Phil, Tiger not far

Phil, Tiger not far

April 8th, 2011 by David Uchiyama and Jay Greeson in Sports - Golf

AUGUSTA, Ga.-As the rest of the pre-Masters favorites were firing at pins or falling back into the pack, golf's two biggest stars were lurking on the fringe.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson posted a scrambling 70 and four-time Masters winner Tiger Woods was at 71, six off the first-round pace set by Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros.

"I'm very pleased," Woods said. "I'm right there in the ballgame. I'm only six back, and ... we've got a lot of golf ahead of us."

Mickelson was tied for 14th, packed with nine others including Crayola-casual Rickie Fowler, Camilio Villegas and Retief Goosen. Lefty was erratic off the tee - he hit four of 14 fairways - but managed to stay under par.

"It's OK, just OK," Mickelson said after finishing with a bogey on No. 18 before heading back to the range to work with his driver. "I didn't shoot myself out of it, but I didn't make up ground on the field the way I wanted to, so I've got to go do it tomorrow."

Said Woods: "I would rather be where Rory's at, but, hey, it's a long way to go."

Rule change

Padraig Harrington was disqualified for signing an inaccurate scorecard after the first round of the Abu Dhabi Championship after slow-motion replays showed his ball moved slightly after he replaced his marker.

Harrington knew the rule but was unaware the ball moved. The penalty is two shots, but since it was discovered after Harrington signed and turned in his card, he was DQ'ed.

Golf's governing bodies - the Royal & Ancient and the USGA - changed the application of the rule Thursday, saying that if the player is unaware the violation occurred and signs the card, the penalty shots can be levied after the round and the player can stay in the tournament. The change takes effect immediately.

The actual Rules of Golf are not changing; a new interpretation of Decision 33-7/4.5 gives officials more room to determine if a player should be disqualified.

"It's great to see that they have got together and acted so quickly," said Harrington, who battled a stiff neck during a 77 Thursday. "Going forward, it seems like a pretty sensible thing in its wording. It's a small change, but a good change."

Nelson helps Slocum

Former Hixson resident D.J. Nelson is getting more and more comfortable at Augusta National.

Nelson, a former Tennessee State Amateur champion, is on his third Masters tour carrying the bag for Heath Slocum, who shot a 72 Thursday.

"We've done quite a bit of work on the greens, so we know where to hit it and where to miss it," said Nelson, who now lives in Fort Worth, Texas. "We'll try to make some birdies tomorrow and move up."

Nelson won the 1999 state am with a 3-under 285 at The Honors Course to beat Michael Morrison by a stroke.

"I don't play much golf anymore," Nelson said. "I've played about eight rounds this year and none in the Chattanooga area. In off weeks, we don't want to travel much."

Special anniversary

Ben Crenshaw and his caddie Carl Jackson will have a special celebration this week - a private one they're not going to explain.

Jackson has carried Crenshaw's bag for 35 of his 50 years on the course. They won the Masters in 1984 and '95.

"We've got something special coming up," Crenshaw said. "But that's between he and I."

Their partnership has lasted longer than most marriages, and Jackson believes honesty is the key.

"I'm not afraid to say what I think, what I see, and I'm making a suggestion," Jackson said. "And if I'm wrong, I'm hurting more than he is."

Classic struggles

Jason Bohn became the first former Chattanooga Classic champion to play in the Masters when he tied for 39th in 2006.

Bohn, who won the 2003 Classic, returned to the Augusta National on Thursday and was joined by 2008 champion Arjun Atwal, who made his Masters debut.

Bohn bogeyed Nos. 17 and 18 to finish at 73. Atwal, who earned his Augusta National invitation by winning the 2010 Wyndham Championship as a Monday qualifier, likely will have a short stay in his first Masters. Atwal shot a back-nine 43 on the way to an 80 that's 15 shots off the pace.