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Masters notebook

Augusta National not above protests over Georgia’s voting laws

Spectators leave the course after a weather warning stopped play during the third round of the Masters on Saturday.
Spectators leave the course after a weather warning stopped play during the third round of the Masters on Saturday.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Ga. — About two dozen protesters turned out near Augusta National on Saturday, objecting to Georgia’s new voting law during the third round of the Masters.

The group held signs that said “Let Us Vote” and “Protect Georgia Voting Rights,” drawing both jeers and cheers from motorists on busy Washington Road.

One man passing by shouted an insult against Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who signed voter restrictions into law last month. But another yelled at protesters, “C’mon, you can vote! Get out of here!”

Georgia’s law — which opponents say is designed to reduce the impact of minority voters by making it more difficult to cast a ballot — has drawn fire from around the country.

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Major League Baseball yanked this summer’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta to shows its displeasure with the new statute. There were calls to take the Masters from Augusta National, but the club ignored the outcry and its chairman, on the eve of golf’s first major championship in 2021, declined to take a stand on the bill.

Georgia played a critical role in the last year’s election, narrowly going for Joe Biden in the presidential race. He was the first Democrat to carry the state since 1992. Also, the state’s two incumbent Republican senators were defeated in a runoff by Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, giving Democrats control of the US Senate.

Nearly 5 million Georgians cast ballots, many using absentee or early voting methods.

“The last election had a record turnout,” said one of the protesters, Marla Cureton of Roswell in suburban Atlanta, who is part of a women’s activist group known as No Safe Seats. “We should be celebrating this. It’s a great thing.”

Instead, the GOP-controlled state Legislature passed a law that supporters say is designed to improve election security following baseless allegations by former President Donald Trump that he lost Georgia because of widespread fraud.

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Among other things, the Georgia law imposes additional identification requirements for absentee voting, gives the GOP-run state elections board new powers to intervene in local election offices, and restricts the distribution of water and food to voters standing in long lines.

“This bill is death by a thousand cuts,” Cureton said. “Any time you put new restrictions on how you can vote, that’s voter suppression. We should be making it easier to vote. It’s the patriotic thing to do.”

She said the protesters staked out a corner about a half-mile from the front gate of Augusta National to bring attention to their cause.

“We have to keep awareness up,” Cureton said. “It’s important in Georgia that people understand it’s not going away.”

A super surprise from Brady

Cell phones are almost entirely forbidden at Augusta National, so imagine Tony Finau’s surprise Saturday when he got told during a weather delay that someone wanted to talk with him.

It was a FaceTime call.

From Tom Brady.

“A cool call,” Finau said.

Brady is a big-time golfer and golf fan. Finau is friends with Brady’s longtime trainer, Alex Guerrero.

“Alex is one of my good friends and someone I’ve known for a little bit,” Finau said. “That’s kind of how we met in Boston when he was playing for the Patriots, and this is only the second time we’ve had a conversation.”

Here’s what happened Saturday: Play was suspended around 4 p.m. because of dangerous weather in the area, and Finau went to the caddie house to wait for the resumption of play. That’s when Jimmy Dunne, an Augusta National member, just happened to be on the phone with Brady — the seven-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, the most recent of those coming earlier this year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Dunne approached Finau and said, “Somebody wants to talk to you.” Somebody was Brady.

“That was a pleasant surprise,” Finau said. “He said, ‘Great playing,’ and he’s following. He said he’s surprised we stopped. He said, in the NFL, ‘When it rains, we don’t stop.’ I said, ‘Maybe we’re not as tough as you guys,’ and he said, ‘No, that’s not the case.’ We had a good laugh about that.

“He was giving me some crap about the weather and why we stopped. He was obviously watching, and that was cool he was following.”

Finau is a big football fan, but never was a serious player. He was asked if Brady, who has been known to recruit a free agent or two, asked him about joining the Bucs.

“He’s got plenty of weapons over there in Tampa,” Finau said. “They’re not going to need me.”

One to remember

Corey Conners has made a move at the Masters, with just one swing.

The Canadian made a hole-in-one at the par-3 sixth hole Saturday, getting him to 3 under for the day, 5 under for the tournament, and within two shots of leader Justin Rose. Conners’s ace came just moments before Rose teed off to begin his third round.

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Conners’s tee shot at the 180-yard hole bounced once, then rolled smack into the pin and dropped into the cup. It was the second hole-in-one at this year’s Masters; Tommy Fleetwood had one at the 16th hole in Thursday’s opening round.

Conners had the 33rd hole-in-one in Masters history and the sixth at No. 6. The last player to ace that hole during the Masters was Jamie Donaldson in 2013.

Age is just a number for Mickelson

Phil Mickelson has broken 70 yet again at Augusta National.

The three-time Masters champion shot a 3-under 69 Saturday, getting him back to even for the tournament.

It was his second consecutive day of shaving three shots off the prior round’s score: He opened with a 75, made the cut on the 3 over number by shooting 72 Friday, then had a four-birdie, one-bogey day Saturday.

It was Mickelson’s 33rd round in the 60s at Augusta National, six shy of matching Jack Nicklaus’s Masters record.

Horschel flying by the seat of his pants

Billy Horschel went into the water, and then onto his backside.

Horschel had all sorts of fun at the par-5 13th hole at Augusta National on Saturday. He sent his tee shot into the pine straw off the right of the fairway, then played his second shot into a tributary of Rae’s Creek in front of the green.

This left him with two challenges: getting the ball out of the water — and getting to the water.

Horschel removed his shoes and socks, rolled up the legs of his white pants to the calves, then proceeded to walk barefoot down the slope toward the water.

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He slipped on the grass and fell onto his butt, drawing a good laugh from the patrons — even more so when he turned his backside toward Mickelson, his playing partner, to assess the damage.

Horschel played his third shot out of the water to well above the hole, put his shoes and socks back on, and two-putted for a par that was anything but routine.

With a bit of a grass stain to prove it, too.

Horschel birdied the next two holes and finished the day 4 over.

On the number

Jon Rahm and Mackenzie Hughes have signed for the same score in each of the first three rounds at the Masters: 72 each day.

They’ve got chances at a Masters rarity.

Only four players in Masters history — Walter Hagen in 1939, Lew Worsham in 1954, Kenny Knox in 1987, and George Archer in 1989 — shot the same score in all four rounds of the tournament. Hagen had four 76s, Worsham four 74s, Knox and Archer four 75s.

Even though his scores have been the same, Rahm says his play has gotten better as the week has gone along.

“The first day was by far the worst day golf-wise,” Rahm said Saturday. “I was able to get a lot of up and downs. Yesterday somewhat similar to today, just nothing that happened. And same thing today. I’m hitting good shots, and it’s just not happening.”

Koepka calls time

Brooks Koepka is going to take a long break. A month and a half might be about right.

Koepka, who missed the cut after trying to play less than a month removed from knee surgery, said Friday that he might not try to compete again until the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island that starts May 20.

“I won’t miss it, I know that,” Koepka said. “But tough to say if I’ll play anything before that, just for how it feels, how rehab goes and everything.”

Koepka said that if this week hadn’t been the Masters, there was no way he would have tried to play again so quickly after surgery.

He’s a four-time major winner, including the PGA in 2018 and 2019.

“I’ll take a nice long break after this,” Koepka said. “Way I look at it, I have two more days to do rehab that I probably wouldn’t get if I was out here, and I’ll get ready for the PGA.”

One player who won’t be taking a break after missing the Masters cut: World No. 1 Dustin Johnson. He’s going right back to work at Hilton Head next week.

“I’m playing,” Johnson said.

Three cheers for Olazábal

When José María Olazábal walked into the interview area Friday, the Spanish media members let out a cheer.

“It’s like winning the event,” the 55-year-old Spaniard said, breaking into a big smile.

In a way, the second round of the Masters did feel like a victory for the two-time Masters champion.

Olazábal shot a 1-under 71 to match his best Augusta National round of the past 15 years and make the cut for the first time since 2014.

The slick greens were a perfect set-up for Olazábal, who knows he can’t match the young guys with the length of his shots. He made up for that shortfall with his knowledge of the course and his touch on the greens.

“It’s lovely to see Augusta play like we have the last two days — fast and firm,” Olazábal said. “It reminds me a lot of the late ’80s and ’90s.”

Those were the glory days for Olazábal, who won his first green jacket in 1994, added another title in 1999 and was a top-10 finisher five other times.

But he hasn’t contended since a tie for third in 2006. In his last 12 appearances, Olazábal missed the cut nine times and didn’t finish higher than 34th the other years.

By the 14th hole Saturday, he worked his way down to 1 over, but then gave back four shots over the next three holes, finishing the day third from the bottom of the leaderboard.

No place for amateurs

No amateurs were playing the weekend at the Masters.

Ollie Osborne was the low amateur, his score of 8-over 152 beating Joe Long (154) and Tyler Strafaci (161).

“One of the main things I learned is not everybody’s perfect,” Osborne said Friday. “I played with the world’s best, and you don’t have to do everything perfect. You just kind of go about your game and do your thing. These guys are obviously really good, but I’m not that far off.

It’s the first time since 2015 that no amateur has made the cut. But there were plenty of memories — such as staying in the Crow’s Nest atop the Augusta National clubhouse and getting to play 36 holes in arguably the most storied tournament in the world.

“Some bits of advice from the world’s best golfers, that kind of sticks with me,” Long said. “The amateur dinner, like that experience is just so special. The Crow’s Nest, all those things, they’re memories for life. At the end of the day, you can tell your family about it, and that’s pretty amazing.”

Momentum swings the other way

Abraham Ancer was tied for 21st through two rounds, at even-par 144.

He had taken only 142 swings.

Ancer was hit with a two-stroke penalty well after his opening round ended, after it was determined that his club touched the sand before his bunker shot on the par-5 15th hole. Ancer signed for a bogey 6, before it was changed to a triple-bogey 8 after rules officials decided he signed for the incorrect score inadvertently.

“I’ve never experienced anything like that,” Ancer said. “I was already at the house I rented here. We were about to have dinner. We were grilling out, and I got a call from Augusta National telling me that they wanted to show me a video on my bunker shot on 15. Obviously, I had no idea what it was about.

“Then, well, they notified me they were going to give me a two-stroke penalty for touching the sand,” he said. “Obviously, I was pretty amazed because I had no idea that had happened. You needed a really good camera with some good zoom to be able to see that I touched the sand.”

He shot a 3-under 69 on Friday.

“It was pretty minimal, but I can’t complain,” Ancer said. “I was holding the club, so I’m the only one liable for that. You’ve got to move on and make some birdies.”

Ancer didn’t do enough of that Saturday, finishing the day at 3 over.

Sweet 16 party is over

Patrick Reed, by his standards, did terribly at the par-3 16th hole Friday.

He made par.

Reed had made six consecutive birdies at the 16th before Friday, a run that started in the final round of the 2019 Masters.

He started a new streak Saturday as part of his 2-under round.