To a degree, winning Masters proves more difficult

Triplett, Harrington, Funk among those without title

Golf

April 05, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Kirk Triplett can remember exactly where he was at Augusta National, and what he was thinking as the final round of the 2001 Masters unfolded.

"I had a short eagle putt on the 13th hole to get within one of Tiger [Woods]," Triplett recalled earlier this year. "My mind just raced forward and I played the next four or five holes in my head before I hit the putt, and the next thing I remember I was looking at a 4-footer just to make birdie. My mind had gotten away from me there."

And so did any chance of Triplett catching Woods, who would go on to win the second of his three Masters titles.

When the 69th Masters begins Thursday, Triplett will be out there trying again along with those in this select field who have not won the treasured green jacket given to the tournament champion, or any of the trophies that go for winning one of golf's three other major championships.

Ireland's Padraig Harrington, who at No. 6 is the world's highest-ranked player not to have won a major, said that having the ability to separate from the atmosphere that surrounds major championships is often the key to separating from the pack of contenders and pretenders.

"It's obviously very difficult," said Harrington, whose best performance in a major was finishing one shot out of a four-way playoff at the 2002 British Open. "Everything about a major tournament is different. The golf courses are set up much tougher. The hype around them is much more. The result means much more.

"To say it isn't different is stupid."

Harrington, who won his first PGA Tour event at last month's Honda Classic, believes most players have to graduate from winning a regular tournament before contending in a major and then take another step or two before winning one of golf's Grand Slam events.

"I think there is a process for most people; some people obviously skip that process and cut through," Harrington said. "The first couple of times [at majors], you're thinking, `How can I even make the cut around these courses?'

"Then you progress a bit and get more comfortable, maybe move up, get a top 10 and then you start competing and then all a sudden when you start competing, the real pressure comes on. A couple of times in there, and one will turn in their favor."

That happened to Nick Faldo in the 1987 British Open at Muirfield. Known in the British press as "Nick Foldo" because of his collapses in major - and minor - tournaments, Faldo had won enough to become Europe's No. 1 player.

While it took a tactical error by American Paul Azinger late in the final round for Faldo to win after making 18 straight pars, the feeling the then-30-year-old Englishman had on a cold and foggy Scottish day was different from what he had in majors before.

"I was totally inside of myself," Faldo said. "I was no more than two paces ahead of myself. You have to stay so within yourself, control your emotions, control your physiology. If you can control all that, the big factors are desire and determination."

Then there's the process Phil Mickelson went through before winning last year's Masters, coming close over and over again to the point where many, possibly including himself, thought that winning a major championship would never happen.

Harrington, who at 33 is a little more than a year younger than Mickelson, is believed to be one of the best players in the world who hasn't won a major.

"It's always nice to be included in the category," said Harrington, who has won 10 times worldwide. "It'll be nicer to get out of it. Certainly for me to be included in there I've come a long way to a stage where people put me in there."

Sometimes it's better to have few paying attention, or giving you much of a chance. It happened that way at the 2003 PGA Championship, when Shaun Micheel won, and at last year's British Open, when all the pressure seemed to be on Ernie Els rather than eventual champion Todd Hamilton.

"The heat's off a little bit," Fred Funk said. "But coming down the stretch, the heat's on, because you want to finish the deal. There might be more pressure after you've won one, like Todd Hamilton, because everyone is looking at him."

That could be also be the case now for Funk, 48, coming on the heels of his unexpected win at The Players Championship on March 28. Given the quality of the field he dispatched in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Funk suddenly might be viewed as something of more than just a long shot here.

But Funk, who has never finished better than for a tie for 17th at Augusta and missed the cut here the past two years, said the Masters is different in one regard from other majors because it's hard to pretend that you're anywhere else, since the place is so unique.

"You'd have to be pretty good at denial to trick yourself into that," Funk said. "You'd probably be able to pass a lie-detector test if you can do that."

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