Masters: A photograph like no other

(AP) — About the only negative memory Phil Mickelson has of Sunday at the Masters last year was finishing his third round in the morning. The sudden clicks of a camera from the tower over the 18th tee when he was at the top of his swing led to a wild shot and ultimately a bogey that reduced his lead to one shot.

It was one of the rare times Mickelson has shown anger inside the ropes.

Ditto for Augusta National officials, who tried unsuccessfully to find out which photographer committed the crime. Billy Payne, head of the media committee last year, banned photographers from the stand for the final round in the afternoon.

Mickelson recalled that incident when Payne became club chairman.

"Nobody ended up claiming that it was them, so no photographers were allowed up on that stand," Mickelson said in February. "I think for somebody to make a tough call like that, who wants coverage of the tournament but realizes he doesn't want photographers to decide the outcome or integrity of the competition, I just really appreciate the decision-making."

Lefty returned to Augusta National last week for a practice round with his father and brother (word has it the champ posted a 65 despite missing putts inside 15 feet on the last three holes).

Sitting around the clubhouse, he got a sneak peek at this year's official program.

Imagine his surprise when he reached pages 48-49, which feature a beautiful shot of Mickelson playing the 18th hole Sunday morning, fans lining the tree-framed fairway - and Lefty at the top of his swing.

It would seem that would be a sure way to find the culprit.

Alas, club officials have investigated.

A spokesman declined to say who took the picture, only that it came from a single frame of a digital camera that didn't make the offending click. Golf photographers have confirmed there is a brand of camera that can be programmed so that it would not make a noise that could be heard from 20 feet away in certain conditions.

WIN AND STAY HOME: Augusta National is expected to change its criteria so that PGA Tour winners - at least some of them - would qualify for the Masters. There were eight tour winners since the previous Masters who are not eligible, and it's tough to feel sorry for any of them except John Senden.

Three winners won opposite-field events (D.J. Trahan, Will MacKenzie and Eric Axley). Two winners didn't have another top-10 over the last year (Jeff Maggert and Mark Wilson). Corey Pavin's only other top 10 was at Pebble Beach, where he finished nine shots behind. Charley Hoffman had three other top 10s, one of those in the fall (Las Vegas) and another opposite the Ryder Cup (Texas Open).

But a case could be made for Senden.

He won the John Deere Classic and his national championship, the Australian Open. He also tied for second in Tampa, and was poised to climb into the top 50 and qualify for Doral until he suffered a severe stomach virus that forced him to withdraw from Bay Hill.

Unable to play the final two tournaments before the cutoff for the Masters, Senden wound up No. 53.

MASTERS MEMORY: Phil Blackmar won't forget his first trip to the Masters. He was on the practice green on the day before the tournament began, looking at a slippery 4-foot putt, when a buddy asked him how he would play it if that putt was to win the Masters.

"I'd bomb right in there," Blackmar said.

It was early in his career, when he was young and bold and quite confident over those putts. Blackmar failed to notice, however, that another player was listening to their conversation.

"You'd do what?" Jack Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus suggested lagging the putt so that if it missed, he still had a chance in a playoff. Slightly started, Blackmar said he was proficient at that length and it might be his only shot at a green jacket.

Then his worst fear was realized. Nicklaus said to him, "Let's see it."

"We were close to the edge of the green, so the gallery picked up on this," Blackmar said. "I was a little nervous, but I hit it firm, pulled it just a hair and it spun around the cup and went about 6 feet by. The fans let out this big sigh. Then Jack tries it. He goes into his crouch and barely touches it. It trickles ... and trickles ... and trickles ... and falls in. And the crowd goes nuts. And I'm just beet-red."

Blackmar made the cut in his Masters debut, finishing 45th with rounds of 76-73-73-76.

Nicklaus was playing in his 28th Masters, and he did slightly better.

The year was 1986. It was Nicklaus' last Masters victory.

DIVOTS: Oklahoma State golf coach Mike McGraw told Golfweek magazine that highly regarded Pablo Martin plans to turn pro after the NCAA championship in June. ... Tiger Woods has earned more money in 24 World Golf Championships ($17,182,500) than Sergio Garcia has in 141 starts on the PGA Tour ($16,687,482). ... AT&T said it will offer video previews, highlights and other coverage of the Masters Tournament through its television services, the Internet and mobile phones.

STAT OF THE WEEK: The Masters invites the top 10 players on the PGA Tour money list through Doral, and Mark Wilson was at No. 12. He was No. 10 in the FedEx Cup standings.

FINAL WORD: "It didn't help anybody win, because he wins all the time." - Sergio Garcia, on whether Tiger Woods' dominance has helped raised the level of play on the PGA Tour.

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