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Golf Tidbits: Can anyone match Zoeller's feat?

Kevin Currie, Golf Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It has been 30 years since Fuzzy Zoeller teed it up at his first Masters Tournament. Doesn't seem like much of an occasion to mark, but Zoeller is the only player to win the Masters in his first start.

Sure, Horton Smith and Gene Sarazen did the same, but their wins came in the first two years this tournament existed. Ever since, Zoeller is the only man to show up at Augusta National for the first time and walk away with the green jacket.

Zoeller had won earlier in 1979, in San Diego, for his first title on the PGA Tour. Soon after, as the calendar flipped to April, the season's first major dawned and Zoeller took his first trip down Magnolia Lane to tee it up in his first Masters.

He opened with a decent two-under 70 and trailed Bruce Lietzke by three shots. Zoeller's low round of the week was three-under 69 in the third round, but he went into Sunday well behind four-time PGA Tour winner Ed Sneed, who led by five strokes entering the final round that April.

But Sneed faltered to a four-over 76 to cough up his lead, and Zoeller closed with another 70 to join Sneed and Tom Watson - who managed his second 71 of the week on Sunday - in a playoff.

The three men headed back to No. 10 for the first playoff hole, which all three parred.

Zoeller closed out the tournament on No. 11, the second playoff hole, as he made birdie to collect his first major championship crown. As mentioned, he remains the last player to win the green jacket in his first trip to Augusta.

Think about some of the Hall-of-Fame players that were unable to match that feat. The list includes the likes of Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. To be fair to Woods and Mickelson, their first appearance at The Masters came when they were still amateurs, and Woods did blow away the field by 12 strokes in his first start there as a professional.

Will Zoeller's status as the last to win in his first appearance ever change? Well, as we know, streaks are made to be broken.

This year's class of 19 first-timers is as stout as any class in years. Included on the list of those making their first trip to Augusta are Ryo Ishikawa, Anthony Kim, Soren Kjeldsen, Danny Lee, Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros. All have multiple wins on their resumes.

Ishikawa is a Japanese phenom that has won three times since 2007, including once as an amateur on the Japan Golf Tour. Kim won on two of the hardest courses on the PGA Tour last year - Quail Hollow (Wachovia Championship) and Congressional (AT&T National).

Kjeldsen, not known to many on the United States, won three times overall on the European Tour, including the Volvo Masters - the European Tour's equivalent of the PGA Tour's Tour Championship - to end last season. Lee is the reigning U.S. Amateur champion and became the second player to win as an amateur on the European Tour earlier this year.

McIlroy won the European Amateur Championship in 2006 as he built a stellar amateur resume that eventually had him ranked as the top amateur in the world before he turned pro. He won the Dubai Desert Classic in February against one of the strongest fields of the year.

Capping the sextet, Quiros owns one win in each of the last three years. Those victories have helped him climb to 27th in the World Rankings.

This year's class has the game to back up their wins, but do they have enough game to win the title this week?

The oddsmakers don't think so, as McIlory's 30-1 odds to win the title are the best among the first-time group. I think that, among others, Messrs. Woods, Mickelson, Els, Singh and Ogilvy will also have something to say about one of the first-timers breaking through this week.

CRENSHAW STREAKING THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION

While Fuzzy Zoeller went on to collect eight more PGA Tour wins after being victorious at the Masters, Ben Crenshaw is still searching for his next win since claiming the 1995 Masters.

Crenshaw, then 43, had lost his long-time mentor Harvey Penick the week before the tournament. After returning to Augusta from Penick's funeral, an emotional Crenshaw played his way into contention the first three days. He birdied 16 and 17 en route to a final-round, four-under 68 that gave him a one-stroke win over Davis Love III.

That win was Crenshaw's 19th on the PGA Tour and his second Masters title. Those were his only two major titles. Since then though, Crenshaw's record is not nearly as strong. He posted just three more top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour before he moved to the Champions Tour in 2002.

Crenshaw's record has improved on the Champions Tour, but he is still winless on the senior-circuit. He has collected 11 top-10s, including a runner-up finish at the 2007 U.S. Senior Open, when he trailed by three after two rounds, then stumbled to a four-over 76 in round three. Crenshaw closed with a 70 to end three back of eventual-winner Brad Bryant.

With two top-four finishes in his last three starts, the streak almost ended recently. Here's hoping it ends in Crenshaw's next start. Gentle Ben, as he is known, is one of the sport's true gentleman and doesn't deserve to end his career with such a long winless drought.

MINI-TIDBITS

- Three-time Masters champion Gary Player is playing in his 52nd straight Masters this week. It will also be the last that he tees it up in the tournament.

- There are plenty of prizes this week other than the green jacket. Players who post holes-in-one or double-eagles will receive large crystal bowls, the player with each day's low score earns a crystal vase and every player that posts an eagle collects a pair of crystal goblets. By the way, scoring conditions have been so tough in recent years at Augusta that the last winner to card an eagle was Vijay Singh in 2000.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Kevin Currie at kcurrie@sportsnetwork.com.

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