him in a back alley." It took four days for Golf Channel to act, suspending Tilghman for two weeks. The editor of Golfweek magazine lost his job for putting a noose on the cover. Woods forgave Tilghman, saying she meant no harm.

6. K.J. Choi

He emerged with a new title after winning the Sony Open - best Asian to have never won a major. Choi finished a career-high fifth on the money list last year after winning tournaments hosted by Jack Nicklaus (Memorial) and Tiger Woods (AT&T National), and his victory at the Sony Open was his seventh on the PGA Tour, and fifth since 2005. He comes to the Masters among the top 10 in the world.

7. Vijay Singh's meltdown at Pebble

It was only one tournament and it has happened to all great players, but it was no less shocking to see Singh blow a three-shot lead with five holes to play at Pebble Beach. He made two straight bogeys from the middle of the fairway and eventually lost to journeyman Steve Lowery in a playoff. Singh now has gone more than a year without winning, his longest drought since 2001.

8. Ernie Els

The Big Easy had gone 3 1/2 years and 47 tournaments without winning on the PGA Tour when he finally broke through at the Honda Classic, posting a score and letting everyone else tumble behind him. A week later, he revealed that his son has been coping with autism, and Els now has an "Autism Speaks" logo on his bag.

9. Masters criteria

The change back to awarding Masters invitations to PGA Tour winners has been a big hit. Daniel Chopra (Mercedes-Benz Championship) and Sean O'Hair (PODS Championship) were as thrilled about going to Augusta National as winning. Big-hitting J.B. Holmes earned his first trip to the Masters by winning in Phoenix.

10. Ryder Cup

There typically is more conversation about the Ryder Cup on the other side of the pond, but this year is different with the new selection criteria for Americans. It is based on money, leading to wild fluctuations in the standings. One point is awarded for every $1,000 earned on the PGA Tour, and the Masters will be the first time those points are doubled.

Associated Press

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