Notes: '88 loss still stings for Calcavecchia

Mark Calcavecchia at the 1988 Masters.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – As part of a build-up to the Masters, Ping ran a series of promotions on its website that highlighted years in which a winner used one of the company’s putters.

When the promotion got to 1988, Sandy Lyle’s victory, it got an immediate reaction from one reader. “I remember it quite well. Wish it would have been my gold plated Anser in that Vault,” tweeted Mark Calcavecchia.

Yes, 26 years later and the memory of that Masters still stings for the PGA Tour veteran.

Calcavecchia that year closed with a 70 and was in the clubhouse at 6-under 282 when he watched the co-leader in the very next group, Lyle, drive it into the fairway bunker down the left of the 18th fairway. It figured to be all Lyle could do to make par and force a playoff; the likelihood of a bogey and a win for Calcavecchia was very real.

Then, the unreal happened: Lyle stuffed a 7-iron approach to 10 feet, slipped home the putt, and became just the fourth in Masters history to birdie the 72nd hole for victory.

Brilliant stuff for the Scotsman. Devastating for Calcavecchia and the pain still simmers deep within. But it’s further proof that golf is golf.

“To make a birdie was a dream come true,” said Lyle, who at the age of 56 is back for his 33rd Masters. When told about Calcavecchia's Facebook posting as proof that Masters memories stay fresh forever, Lyle smiled and said it’s never been a topic of conversation between he and his colleague.

“It’s one of those things that all golfers have experienced. We’ve all hurt at some times. Even Jack Nicklaus had some heartbreaks.”

• • •

GOOSE STEPS IT UP: It doesn’t quite match up with a last-hour dash to get into the Masters, but cheers to Retief Goosen for a spirited effort at the Shell Houston Open that qualified him for the upcoming Players Championship.

Having played in just nine tournaments in 2013, Goosen’s major medical extension provided him with 13 tournaments in 2013-14 which he needed to make $279,781. Into Houston, which was his 13th start, the South African had made just $229,156 so the pressure was on. He handled the challenge beautifully, shooting 68-71-71-70 to finish in a share of seventh, earning $186,240 that lifted him to $415,396.

The two-time U.S. Open champion is exempt for the remainder of 2014 season, which is comforting, of course. But as an added bonus he earned enough FedEx Cup points in Houston (80) to push his 2014 total to 420, which would have gotten him into the top 125 a year ago. Thus, Goosen is now eligible for the Players Championship (May 8-11).

• • •

STRONG SPRINTS: There were other sprints to the finish line worth noting, most impressive being Shawn Stefani’s.

Coming into 2013-14 with a minor medical extension, Stefani had just two tournaments in which to earn $84,084. When he missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, it left him with just one roll of the dice. Fortunately, tournament officials with the Shell Houston Open recognized a loyal local kid (Stefani played in a Houston junior golf program) and extended a sponsor’s exemption.

Great move.

Even better result, because Stefani, 32, shot 67-69-73-69, finished fifth and earned $256,000, easily the biggest check of his 25-tournament career.

Jonathan Byrd had come into 2013-14 with 10 tournaments in which to earn $166,517. It took him just nine to pass that number, but when he added a share of 19th and $77,568 in Houston, it padded his total.

Both Stefani and Byrd, like Goosen, not only have exempt status through 2014 but also earn spots into The Players Championship.

• • •

DIFFERENT ROUTE: We’ll see if it carries over, but Sergio Garcia played nicely at the Shell Houston Open, just the second time in his career he’s played the week before the Masters. The Spaniard finished third, just two strokes out of a playoff.

The only other time he played the week before Augusta was 2009 when he was T-77 in Houston.

• • •

SHORT SHOTS: When Ryan Palmer finished T-7 in Houston, it was his fourth top 10 of the season and 12th in his last 56 tournaments, dating back to 2014 . . . . . Rickie Fowler’s share of sixth at Houston last week was his best finish since a T-3 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last March. . . . A player ranked within the top 10 has won just once this season – Zach Johnson, who was No. 9 when he took the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in early January. . . . We’re not suggesting he hit the panic button, at least not yet, but clearly Matt Kuchar hasn’t been at his best when a chance to win has been there through 54 holes. He shot 75 to close Valero and finished T-4 two weeks ago; Sunday at the Shell Houston Open, Kuchar bogeyed the 72nd hole, shot 72, and lost in a playoff. His last four Sunday rounds have been 74, 74, 75 and 72. While he’s eighth in PGA Tour scoring average (69.74), he’s 64th in Round 4 average (70.57). Unfortunately, that was 2013, too, because Kuchar was seventh in scoring average (69.589), but 42nd in the Round 4 category (70.45).

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