Flesch ‘loves’ Augusta, and has proof

Steve Flesch practices on the new driving range at Augusta National.

Steve Flesch practices on the new driving range at Augusta National.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Three men have finished in the top 10 in the past two Masters. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are two. The other?

Steve Flesch.

He tied for sixth last year and fifth the year before; he’s finished in the top 30 in four consecutive Masters.

“I’ve just got good vibes about it,” Flesch said. “I love this place. I’m comfortable on a lot of the difficult shots out here.

Flesch, a medium-length hitter, also said Augusta National’s added length has actually been to his benefit.

“It’s long enough now where the power hitters aren’t getting to all the par-5s,” Flesch said. “The holes are long, so your short game really has to be good. That’s what kind of carried me the last couple years.

“If I can putt well, I’m always going to have a chance here.”

Flesch has two things working against him as he goes for a third consecutive top-10: his play of late and the weather forecast.

Flesch has missed five of eight cuts this year, and hasn’t finished better than 54th. Of course, he wasn’t playing well entering last year’s Masters, but still finished sixth.

Last year, Flesch missed five of seven cuts before the Masters, but did have a seventh-place finish at Transitions.

The high Wednesday in Augusta is 88 degrees. Temperatures will be above 70 all week, and it will be sunny except for some scattered thunderstorms during the first round.

Flesch said he prefers when Augusta National plays long, either because of wet conditions or cold temperatures, because it means all players have long clubs into the par-4s and the par-5s are out of reach for almost all of the field.

“Certain holes, when it’s dry out, the advantage is significant for the bigger hitters,” Flesch said.

Flesch has gotten some guidance recently from Allen Terrell, the men’s golf coach at Coastal Carolina and swing coach for Dustin Johnson, as he tries to find his old form. Flesch met Terrell when Flesch and Johnson played together at last year’s Shark Shootout.

Flesch, a four-time PGA Tour winner, won twice in 2007. His exemption for those victories ends this year.

“I was too tilted in my setup, had too much weight on my back foot,” Flesch said. “We’ve just kind of tried to get me centered.”

• • •

photo

Paul Casey withdrew from the Houston Open citing a left shoulder injury.

Based on recent form and a good record at Augusta National, Paul Casey would normally be a Masters favorite. Casey is coming off a shoulder injury that forced him to withdraw from last week’s Shell Houston Open, though.

Casey, in the top 10 in both the Official World Golf Ranking and the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, has finished no worse than 11th in his past five worldwide starts. He’s made the cut in four of five Masters starts, finishing no worse than a tie for 20th when he’s made the cut. He’s finished 11th or better three times at Augusta.

Casey withdrew the morning of the Houston Open’s first round because of tightness in his left shoulder. He described the injury as a “pinch in the shoulder.”

When asked if his shoulder was bothering him after his Tuesday practice round, Casey said, “No more than the stuff I’ve been battling so far at the beginning of this year. I’ve been battling a sore lower back, which was tight because of what I did last year with the ribs. I don’t see how it’s going to be any worse than what I’ve been dealing with this year.”

Casey didn't make a PGA Tour start after the British Open in mid-July, and played just once between the British Open and the Chevron World Challenge in December, because of the rib injury.

Casey thinks the injury at Houston was caused by dehydration and possibly sleeping in an incorrect position. “I’m not worried about it. I’m a bit stiff. I’ve come to realize clearly it’s a (part) of getting older,” the 32-year-old said.

“I feel good, I really do,” he added. “I’m not overly excited about my physical state, but from a mental point of view, which I think has probably ... not been my strongest asset in the past, I’m much more mature than I was a few years ago.

photo

Former Masters champion Raymond Floyd speaks with the media Tuesday at Augusta.

“It’s annoying that I don’t maybe have quite the ballstriking that I had in 2008, but this is a golf course you need to be incredibly patient on and work your way around like a chess game.”

• • •

Ray Floyd, the 1976 Masters champion, announced Tuesday that he will no longer compete in the Masters. The 2009 Masters was Floyd’s 44th and final Masters; he shot 79-79 to miss the cut.

“I don’t feel like it’s the end of an era,” Floyd said. “I’ve always enjoyed it.”

Floyd also won the ’86 U.S. Open, and the ’69 and ’82 PGAs. Floyd was a 22-time PGA Tour winner.

Floyd said he plans to still attend the Masters and participate in the Par 3 Contest. “I can reach most of those holes off the tee,” Floyd joked.

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