The Masters 2019: 'Last man' Corey Conners' dream run continues at Augusta National

Phil Casey 11/04/2019
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Corey Conners.

At the start of last week Corey Conners was not even in the Masters, but 11 days later he found himself sharing a tee with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player and high on the leaderboard at Augusta National.

Conners survived a six-man play-off to qualify for the Valero Texas Open last Monday and went on to win his first PGA Tour title in San Antonio to secure the final place in the 87-man field for the year’s first major.

The 27-year-old, who carded rounds of 80 and 69 on his Masters debut as an amateur in 2015, was in the first group out on Thursday and fired an eagle and three birdies in an opening 70 to continue his remarkable run of form.

“It’s been wild, definitely unexpected but I’m playing some good golf and really excited to be here and honoured to be playing in the Masters and just trying to keep riding the good play,” Conners said.

“I had a great day out there today, a lot of fun, and hit some quality shots and was able to get a couple under par, which was very pleasing. It’s been a bit crazy the last week but everything’s been great and I’m just trying to really enjoy the experience.”

Part of the experience was being on the first tee as honorary starters Nicklaus and Player hit tee shots on the opening hole, with Conners teeing off a few minutes later alongside Andrew Landry and Adam Long.

“It was pretty cool, I was able to stand on the back of the tee and watch them tee off and really appreciate what they have done for the game of Golf and it was a really cool experience to be part of,” Conners added.

“I just tried to soak it in and really enjoy it. And then being in the first group following them, that was pretty special as well.

“My playing partners, Adam and Andrew are both good friends, so we’re very comfortable out there and we had a great time.”

Conners was one over par after 12 holes but birdied the 13th and 14th and then holed from eight feet for an eagle on the par-five 15th before three-putting the last.

“I think – everything’s still high – I’m just having a lot of positive emotions,” he added. “I didn’t really sleep much the beginning of the week, I felt energised with positive things that have happened. This is a great place to be and I’m just really enjoying it.”

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Masters winner Patrick Reed trying to enjoy experience of being defending major champion

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The timing could hardly have been worse for defending Masters champion Patrick Reed.

On March 18 Reed was using the traditional teleconference with reporters to insist that his game was in better shape now than at the same time last year, a claim which was pretty debatable to begin with.

And just three days later, Reed was still out on the course during his opening round of the Valspar Championship when his wife Justine called renowned coach David Leadbetter to ask him to take a look at her husband’s malfunctioning swing.

“Justine asked me, ‘Hey, would you be prepared to just have a little look at Patrick? He’s struggling at the moment, he’s sort of lost a little bit’,” Leadbetter said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’m here, sure I’ll do it. Absolutely’.”

The move did not pay immediate dividends and Reed followed an opening 77 with a 75 to miss the cut. He then failed to reach the knockout stages of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, although he did at least beat his predecessor as Masters champion, Sergio Garcia, in his final group match.

Needless to say it is hardly the sort of form which raises hopes of Reed following in the footsteps of Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods in making a successful title defence at Augusta National.

Sergio Garcia missed the cut last year as defending champion.

Sergio Garcia missed the cut last year as defending champion.

Instead the 28-year-old looks more in danger of becoming the third straight defending champion, after Danny Willett and Garcia, to miss the cut and it is no wonder he is dreading the moment when he has to hand back his green jacket.

“My least favourite moment is going to be when I have to return the jacket and I’m not allowed to have it in my closet and wear it around the house and out at places,” Reed admitted.

“It’s definitely going to give me motivation to go out and try to repeat as well as try to win multiple, because even the times I’m not actually wearing the green jacket, to be able to see it sitting in your closet or in an area where you’re always walking by just gives you motivation and kind of picks me up.

“You want to keep it around as long as you can. The only way you’re going to do that is continue winning at Augusta and continue winning the event so you can have it year in and year out.”

Reed has not won since holding off final-round charges from Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth at Augusta National last year, his best finish on the PGA Tour coming with fourth place in the US Open.

A tie for second at the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship saw him finish second in the Race to Dubai, but his third Ryder Cup appearance in Paris produced just one win in three matches and ended in defeat and recrimination.

Reed blamed Jordan Spieth for the end of their successful partnership and claimed it was “not smart” of captain Jim Furyk to leave him out of two sessions, further damaging a reputation already suffering from stories of family fall-outs and accusations – which Reed strongly denies – of cheating and even theft from his team-mates at the University of Georgia.

Those topics will no doubt resurface if Reed should defy the odds and find himself in contention at Augusta, but for now his focus is on trying to enjoy the experience of being the defending champion in a major.

“I’m going to go in with hopefully the same kind of mindset that I had last year and really just take it all in stride, even though there’s going to be more going on this year than there was last year,” Reed added.

“Last year I was able to kind of fly in under the radar at the beginning of the week. This year having all the extra activities, extra things going on, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

“I honestly can’t wait for the week to start and to be able to experience all of it because being the first major and being able to come back and experience what it’s like to be on the first tee as defending champion is going to be an awesome experience.”

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Is Adam Scott's long putter legal and other talking points from day three of the US PGA

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Adam Scott using his controversial long putter

Tiger Woods took route 66 towards a first major title since 2008 as a late stumble from Brooks Koepka threw the 100th US PGA Championship wide open.

Looking to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Woods as the only players to win the US Open and US PGA in the same season, Koepka had raced to the turn in 30 and briefly enjoyed a five-shot lead at Bellerive Country Club.

And although he repaired some of the damage caused by dropped shots on the 14th and 15th with a birdie on the 17th, a third round of 66 left the 28-year-old American on 12 under par, just two shots ahead of former world number one Adam Scott.

Koepka’s lapse also brought many more players into the frame, with halfway leader Gary Woodland, Spain’s Jon Rahm and Rickie Fowler on nine under and Woods four off the pace alongside defending champion Justin Thomas, Ireland’s Shane Lowry, Jason Day, Stewart Cink and Charl Schwartzel.

Tweet of the day

We can’t be sure about the fish and chips, but Woods did indeed end the day four behind in a tie for sixth.

Shot of the day

Matt Wallace was already enjoying his day alongside three-time major winner Jordan Spieth when he made a hole-in-one on the 16th from 232 yards.

Round of the day

Adam Scott needed a special invite from the PGA of America to play this week, but a third round of 65 left him just two shots off the lead.

Quote of the day

“I said to him down maybe the first hole or second hole, ‘Mate, this is a real privilege for me to be playing with you, because 18 months ago I was on a mini-tour and I worked really hard to where I got to now.'” – Matt Wallace on his excitement at playing alongside Jordan Spieth.

Stat of the day

The Golf Channel’s Justin Ray highlights how long it has been since Scott has been in contention in a major.

Toughest hole

Tiger Woods may have managed a par for the first time this week, but the 10th hole played as the hardest with 26 bogeys, three double bogeys and a triple bogey from halfway leader Gary Woodland adding up to a scoring average of 4.300.

Easiest hole

In stark contrast, the tee was moved forward to make the par-five 17th play 550 yards and that led to three eagles, 42 birdies and just four bogeys from the 80-man field.

On the slide

Jordan Spieth’s chances of completing the career grand slam after a third round of 69, which included a triple bogey seven on the 12th, left him eight shots off the lead.

On the up

The chances of a controversial winner with Adam Scott just two off the lead. Scott uses a long putter that looks close to involving an “anchored” stroke, something which was banned from January 1, 2016.

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