Martin Kaymer is making up for lost time.
For the second time in the past three months, Kaymer picked up a hole-in-one, this time on No. 16 at Augusta National. His first one was at No. 7 in Dubai.
Kaymer hopes that is a sign that his luck might be changing at the Masters, with the former No. 1 having never made a cut in his four appearances.
He says that his game is in great shape this time around.
“I can hit the ball both ways. I couldn’t do that in the past,” said Kaymer, who played with Tom Watson, Andy North and U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Randal Lewis on Monday. “My short game is in better shape than the past few years. I think that can go a long way out here.”
Kaymer also is using a different strategy in 2012: Arrive early and try to relax before the tournament starts on Thursday.
“I got here on Saturday and played Saturday-Sunday-Monday,” said Kaymer, who has dropped to No. 6 in the Official World Golf Ranking. “I will take it a bit easier on Tuesday and Wednesday now. It was always a little bit of a rush when I came here (in years past). I would get frustrated. I was getting worn out.
“It is a tough course to walk, so it is best to be rested.”
With Luke Donald, Hunter Mahan and Rory McIlroy – all ranked ahead of Kaymer – and Tiger Woods – only .09 points behind Kaymer – winning in the past month, Kaymer is looking for his moment.
“It is exciting for golf in general,” Kaymer said. “I think if it is Tiger, if it is Rory, if it is Phil (Mickelson), it is very tight at the top at the moment. Especially with Lee (Westwood) and Luke (Donald), as well. It is very exciting to be a part of it.”
The key question for Kaymer: Will he be a part of it come Saturday for the first time?
– Nick Masuda
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SILVER LINING? Kyle Stanley has experienced the lowest of lows for a PGA Tour professional, blowing a lead on the final hole of regulation and losing in a playoff at Torrey Pines.
But that experience might help Stanley in his Masters debut this week.
“Definitely in San Diego I felt the pressure. Didn’t handle it very well,” said Stanley. “The following week, felt it again, and you know, handled it better (a win in Phoenix). But it’s the Masters. Whether it’s Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, you’re going to feel some pressure. So I’ll be able to draw upon some of my past experiences from those couple weeks and hopefully take some positives from it.”
Stanley has plenty to learn as a first-timer, most of all just the feel of the tournament.
“I think you just really have to believe in yourself, believe in what you’re doing, and just really focus on the process,” said Stanley. “This is one of those golf courses where I think it’s really just about putting yourself in quality positions; knowing where to put the ball at each pin; getting it in play off the tee obviously.
“If you’re on the wrong side of some of these pins, it can be very difficult, so I think just knowing where to put the ball is going to be key this week.”
– Nick Masuda
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STARTING YOUNG: Webb Simpson says he was “pinching” himself when driving down Magnolia Lane on Monday morning.
Just imagine how excited he was to play Augusta National at the age of 12.
“My eyes were pretty wide the whole day. You know, I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Simpson, who says he shot an 80 in that round. “It was great. I remember the last hole, my dad told me ?? it was the time when the Scotty Cameron touring putters first came out, and I really wanted one, and the shop here had them before my home club. So I asked my dad if I could get one.
“So we get to 18, and he tells me if I birdie 18, he’ll get me the putter. I hit driver, 3?wood, and the pin is front left to where it is on Sunday; I hit it to about four feet and I missed it. We go to the shop and he’s feeling bad for me, and he gets me the putter anyways.”
Simpson doesn’t hide the fact that he’ll have plenty of nerves to deal with when he tees off for the first time on Thursday.
“My first major was last year, the U.S. Open at Congressional. I remember i was very nervous and it took a few holes to calm down,” said Simpson. “And once you hit a good, solid drive or good, solid iron shot, your nerves dwindle a little. I’m sure I’ll feel it on the first hole.”
Simpson also knows that Augusta National will bring plenty of noise as players make their respective runs.
“The closest thing I’ve come to those types of roars was the final round of the Walker Cup when there was 10,000 people out there and we had a huge lead and Great Britain and Ireland made a huge run on us and every minute seemed like there was a huge roar,” said Simpson. “I’m looking forward to it. Being here, certain tournaments in the past and hearing it, it will be a lot different to experience it inside the ropes.”
– Nick Masuda
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MEMORABLE SUNDAY: Billy Casper is 80 years old and has played in 45 Masters from 1957 to 2005 as a competitor.
But Sunday – a day when when former champions can bring a guest to play at Augusta National – may have been the 1970 champion’s best experience.
“I got to play with a good friend and had a great day,” Caspar said sitting on the lawn by the famed tree drinking a soft drink. “I made some pars and had the best time.”
Casper still makes the trek from Utah to Augusta every year. His ritual is to sit in a lawn chair at one of the numerous tables on the lawn, underneath an umbrella and enjoy the event that the Masters has become.
The four-time major winner considers the chair and his surroundings his office for the week and enjoys catching up with everyone that stops by, because everyone this week is a golf person.
“I really enjoy dining with the past champion,” Casper said thinking about the benefits of his annual pilgrimage to the National.
With the U.S. Open this year at another site of a Casper win – the Olympic Club – so he’ll make the trek to golf’s second major in June, while also promoting his new book, The Big Three and Me. But his thoughts continued to dwindle back to Sunday and his play.
Casper was the happiest when he talked about the driver – 3-wood – 9-Iron combination he hit to 15 feet on No. 15.
“If I hit that putt a little firmer I might have made birdie,” Casper said of the birdie putt just came up short, mainly because he didn’t want to putt it into the water. “It was a good day, a really good day.”
– Alex Miceli
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HOMETOWN KID: Augusta native Charles Howell III is back in the Masters for the first time since 2008, thanks to his appearance in last year’s Tour Championship. Howell is staying in his childhood home this week, though not the same room he grew up in. “My mom has redone the house so much, I wouldn’t even recognize it anyway. Once we got out, it was all changed,” Howell said.
His familiarity with the Masters’ hometown has one benefit, though. “I know the back ways to get around and avoid the traffic,” Howell said.
He’s played the Masters seven times. He finished 29th, 28th and 13th in 2002-04, but then missed the cut in three of his next four starts. He missed the cut in 2008. Howell has a new instructor this year, former PGA Tour winner Grant Waite. They began working together in October.
Howell started attending the Masters at 7 years old. “It’s much more fun being inside the ropes than outside,” he said. “I think maybe early on I didn’t quite realize how difficult it was.”
– Sean Martin
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BRAND NEW DAY: For someone that simply trying to “soak it in” in 2011, Jason Day sure gave eventual winner Charl Schwartzel a run for his money, finishing two shots back of winning a green jacket in his first try.
Has Day’s mentality changed in 2012?
“Every time I come back, I want to soak it in every single time. It’s a special place. I had a lot of fun last year. I’m looking forward to this year,” said Day, whose lowest round at Augusta is an 8-under 64. “I’ve got to focus on this tournament, and I’ve just been really chipping and putting a lot around the greens, just trying to get a feel for them. Because there’s really no place that you can prepare for the ?? like with your short game, prepare like you’re chipping here and putting here.
“I’ve been pretty good mentally lately, so I’m very happy where I am.”
With golf’s biggest names playing at the top of their respective games, Day knows that another run to the top of the leaderboard will come with obstacles.
“If Tiger is playing great, it’s good for the game of golf. Any player like Rory or Phil or Tiger that goes ahead, that wins this week, it would be great for the game of golf I believe,” said Day. “But I’m going to do my best to try to stop them, but we’ll see how it goes at the end of the week.”
And just how will Day do that?
“I think it’s a lot about second shots here. Obviously you have to be pretty sharp with your short game. But if you can place the ball on the green in the right spot, you definitely ?? you can walk off at the end of the week, if you placed them right, walk off at the end of the week saying the greens were slow,” said Day.
Day is also banking on his second shot at Augusta paying major dividends.
– Nick Masuda