Hawk's Nest: Masters wins in the end

By John HawkinsApril 15, 2013, 2:31 pm

Upon winning the 2004 Players Championship, where he knocked his approach into the water on the 18th, then holed a 10-footer to beat Padraig Harrington by a stroke, Adam Scott hurled his golf ball into a grandstand behind the green, as champions occasionally do. While standing at the foot of those bleachers, I saw Scott’s ball soar over my head, then heard the commotion you might expect when a bunch of people are fighting over a $3 Titleist.

For some reason, I turned and looked up. The ball bounced off a wooden plank, then another, before falling to me like a Snickers bar in a vending machine. I briefly thought about throwing it back into the crowd, but I stuck it in my pocket instead and approached Scott after he’d wrapped up his interview in the media center.

“Hey, you want this?” I asked.

“How did you get that?” he replied, looking a bit more annoyed than perplexed.

I should have told him I beat up a 6-year-old and pushed an old lady off the top row, or that I planned to sell the ball on eBay after he signed it for me, but Scott is way too nice a guy to mess with. A genuinely good-hearted person. Excellent manners. Clearly, he was raised properly, but there is a gentlemanly quality to him even beyond the positive effects of a good mother and father.

The parallels between Scott and Davis Love III have always been striking to me. Not just the ultra-similar personalities, but the textbook golf swing, the teaching-pro dad – and the notion that both were high-profile underachievers because they lacked a mean streak or a killer instinct. Neither was particularly sharp on and around the greens, leading to almost identical labels.

It may not have been the fairest way to appraise the two players, but nobody exactly disputed the notion, either.

Now Scott is an undeniably worthy Masters champion, holing clutch putts and striking the ball exceptionally well to outlast Angel Cabrera in a two-hole playoff. In a week that featured a Tiger Woods overdose even before the two-stroke penalty, at a tournament where the youngest kid ever to make the cut at a major was penalized a stroke for slow play, a Masters to remember had a happy ending.

When Scott fell apart down the stretch at last summer’s British Open and blew a four-stroke lead with four to play, I processed everything I knew about him and figured he’d have a difficult time overcoming the collapse. Not just in the short-term, but for the duration of his career. It was an epic meltdown – the kind that leaves a permanent mark on many.

For him to rebound two majors later and win the way he did speaks volumes about Scott’s competitive character. His PGA Tour career began over a decade ago amid considerable fanfare, although it quickly became clear Scott’s short game wasn’t nearly good enough to help him win tournaments on a regular basis. He’ll never be a Seve but, no question, he has gotten a lot better.

As was the case with Love, Scott consistently failed to factor at the majors throughout his first eight seasons – just three top-10s in his first 36 starts – which can be blamed on his inability to get up and down. At the 2008 Byron Nelson Championship, which Scott won on a brutally chilly May afternoon in Dallas, I remember him being in a particularly reflective mood. He had just climbed to third in the world ranking, meaning he’d be paired with No. 1 Tiger Woods and No 2 Phil Mickelson at the upcoming U.S. Open.

We talked for a while, most of the time with just a couple of other people around. As likeable as he was, as well-grounded as he sounded, Scott was about to become a 28-year-old in serious transition. He would buy a private jet, break up with Marie Kojzar, his live-in girlfriend, and part ways with longtime swing coach Butch Harmon.

To me, it didn’t add up. Had Scott made enough money to afford his own jet? Who was giving him advice? Sergio Garcia goes into the tank after a busted relationship with Greg Norman’s daughter. Now Greg Norman’s protégé appears to be flying blind. Golf’s two most capable post-Woods phenoms were getting nowhere fast. Had life for Adam and Sergio gotten too easy?

Scott would go two full years (2009-10) without doing much. Since finishing second at the 2011 Masters, then hiring former Woods caddie Steve Williams that summer, the Aussie has become a much tougher, more visible big-game competitor. He may never evolve into the five-major, 25-victory superstar many people envisioned a decade ago, but on a cloudy, rainy Sunday at Augusta National, Scott slayed the demons and seized the moment with a strength some didn’t know he had.

A more likeable Masters champion, you will not find. Oh, and by the way? Scott didn’t want that ball he’d thrown into the stands after winning The Players. I gave it to a kid who was waiting for his autograph outside the clubhouse that evening.

IT WAS A very interesting Masters before Scott’s dramatic triumph, shaped in large part by the two rules-related incidents that just happened to involve the tournament’s most newsworthy participants. A one-stroke penalty slapped on Tianlang Guan, two strokes issued to Woods. And approximately 60 million words of reaction, give or take a syllable, as any high-profile ruling (and subsequent sanction) is sure to generate.

Some thoughts:

We can talk forever about whether they were picking on the 14-year-old from China, but pro golf has a serious slow-play problem – and European Tour official John Paramour seems to be the only person willing to do something about it. Paramour has been around for a long time, and if there’s one thing you should know about him, it’s that he never looks the other way.

The PGA Tour is full of really nice officials who never call penalties, who reflexively give players the benefit of the doubt and do whatever they can not to affect the outcome of a tournament. Paramour is old-school – the tough cop who doesn’t care about the identity of the player committing a violation or why it was committed.

I seriously doubt the penalty assessed to Guan will lead to more stringent enforcement of the pace-of-play policy, but at least Paramour reminded us that somebody’s paying attention.

THERE’S SOMETHING RATHER humorous about Rule 33-7, which basically allows golf’s lawmen to fix something they screwed up or missed earlier. On that note, I think it was implemented to fine effect in regard to Tiger’s drop at the 15th Friday. Understandably, my weekend chats were dominated by voices of protest, which means absolutely nothing.

About half of golf’s universe despises Woods, period. The other half adores him, so public opinion on this matter is even more irrelevant than usual. To me, the two-stroke assessment felt like a backhanded compromise. Disqualification became a non-option after Woods was cleared of any wrongdoing before signing his scorecard. Yet, he unwittingly admitted to taking an illegal drop in a post-round interview, so the green jackets felt like something had to be done.

There’s no question in my mind: Tiger didn’t know the precise specifics of the drop rule. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have said what he said on TV. What’s funny is, he tried to be candid and honest about what happened – and it ultimately cost him. Did it ultimately affect his performance on the weekend? Come on. The guy’s a lot tougher than that.

Woods didn’t win the 2013 Masters because he didn’t play well enough. Once again, his putting at Augusta National was slipshod. I’ve never seen him leave a putt 15 short, as he did on the fifth green Sunday. He made 15 birdies for the week, seven of them on the par 5s, but his inability to score on Augusta National’s back nine has been a problem for several years, never more so than this past week.

When the world’s best players gather at Merion in two months for the U.S. Open, it will mark the five-year anniversary of Woods’ last major title. The only consistent trait he has displayed over that period is a penchant for putting himself in excellent position through 36 holes, then doing nothing with it. With each passing failure, Mount Nicklaus gets a little higher. Nineteen major victories? I’ve got an idea. How ’bout we get to 15?

Thomas vs. Rose could be Ryder Cup highlight

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:40 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – For those still digesting the end of 2017 – the European Tour did, after all, just wrap up its season in Dubai on Sunday – consider that the PGA Tour is already nearly one-fifth of the way into a new edition.

The Tour has already crowned eight champions as the game banks into the winter break, and there are some interesting trends that have emerged from the fall.

Dueling Justins: While Justin Thomas picked up where he left off last season, winning the inaugural CJ Cup in October just three weeks after claiming the FedExCup and wrapping up Player of the Year honors; Justin Rose seems poised to challenge for next year’s low Justin honors.

The Englishman hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since August and won back-to-back starts (WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open) before closing his year with a tie for fourth place in Dubai.

Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk: Justin v. Justin next September in Paris could be fun.

Youth served. Just in case anyone was thinking the pendulum might be swinging back in the direction of experience over youthful exuberance – 41-year-old Pat Perez did put the veterans on the board this season with his victory at the CIMB Classic – Patrick Cantlay solidified his spot as genuine phenom.

Following an injury-plagued start to his career, Cantlay got back on track this year, needing just a dozen starts to qualify for the Tour Championship. He went next level earlier this month with his playoff victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

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They say these trends come and go in professional golf, but as the average age of winners continues to trend lower and lower it’s safe to say 25 is the new 35 on Tour.

A feel for it. For all the science that has become such a big part of the game – from TrackMan analysis to ShotLink statistics – it was refreshing to hear that Patton Kizzire’s breakthrough victory at the OHL Classic came down to a hunch.

With the tournament on the line and Rickie Fowler poised just a stroke back, Kizzire’s tee shot at the 72nd hole came to rest in an awkward spot that forced him to stand close to his approach shot to keep his feet out of the sand. His 8-iron approach shot sailed to 25 feet and he two-putted for par.

And how far did he have for that pivotal approach?

“I have no idea,” he laughed.

Fall facelift. Although the moving parts of the 2018-19 schedule appear to be still in flux, how the changes will impact the fall schedule is coming into focus.

The Tour’s goal is to end the season on Labor Day, which means the fall portion of the schedule will begin a month earlier than it does now. While many see that as a chance for the circuit to embrace a true offseason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be the case.

The more likely scenario is an earlier finish followed by a possible team competition, either the Ryder or Presidents cup, before the Tour kicks off a new season in mid-September, which means events currently played before the Tour Championship will slide to the fall schedule.

“So if you slide it back, somebody has to jump ahead. The mechanics of it,” said Davis Love III, host of the RSM Classic and a member of the Tour’s policy board. “I’m still going to go complain and beg for my day, but I also understand when they say, this is your date, make it work, then we'll make it work.”

While 2019 promises to bring plenty of change to the Tour, know that the wraparound season and fall golf are here to stay.

Product protection. Speaking of the fall schedule and the likely plan to expand the post-Tour Championship landscape, officials should also use the platform to embrace some protections for these events.

Consider that the RSM Classic featured the third-strongest field last week according to the Official World Golf Ranking, behind the season-ending tournament in Dubai on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour.

The winner in Dubai received 50 World Ranking points, a marquee event that has historically been deeper than that week’s Tour stop, while the Dunlop Phoenix winner, Brooks Koepka, won 32 points. Austin Cook collected 30 points for his victory at Sea Island Resort.

All told, the Japan event had four players in the field from the top 50 in the world, including world No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama; while the highest-ranked player at the RSM Classic was Matt Kuchar at 15th and there were seven players from the top 50 at Sea Island Resort.

Under Tour rules, Koepka, as well as any other Tour members who competed either in Japan or Dubai, had to be granted conflicting-event releases by the circuit.

Although keeping players from participating in tournaments overseas is not an option, it may be time for the circuit to reconsider the conflicting-event policy if the result is a scenario like last week that relegates a Tour event to third on the international dance card.

After Further Review: Whan deserves major credit

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 11:18 pm

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Mike Whan's really, really good idea ...

If LPGA commissioner Mike Whan hasn’t earned a gold star yet for creating the Race to the CME Globe four years ago, he deserves one now. The race’s finish at the CME Group Tour Championship has become a spectacular fireworks show. Stacy Lewis said it best on Saturday. She said the pressure the top players feel at CME is the “worst” those players feel all year, and by that she meant the “most intense,” the kind that makes for the best weeks.

You can argue there’s more pressure on the top women at the CME than there is in a major. The Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring, the Rolex world No. 1 ranking and the money-winning title all seem to come down to this final week, when there’s also the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot up for grabs. You have to think the weight of all that might have had something to do with Lexi Thompson missing that 2-footer at Sunday’s end. She came away with the Vare Trophy and $1 million jackpot as nice consolation prizes. We all came away thrilled by Ariya Jutanugarn’s birdie-birdie finish amid the gut-wrenching drama. - Randall Mell

On Austin Cook's improbable winner's journey ...

Despite becoming a Monday qualifying sensation on the PGA Tour in 2015, Austin Cook still had to head to Web.com Tour Q-School that winter. There he collapsed over his final four holes to blow a chance at full status, and one year later the cancellation of the Web.com Tour Championship because of Hurricane Matthew left him $425 short of a PGA Tour card.

But Cook put to rest all of his recent near-misses with four days of nearly flawless golf at Sea Island. Now he’s headed to Augusta National in April and exempt through 2020, afforded ample time to look back at how tough breaks in the past helped to shape his unique journey to the winner’s circle. - Will Gray

On what Cook's win says about PGA Tour depth ...

Players talk regularly about the depth of talent on the PGA Tour, claiming that anyone in a particular field can come away with a trophy on any given week.

To prove the point, Austin Cook, No. 306 in the Official World Golf Ranking, rolled over the field at the RSM Classic with rounds of 66-62-66-67 for a four-stroke victory. Before Sunday at Sea Island Resort, Cook’s only triumph in a professional event was at a mini-tour winter series tournament. That payday was $5,000.

His victory at the RSM Classic was worth considerably more and proved, yet again, the depth of the modern game. - Rex Hoggard

Snedeker feels close to 100 percent after RSM week

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:09 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Even if the result – a tie for 29th place – wasn't exactly what Brandt Snedeker is accustomed to, given his journey back from injury he’ll consider his final regular-season start of 2017 a success.

Snedeker had been sidelined with a sternum injury since June and overhauled his swing with the help of his coach John Tillery in an attempt to alleviate future injury. Needless to say, his expectations at the RSM Classic were low.

After starting the week with back-to-back rounds of 67 to move into contention, Snedeker wasn’t as sharp on the weekend, but he was still pleased with his week.

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“It was great to see how my swing held up and the golf course toughen up today and the changes we made. Inevitably you kind of revert back to what’s comfortable and natural,” he said. “But now my body feels good. I was shocked. I thought I’d be close to 75 percent this week and felt closer to 100 [percent]. Hopefully it continues to stay that way.”

Snedeker said he has a busy schedule planned for early next season on the West Coast and also plans to play next month’s QBE Shootout.

“Every time I’ve come back from injury I’ve been kind of like, well I’m close but not quite there,” said Snedeker, who added that he was pain-free for the entire week. “This is the first time I’ve come back and been like it’s there.”

Cook hopes RSM win starts a ROY campaign

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 10:43 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook cruised to his first PGA Tour victory on Sunday at the RSM Classic, a nearly flawless performance that included just two bogeys for the week and a 21-under total.

Earlier in the week, Cook’s caddie Kip Henley said Cook was playing the most effortless golf he’d ever witnessed. But as is so often the case, it can be tough to tell what is really going on inside a player's mind.

“A lot of stuff going on, especially up here,” Cook laughed pointing at his head. “A little tenseness. This week my ball-striking was great, and for the most part my putting was great as well. All around my game was just incredible this week.”

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Following a bogey at the second hole on Sunday that cut his lead to two shots, the rookie responded with a birdie at the seventh hole and added three more over his final four holes to beat J.J. Spaun by four strokes.

It was a timely victory for a player who has set rather lofty goals for himself.

“My goal coming into the year was to win Rookie of the Year and I’ve gotten off to a good start. Now my goal is to make a long deep run into the FedExCup playoffs,” he said.

Cook became the second consecutive rookie winner of the RSM Classic following Mac Hughes’ victory last year.