Hawk's Nest: 10 reasons why we love the Masters

By John HawkinsMarch 31, 2014, 2:45 pm

All this talk about fitness on the PGA Tour – I’m not sure if I’m buying, selling or stuffing another donut down my neck. Steven Bowditch is the latest winner who appears to live just a short iron away from a pastry shop. Along with Kevin Stadler and Patrick Reed, that makes three chunky champs on the so-called flatbelly circuit in the last two months.

Meanwhile, the Dude in the Red Shirt, a workout junkie, has a bulging disk in his back and is questionable for the Masters. It reminds me of when I was a kid growing up in Baltimore, the one year ultra-buff Reggie Jackson sort of played for the Orioles. Jackson was constantly missing games with a pulled hamstring, while Boog Powell, all two tons of him, was out there every day at first base.

So please, don’t tell Bowditch that I think he needs to try a gluten-free diet. He might be a tad heavy, but he also looks strong enough to throw me a couple hundred yards into a rock-filled creek. Besides, if Bowditch can add another 10 pounds, who knows? He might win again.

THE BEST SPORTING event on earth. A tall claim, for sure, but I’ve covered Super Bowls, a World Series, several Final Fours and a few Wimbledons, and from this seat in the press box, nothing compares to the Masters. More than the ultimate golf tournament, it deprioritizes commercial sensibilities to showcase competitive drama and pressure performance with hardly an ounce of compromise.

These days, no other fixture on the athletic landscape can even think about making that statement with a straight face.

Beyond its righteousness, the Masters consistently delivers a product that piques the highest levels of public interest. Among serious golf fans, it is by far and away the king of Monday morning water-cooler buzz. It annually draws a much larger viewing audience than the other three major championships, reeling in perhaps two or three million people who won’t watch 15 minutes of golf the rest of the year.

This enormous mainstream reach is one reason Augusta National rarely deviates from its formula for success – but certainly not the only factor that contributes to the tournament’s popularity. Here are my 10 best explanations as to why the tournament is so beloved, why it has long been an American treasure and will continue to be for decades to come.

10. The club runs the event. Officials from each of the game’s governing bodies serve the Masters in various capacities, but the fellas in green jackets make all the decisions. Tournament policy, competitive parameters, the price of an egg-salad sandwich – no element of the operation is overseen by a non-member. When a bunch of millionaires set aside their egos and pool their minds for a common cause, good things are likely to happen.

9. Timing is (almost) everything. No question, the second-week-in-April slot is oceanfront real estate when it comes to hosting a big golf tournament. Not only does it symbolize the birth of spring for much of the U.S., about eight months have passed since the previous major. Like children right before Christmas, everyone’s champing at the bit.

Another point worth nothing: almost every Tour event ends early Sunday evening, but the Masters optimizes that window as opposed to, say, the NCAA men’s basketball final, which doesn’t begin until after 9 p.m. in the east. Baseball’s postseason games also go until midnight, and let’s face it, you lose a significant portion of your audience when you run that deep into darkness.

8. A tradition unlike … Probably more of an on-site factor than one that affects viewership, the Masters has always enjoyed playing up its rich history. Tuesday night’s Champions Dinner, Wednesday’s Par-3 Contest, Thursday morning’s ceremonial tee shots by the honorary starters – all play a significant role in the tournament’s unmistakable identity. A marketing expert could pontificate for hours on the value of such branding.

7. Location, location, location. It’s the only men’s major played on the same course every year, leading to a familiarity factor (among contestants, patrons and viewers) that cannot be overstated. Only in tennis and auto/horse racing do the biggest events remain stationary. In those sports, the actual competitive ground doesn’t stage the product to the same effect as Augusta National.

6. Mystique + Beauty = Appeal. Nobody does “less is more” better than the green-jackets. You only get to see the place for one week each year, and because it’s so aesthetically stunning, it assumes a heaven-on-earth type of quality. That same mentality transfers nicely to the operation of the Masters. Decisions are made in secrecy, details can be scarce, and very rarely do members feel obliged to explain the club’s rationale on such matters. The less we all know, the sexier it can actually appear.

5. Strong bladder required. With virtually no commercial interruptions from 5 p.m. on, the Masters stands alone in its commitment to Joe Sixpack. The viewer at home is made to feel every bit as important as the spectators on the course. Moreover, the televisual presentation is controlled by the club to the point where the Masters looks and sounds like no other golf tournament. It really is all about the golf. Easier said than done, so to speak.

4. Mashed potatoes? Fat chance, bro. Long regarded as the toughest ticket in sports, the Masters is played in a controlled but enthusiastic environment where the patrons know how behave. It’s not quite yahoo-free, but it’s pretty damn close, as the club has remained both obsessive and extremely protective about its method of ticket distribution over the years.

Loudest roar I’ve ever heard on a golf course? Final round in 1998, when Jack Nicklaus, who was only 58 years old at the time, had gotten three or four holes into a ridiculous front-nine charge. It’s not quite the tea-and-crumpets crowd you might think. These folks love their little white ball.

3. The second nine. A better collection of golf holes simply does not exist, but on Sunday afternoon, that brilliant layout becomes a cathedral of magic. Stuff happens. Higher powers intervene. Echoes reverberate through the Georgia pines, and champions emerge amid a fresh batch of memories. The 12th hole might be the best par 3 ever built; it is immediately followed by the best par 5 on the planet.

Every hole can play a starring role, although one might deduce that the 11th, 16th and 18th have produced the most history. Risk vs. reward, guile vs. glory, man vs. the moment. The Masters doesn’t actually start on the back nine Sunday, but it has always been a real good place to floor the gas pedal.

2. Storylines galore. A bit of a companion to the previous item, I’ll admit, but think about it. So many things could have happened to prevent Jack Nicklaus from winning his sixth Masters in 1986, but from Seve Ballesteros (at the 15th) to Tom Kite and Greg Norman on the final hole, it all fell into perfect place. Larry Mize with the impossible chip a year later. Fred Couples’ ball doesn’t trickle into the water at the 12th in 1992 …

Phil Mickelson in 2004. Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Angel Cabrera’s drive caroms out of the woods in 2009, but he falls in a playoff to Adam Scott last year. At Augusta National, truth and fiction often become indistinguishable. We call it theatre.

1. Icons rule. The three most influential golfers of the last 60 years are Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Their combined total of 14 victories speaks volumes in regard to the tournament’s unparalleled credibility, making Augusta National the place where the best who ever lived come to prove it. Palmer’s dynamic presence was most clearly defined by his Masters triumphs. Nicklaus turned back time in perhaps the greatest major ever played and raised the bar to a height where it remains untouched.

Woods will likely continue his quest to clear that bar next week, but regardless of where the future takes him, his 12-stroke victory in 1997 launched the most powerful display of dominance the game has ever seen. Great things don’t always happen at the little ballyard in Georgia, but they do happen there more often than anywhere else.

I’LL ADMIT TO having a pretty good laugh when I saw Pat Perez and Kevin Na grouped together (with Daniel Summerhays) in the final round of the Valero Texas Open. Perez, as you’ve surely noted, has a reputation as one of the Tour’s quickest and most emotionally demonstrative players, although he clearly has turned down the dial on his temper in recent years.

“Calmer because I know where the ball is going,” he texted me Sunday night. “I finally understand the laws of ball flight.”

As for Na, he is slow and a bit bratty on occasion, which led to my amusement regarding his playing with Perez. I am happy to report, however, that the two men completed 18 holes without incident; although, neither played well (a combined 9 over) in the second-to-last group and were out of contention early into the back nine.

So I just had to ask: Did Na drive Perez nuts?

“He is getting better,” came the report. “At least he tries. That [Tour rookie Andrew] Loupe is the worst I’ve seen.”

Just what pro golf needs: another guy who hits it 325 off the tee, then takes 12 practice swings with a wedge. But enough on that. I’ve known Perez for about 12 years, since he burst onto the scene in 2002 and almost won at Pebble Beach in the fourth start of his own rookie season – and produced more buzz for slamming his club and cussing than he did for finishing solo second.

Golf Digest sent me to the Canadian Open later that year to do a story on the guy, and as I recall, that first half-hour with Perez was unusually awkward. He was so abrupt and forthcoming with his opinions that I had to ask him several times if he was serious.

We did the interview while he played a practice round by himself at Angus Glen GC. At one point, Perez stepped into a bunker 6 or 7 feet below the putting surface and parked a half-dozen consecutive sand shots within 2 feet of a pin he couldn’t possibly see. At that point, I realized that it wouldn’t be a lack of talent that stood between Perez and stardom.

Stardom is still waiting, although Perez is quietly having a very good 2014, so to speak, finishing T-2 at Torrey Pines in addition to five other top-20s. He attributes his work with TrackMan expert Joe Mayo, something of a golf-swing physicist, for the improvement, which I found intriguing, so I asked if we could end the texting and actually talk on the phone for a few minutes.

“Just sat down for dinner,” Perez responded. “Call ya after.”

Stardom isn’t the only one still waiting.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”

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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Web.com Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the Web.com money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.

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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.

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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).