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Golf notebook: Lyle making progress toward return to PGA Tour

The SportsXchange

--Jarrod Lyle of Australia, who left the PGA Tour in March of 2012 because he was diagnosed with leukemia for the second time, has made enough progress that he recently was able to return to the golf course.

The 31-year-old Lyle played 18 holes for the first time in 18 months and later took to Twitter to announce the good news.

"Absolutely knackered now after 75 hits at The Sands Torquay ... hit a couple goodies," told his Twitter followers.

As he mentioned, he obviously was worn out, because in a later post, he wrote: "Thanks everybody for your thoughts. It's nice to feel normal again and get back to swinging the club. Might be some time till another 18."

The Sands Torquay is a private oceanside course in Victoria a few hours' drive from his hometown of Shepparton, Victoria.

Lyle, who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 17, learned it had returned in March 2012, shortly after the birth of his first child, a daughter. He underwent chemotherapy and received a transplant of donor blood from umbilical cords.

Only a few weeks before it was learned that the leukemia had returned, Lyle tied for fourth in the Northern Trust Open, the best finish of his career on the PGA Tour.

Lyle, who helped Australia win the 2004 World Amateur Team Championship, captured the 2008 Mexico Open and the Knoxville Open on the Nationwide Tour (now the Tour). He finished fourth on the circuit's money list that season with $382,738 to earn his PGA Tour card for the following season.

Lyle has said he hopes to return to the PGA Tour next year.

--Sir Nick Faldo is content with his job calling shots from the CBS-TV booth and doubts he will play competitively again in the Masters, even though he is eligible for the rest of his life.

The 55-year-old Faldo played Augusta National with his 14-year-old son, Matthew, on the Sunday before the first major of the year, and also played in the Masters Par-3 Contest opposite 14-year-old Tianlang Guan, who last week became the youngest player in tournament history.

"Probably not," said Faldo, when asked about playing in the tournament again, even for what would be a "farewell" Masters.

"I can't see that. I couldn't let myself go and shoot any number. It's just not me. ... If I keep my nose clean and keep my job at CBS, I'm quite happy to be here and doing that."

Faldo, formerly No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings, claimed the Green Jacket in 1989, 1990 and 1996, in addition to winning the Open Championship three times.

In his last Masters appearance in 2006, he shot 79-74 and missed the cut.

Six months later, Faldo signed a multiyear deal to be the lead golf analyst for CBS, which broadcasts the Masters and several other PGA Tour events every season.

Faldo, who was 49 at the time, had played in the Masters 23 times and ended a streak of 19 in a row.

"I'm not in this era; I don't hit the ball far enough," said Faldo, who won 46 times in his career and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. "I don't even play and practice one percent of what I used to do. It's no way to gear up, so you have to forget all of that. I've had my day, I've had my era.

"I'm doing a lot of cool, wonderful things business-wise and family-wise, so I haven't got the inclination to go and grind mentally or physically. I know how I've got to work."

And now, his work is in the booth.

Faldo said believes that if he wanted, he could play in the Masters and still call the tournament for CBS later in the day.

"I could have, if I spoke very nicely" to Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS ports, Faldo said.

But it's not going to happen.

An Englishman has not claimed a major title since Faldo's last victory at Augusta and at least one of the current generation would like to the old master play Augusta again.

"I'd like to see him play one more time," Justin Rose said. "That way, I get a practice round with him and get some tips. He hung his clubs up quite early, I thought Nick did.

"I'm sure he misses the game and that competitive side. He'll only do it if he's fit and able and certainly capable of making the cut at the worst."

And, by his own admission, Faldo is not sure he could do that.

--Guan Tianlang of China, who last week became the youngest competitor in the Masters at the age of 14, made sure he would get everything out of his first trip to Augusta National by arriving three weeks early.

Guan played at least seven rounds on the course before the others players began arriving on the weekend before the first major of the year and wasn't shy about hanging out with some legends of the game.

The Asian-Pacific Amateur champion talked putting with Ben Crenshaw, played practice rounds with Tiger Woods and Tom Watson, and was paired with Nick Faldo in the Par-3 Contest the day before the tournament started.

"He's way more mature than 14," said Crenshaw, who won the Masters in 1984 and 1995. "I think we're all asking ourselves what the heck were we doing when we were 14. He's very accomplished and you could just tell that he lives and breathes it.

"He doesn't over exert himself, he's balanced."

Two years younger than Matteo Mannasero of Italy was when he set the former age record in the 2010 Masters, Guan also was impressive in the media center, answering questions in English with a very natural, self-assured demeanor.

Asked if he was intimidated, he said: "I'm not going to say that."

Guan was the youngest player in the field when he won the Asian-Pacific Amateur to qualify for the Masters, and also was the youngest player to win on the China Amateur Futures Tour, the China Amateur Tour and the China Amateur Open. He also captured the Junior World Championship.

"I have the confidence and I know I can play well," Guan said. "So I'm going to play like myself. I'm not going to try to do too much."

Guan, who is from Guangzhou, the largest city in the province of Guangdong, took up the game at the age of 4 and was taught by his father.

He said he was inspired by watching Woods on television.

"When I was probably three or four years old, I was looking at him win the Masters, and it's pretty exciting to watch him," Guan said.

"I played with him twice in the past couple years, and he gives me advice and I will say every time I play with him, I feel a lot better and give myself confidence."

With golf returning to the Olympic Games for the first since in 112 years in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Guan said he hopes to represent China.

Despite being assessed a controversial one-stroke penalty for slow play on Friday, Guan shot 73-75 -- 148 to make the cut by one stroke in the Masters, becoming the youngest player to make the weekend in a PGA Tour event. The previous youngest was Bob Panasik, who made the cut at the 1957 Canadian Open.

Guan played the weekend at Augusta in 77-75 to finish as low amateur at solo 59th.

--Chairman Billy Payne of Augusta National Golf Club announced that the winners of the six PGA Tour events this fall that start the 2013-14 schedule, the circuit's first wrap-around season, will earn invitations to the Masters next year.

Those tournaments are taking the place of the Fall Series, six tournaments in which the winners did not receive invitations to the Masters.

"As many of you know, I have been personally fully committed to players gaining entry to the tournament after winning a PGA Tour event," Payne said.

"All of us take great pride and pleasure in seeing a tournament winner beam with pride and excitement knowing that his victory had earned him an invitation to the Masters."

The 2013-14 season opens with the Open on Oct. 10-13 in San Martin, Calif., a week after the Presidents Cup. The PGA Tour moves on to the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas on Oct. 17-20.

Next event will be the CIMB Classic on Oct. 24-27 at the Mines Resort & Golf Club in Selangor, Malaysia, followed by the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China, on Nov. 1-4.

The opening stretch of the season concludes back in the United States, with the with the McGladrey Classic on Nov. 7-10 at Sea Island, Ga., and the OHL Classic at Mayakoba Playa del Carmen, Mexico, on Nov. 14-17.

The winners of the six tournaments also will earn spots in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the first tournament of 2014, which will be played Jan. 4-7 on the Plantation Course at Kapalua.

Payne also unveiled three other qualification changes in an effort to maintain a similar field size to this year's 93-player field.

The top 12 finishers (and ties) on the Masters leaderboard this year will qualify for next year's event, a decrease from the top 16,

The top four finishers (and ties) in the U.S. Open at Merion in June will qualify for the next year's Masters, a decrease from the top eight.

The top 30 in the PGA Tour's final money list has been removed as one of the qualifications. However, the top 30 in FedEx Cup points who qualify for the Tour Championship by Coca-Cola continues as one of the Masters qualifications.

All 11 players who qualified for the 2013 Masters via the top 30 money list would have qualified under a different category.

--Carl Jackson, Ben Crenshaw's caddie, watched 14-year-old Guan Tianglang of China become the youngest player in the history of the Masters last week and had at least an inkling of what the kid of going through.

Jackson has his own memories of the Masters at that age.

The 66-year-old Jackson was only days past his 14th birthday in 1961 when he made his Masters debut as a caddie on the bag for Billy Burke, who in 1931 captured the U.S. Open by surviving two 36-hole playoffs against George Von Elm.

Burke was 58 in 1961 and was playing the Masters for the 22nd and final time, and Jackson believes it might have been the last time a player played the Masters while wearing knickers, "a white starched shirt," and a tie.

"He was a very caring man," Jackson said. "His character carried him a long way."

Jackson worked his 52nd Masters last week, missing only one since 1961, when he underwent treatment for colon cancer in 2000. He has caddied for Crenshaw every year since 1976.

"I go to feel the spirit," Jackson, of Roland, Ark., said of the Masters. "The tournament has a spirit about it and it doesn't matter if it's raining or the sun is shining. I see why the older players hate to let it go."

And Jackson isn't letting go just yet, either.

--Masters rookies often are taken under the wing of a veteran, who tries to give the newbie the lay of the land at Augusta National.

Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium is more fortunate than most, getting his lessons from Jack Nicklaus, who claimed a record 18 major championships, including six Green Jackets, also a record.

"I feel pretty lucky to have the chance to talk to someone like Jack Nicklaus for an hour, considering how his schedule is," Colsaerts told reporters at Augusta National on Monday.

"We pretty much spoke about every hole. He told me about a few pin positions and a few shots that you might need to hit and the ones you don't want to hit.

"Usually when you play courses, you don't really think about the shots you don't want to hit, not as much as here. Here it takes a bigger part of your tactical approach to the course."

Colsaerts ran into Jack Nicklaus Jr. in South Florida about a week before the Masters and asked if he had any advice about Augusta before the Belgian played in the Masters for the first time.

"I would just ask Dad," the younger Nicklaus said, and so about an hour later, Colsaerts was sitting in front of the greatest golfer of all time, who captured perhaps the most famous Masters in 1986 at the age of 46.

Colsaerts said he saw Augusta National in person for the first time about a month earlier and knew he had only scratched the surface in terms of what he needed to know about the course.

After talking with Nicklaus, he arrived at Augusta with a jolt of confidence.

"I feel pretty lucky," said Colsaerts, who could be a contender in the Masters because of his prodigious length off the tee. "I felt like I had the place pretty well screened up for somebody that's never played here.

"So if you add some of the useful information he's given me, it's actually given me quite a confidence boost and made sure that I had the right eyes on certain parts of the golf course."

Colsaerts has won twice on the European Tour and played a role in the Euros' come-from-behind victory over the Americans in the Ryder Cup last year at Medinah.

His best result in six events on the PGA Tour this year before the Masters was a tie for ninth in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, with his best finish in a stroke-play event a tie for 18th in the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Colsaerts likes his chances for the Masters, now and in the future.

"Course-wise, it's so much more subtle than I thought," said the man nicknamed "The Belgian Bomber" and "The Muscles from Brussels." "You think after watching it for so many years (on TV) you have an idea of what it's going to be like, but everything is accentuated a thousand times. It's very special here.

"It's the tournament for me. ... Certain players come here and look at this place and feel like they have the game that suits it, and I definitely think that I do.

"Any tournament you win, you're going to have to hole some putts. It might be a little more difficult to do out here because the greens are very different, but yeah ... I like my chances."

Colsaerts became the second player from Belgium to play in the Masters, joining Flory Van Donck, who playing at Augusta in 1958.

Donald Swaelens of Belgium qualified for the 1975 Masters, but had to withdraw after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Swaelens died on April 25, 1975, at the age of 34.

The information gleaned from Nicklaus didn't help in Colsaerts' first Masters, as he shot 74-77 -- 151 to miss the cut by three strokes, but with his talent he should be back.

--Alex Notte, a 19-year-old who has represented Tennessee in Special Olympic golf, is going to be the center of attention at his prom next month at Bearden High in Knoxville, Tenn.

Notte has lined up as his date Belen Mozo of the LPGA Tour, who tied for 41st two weeks in the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

"This has given him something to talk about with other people, which has been great," said Kristine Notte, Alex's mother. "On (Mozo's) LPGA profile, she said she really wants to make a difference in the world. ... Well, she's walking the walk. This has made such a difference to Alex."

Actually, Alex has his sister, Arielle, to thank for the date.

"If you could take anyone to prom, who would it be?" Arielle asked Alex, while she was home from college in Canada on Spring Break.

Alex, who has hearing, vision and neurological disorders, told her through a combination of sound and sign language that he wanted to go to prom with Mozo, whom he had met two years ago at the Wegmans LPGA Championship in Rochester, N.Y., while on vacation with his parents.

Arielle, 22, took a video camera and to nearby Gettysvue Country Club, where Alex plays golf almost daily during good weather, despite multiple physical and cognitive challenges.

There she filmed a short video of Alex playing golf, dancing and signing a prom invitation to Mozo, with pop music singer Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," playing in the background.

Later, Arielle uploaded the video on YouTube and on Mozo's public Facebook page, but admitted she had no idea if the golfer would ever see it.

The answer came when Mozo telephoned the Notte home, spoke with Kristin Notte and accepted the invitation.

"She wanted to verify that (the video invitation) was real," Kristine Notte said.

Miles Soboroff, Mozo's agent, confirmed that his client will accompany Alex Notte to the prom on May 11.

Mozo, who is from Spain, was a four-time All-American at USC, who in 2006 became the first golfer since 1972 to win the Women's British Amateur Championship and British Girls Amateur Championship in the same year.

She earned her LPGA Tour card on the first try in 2010 and her best finish on the circuit was a tie for fifth in the 2011 NW Arkansas Championship.

"I was really moved when I saw the video," the 24-year-old Mozo said. "I knew immediately that I wanted to say, 'Yes,' but the only question that popped into my mind is, 'What am I going to wear?'

"What impressed me was how Alex was so determined to follow his dreams, whether it be golf or finding a prom date, and that he refuses to be defined by the challenges standing in his way."

On the morning of the prom, Mozo will host a clinic at Gettysvue to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics golf.

--Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland withdrew from the Masters early on tournament week because a hamstring injury,

The 44-year-old Clarke, whose only major title came in the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George's, also withdrew a week earlier from the Valero Texas Open because of the injury.

According to a release International Sports Management, which represents Clarke, the injury occurred a few weeks earlier when Clarke was on vacation in the Bahamas.

"It is with deep regret that I will not be able to play at Augusta this year," Clarke said in the ISM release. "Playing in the Masters is one of golf's greatest pleasures and I am very disappointed to be missing out."

In the two years since he claimed the Claret Jug by three strokes over Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, Clarke has not been able to play back to the form he displayed on that magical week.

Last year, he missed the cut in four of the seven events he played on the PGA Tour, including the Masters and in his title defense in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

Clarke also withdrew from the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club because of a groin injury and tied for 54th in the PGA Championship.

This year, he has not yet played on the PGA Tour, and in fact has played only 10 competitive rounds, finishing in a tie for 63rd at the Tshwane Open in South Africa early last month.

Clarke has 17 victories in his career, three on the PGA Tour, including the 2000 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, in which he beat Tiger Woods in the final, and the 2003 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

In 11 starts at Augusta National, Clarke's best finish was a tie for eighth in 1998. Because of his victory in the Open Championship, he will remain eligible for the Masters through 2016.

--The Masters Tournament Foundation, United States Golf Association and the PGA of America announced the creation of the Drive Chip & Putt Championship, a nationwide junior skills competition that will conclude on at Augusta National on Masters week in April next year.

Participants will compete in local and regional qualifiers throughout the United States.

Competitors from ages 7-15 will compete in boys and girls divisions in four age categories. The regional champions in each of the boys and girls divisions will advance to finals at Augusta, which will be televised on the Golf Channel on the Sunday before the Masters.

"Generations of players have been inspired by the dream of sinking a winning putt on the 18th green at Augusta National," said Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament Foundation.

"Now an exciting opportunity exists to make that dream a reality. I am confident that our collective efforts with the USGA and the PGA of America will showcase the talents of kids who already play this game and motivate others to give the sport a try."

Local qualifying events will take place at courses in 19 states and Washington, D.C. Local qualifiers will provide more than 17,000 opportunities to compete.

PGA professionals and USGA professional staff and volunteers will conduct the competitions.

Regional qualifying will be conducted at courses in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Texas (2), Virginia and Washington.

"The Drive, Chip & Putt Championship, I think that's a special thing and I'm glad to see organizations come together and do that," 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson said.

"I think that's amazing for kids at that age to be a part of something like that, but also be a part of Augusta National and maybe get the dream to come here and see this place. (The announcement) was a big deal and that was cool to see."

Interested players can find the official rules, qualifying sites and register at

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