Augusta Scouting Report

By Brian HewittApril 5, 2004, 4:00 pm
The early reports are starting to filter back like intelligence data from some distant battle front:
Augusta National, our spy tells us, is in the best condition it has been in for years. The rough is tame. The course is playing hard and fast. The greens are perfect. And the weather forecast is for mostly dry conditions.
Our spy is Englishman Ian Poulter, who spent two days at the Sistine Chapel of Golf late last week. Poulter will be one of 17 first-time participants when golfs first major commences Thursday. And I am reminded of what Jackie Burke once told Ben Crenshaw about the Masters. Some year, Burke said, the winds are going to blow hard all week long and the scores are going to go through the roof.
We had a sampling of that over the weekend at the BellSouth Classic in Duluth, Georgia, where wind chills made it feel more like Duluth, Minnesota, and players felt like they were closer to Augusta, Maine, than Augusta, Georgia.
It is no coincidence that three Aussies and an Irishman finished in the top five at the TPC at Sugarloaf in the Atlanta suburb.. Mark Hensby, Scott Hend, Peter Lonard and Dublins Padraig Harrington grew up playing golf in this kind of weather. All of which makes 27-year-old American Zach Johnsons first win on the PGA Tour that much more special.
Johnson, playing in just his 13th PGA Tour event, collected $810,000 for the victory and moved past a million dollars in career earnings. Not bad for a rookie. Even better that he did it against seasoned international competition. This is one that will stay with him for lots of reasons.
Johnson is an unassuming young man who is not afraid to talk freely about his faith. He cited the Proverbs in his post-match press conference and the importance of trust. He also confessed to having a whopper of a headache from all the grinding Sunday.
Proverbs 20-15, which Johnson didnt recite on the day of his professional breakthrough, tell us this: There is gold and a multitude of rubies; but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel. Golf translation: The BellSouth will mean more to Johnson, down the road, than the money.
Meanwhile, back to the Masters, the question begs like a Doberman on a meat wagon: Why doesnt Johnsons victory get him an invitation to the Masters? This happens every year a non-invited player wins in Atlanta.
There is no terribly good answer, except to say any time you set up a set of qualifications there invariably will be situations where those qualifications come up short. It happens in the BCS in college football. It happens in golfs world rankings. And Johnson wasnt the only victim this year in golf.
Spains Miguel Angel Jimenez has won three of his last 11 tournaments on the European Tour, including Sunday in Portugal. He leads that circuits Order of Merit (money rankings) and he is a sure bet to make Europes Ryder Cup squad. But he, too, will be watching the Masters on television this week.
Jimenez, who top-tenned in two of the last three years at Augusta National, jumped 16 spots in the world rankings to No. 37. Johnson leaped 77 notches to No. 49. The sad fact of the matter for both players is this: If they had made their moves one week earlier in the rankings, they would be playing at Augusta National this week.
In defense of the Masters, all players knew well in advance what they had to do to qualify. And the strong suspicion here is that Zach Johnson will play in many Masters before his time on golfs stage expires. Jimenez, who possesses a vastly underrated touch around the greens, will get to Augusta again as well.
You dont need a spy to figure that out.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
Related links:
  • Full Coverage - The Masters Tournament
  • Masters Photo Gallery
  • Tee Times
  • Arnold Palmers 50th Masters
  • Getty Images

    Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

    By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

    Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

    That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

    Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

    From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

    Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

    She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

    She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

    “Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

    Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

    With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

    The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

    She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

    The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

    Getty Images

    One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

    Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

    Log on to to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

    Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

    Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

    Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

    Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

    Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

    David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

    Getty Images

    DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

    By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

    The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

    ''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

    In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

    ''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

    The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

    ''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

    The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

    Getty Images

    Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

    Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

    Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

    As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

    Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.