Not Your Fathers Masters Was It
Augusta National has been severally revamped. Its now the U.S. Open played in early April. They say the tournament doesnt start until the back nine on Sunday. Well, the tournament this year never DID start. Phil Mickelson put a choke-held on it in the fourth round and midway though the back nine, he had strangled the life out of the field. No one else had much of a chance after, say, the 15th hole (??)
This isnt to say, by any means, that Mickelson would not have won playing the old Augusta National. But at least someone would have made a run at him. Where was all the back nine drama on Sunday? Sadly, there was none.
It reminded me a little of those Alaska log-rolling contests. No one save Mickelson could stay upright on the Augusta log. Whoop whoop, here you go ' splash splash, glub glub. A slippery log, rolling over and over, turning, stopping, one end suddenly higher or lower than the other ' and another one goes falling off.
Its perfectly OK if you like the new Augusta. If you like the final day of the U.S. Open ' the grinding out of par after par , thats OK, too. Its strictly a matter of personal taste, and I happen to prefer an easier Augusta, one where anyone can catch fire on Sunday afternoon and run the tables.
We are very comfortable with what we are doing with the golf course for the Masters Tournament, said Hootie Johnson earlier in the week. Nuff said ' the powers-that-spoken and theres no room for debate.
The Masters is obviously very comfortable with the winner (in this case, Mickelson) shooting only 7-under. Only two meaningless shots, a hole-out birdie on 18 by Tim Clark and a bogey on 18 by Mickelson, prevented the winning margin from being four strokes.
Somehow, though, this is no longer a tournament were someone has to go out and WIN it. This a tournament of survival, where the champion is the last man standing, having clung to the ledge with his fingernails and held on until the 72nd hole. And if that reminds of a certain other major ' U.S. Open? ' so be it.
Im afraid weve just about seen the last of eagle chances at the two back-nine par 5s, 13 and 15. Rare, rare indeed are birdies at 10 and 11. Rare are birdies at 17 and the closing hole, 18. Instead, par is a very good score on any of the back nine holes ' remind you of a certain tournament in the middle of June? So long, 32s. Hello, 36s or 37s.
Heres a glance back through just 10 years at the Augusta I have admired:
2005 ' Tiger Woods and Chris DiMarco both shoot 12-under. Woods birdies 16 with one of the most dramatic chips in Masters history, then wins it in overtime with a perfectly played 18th in overtime.
2004 ' Mickelson starts the day with a three-stroke lead, loses it, then wins by making birdie on five of the last seven holes. His 20-foot birdie on No. 18 nips Ernie Els at the wire.
2003 ' Len Mattaice fires a 65 the final day to tie Mike Weir and force a one-hole playoff which Weir eventually won. However, Mattaice (who started the final round six shots out of the lead) birdied 10, 13, 15 to achieve the tie. Weir birdied 13 and 15.
2002, 2001 - Woods shoots 12-under to win in 02, 16-under in 01 to win. Augusta had begun the lengthening in 2002, adding 300 yards. This after Woods won in 2001 by two shots over David Duval, making birdies on the 11th, 13th, and 18th to win a stirring battle with Duval and Phil Mickelson.
2000 ' Vijay Singh makes birdie at 13, 15 and 18 in shooting 10-under.
1999 ' Tied for the lead with Duval, Greg Norman and Lee Westwood, Jose Maria Olazabal makes birdies at 10, 13 and 16. His birdie at 13 was in response to an eagle by Norman to again tie the lead, Ollie eventually winning by two.
1998 ' Mark OMeara birdies three of the final four to win by a stroke over Duval and Fred Couples.
1997 ' Woods sets a Masters record with 18-under and wins by 12 strokes.
This doesnt include the dramatic back-nine struggles that have occurred, including 1996 when Nick Faldo overcame Normans six-shot lead and won; Ben Crenshaw making birdies at 16 and 17 to beat Davis Love III by one in 1995; Bernhard Langer with an eagle at 13 and birdie at 15 to turn back Chip Beck at 93. How about Fred Couples surviving a 92 back-nine shootout with Ray Floyd, Corey Pavin and Craig Parry, or Ian Woosnam catching fire in 91 to beat Tom Watson and Olazabal?
And how about Jack Nicklaus with a 30 on the back side in 86, going eagle-birdie-birdie on 15, 16 and 17?
Yes, it was an easier Augusta National then. But the Masters was WON by each of these gents. The green jacket wasnt awarded to someone just because he was the last man standing.
The year 2006 is obviously the start of a new era in Masters history. We wont see any of those soul-stirring rallies. It will be more like the U.S. Open, in which the champion will be the man who makes the fewest mistakes - not the one who makes the most birdies and eagles on the back nine.
Augusta has gotten what it wanted, and done an outstanding job in shaping a course which meets the mold of what the top brass wanted. But, I liked it the old way, Im afraid.
Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas
Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.
Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.
McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.
Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?
Memo to the golf gods:
If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?
Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?
It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.
With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.
It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.
We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.
We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.
Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.
Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line. Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.
We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors.
In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.
While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.
Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.
Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.
Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.
While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.
Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.
So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?
McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever
With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.
The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.
Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.
"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."
McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.
But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.
"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."
What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire
Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.
Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft
Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft
Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft
Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts
Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts
Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x