One Thinking Man's Favorites

By John HawkinsApril 1, 2011, 4:14 pm
Last year’s Masters featured many of the competitive elements that define the tournament’s illustrious history – things we might have taken for granted before course changes at Augusta National eliminated many of the Sunday roars.

Former club chairman Hootie Johnson wanted to make the old ballyard tougher, and in doing so, he transformed Bobby Jones’ masterpiece into a venue that reduced the value of creative shotmaking and all but eliminated assorted angles of attack.

Johnson’s successor, Billy Payne, has gently restored the design principles that made Augusta National golf’s premiere stage. Back-nine scoring certainly was abundant in 2010, which led to a riveting duel between two of the game’s best players.

Phil Mickelson’s two-stroke triumph over Lee Westwood was made most memorable by the 6-iron Mickelson slashed off the pine straw just right of the 13th fairway, a spectacular act of bravado that showcased the risk-reward factor on perhaps the finest par-5 ever built.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods' worst finish as a professional at the Masters is T-22, in 2004. (Getty Images)

After three straight Masters with a final result shaped largely by the failures of those who didn’t win, the '10 version was a compelling beauty. Although Mickelson hasn’t won since claiming that third green jacket, although he has contended at a tournament of any size just twice since, he enters next week’s festivities as the co-favorite (with Tiger Woods) at odds of 8-to-1. Perhaps the bookies know something we don’t, but on the eve of the year’s first major, it is difficult to envision either superstar rediscovering their brilliance in such timely fashion.

For all Woods has accomplished in his career, he hasn’t won a Masters since 2005 – just before the third and final series of alterations to the course. No question, you have to drive the ball straighter now than before Johnson embarked on his toughen-it-up quest, which was popularly known as “Tigerproofing” when it began after Woods’ victory in 2002. Conventional wisdom told us Tiger would only dominate the Masters to a greater extent after Hootie’s handiwork, but then, few could have imagined him becoming so erratic with his driver, which has basically been the case since 2004.

Unless you’re Angel Cabrera, whose lucky bounce carried him to victory in a playoff in 2009, you can’t win a green jacket from the trees anymore. That said, the 8-1 odds on Woods almost seem preposterous.

Here’s a glance at one thinking man’s favorites – a reflection of the golf’s shifting competitive landscape and the ongoing struggles of the games two biggest names:

Lee Westwood (12-1): He has found his way onto virtually every big leaderboard for the better part of three years, and at some point, he’ll get his hands on that elusive first major. Tremendous ballstriker, not the world’s tightest short game.

Dustin Johnson (16-1): Everybody knows he hits it a mile, but Johnson factors consistently because he holes putts and doesn’t fritter away strokes inside six feet. Do they have a green jacket big enough for those shoulders?

Rory McIlroy (16-1): Too talented not to win a couple of Masters, he owns the most complete game among today’s young giants. Cold putter cost him at last year’s PGA.

Martin Kaymer (20-1): An efficient, workmanlike player who has plenty of length to conquer Augusta National. Winning that aforementioned PGA seems to have vaulted him mentally. Recognition has been good to him.

Mickelson (20-1): One senses a lack of interest this spring, as Lefty has his eyes on the bigger prize. He has arrived at Augusta National in less-than-ideal form before, then won. Nobody on earth holes more mid-range putts. Can spray it around the lot and still hang around.

Ian Poulter (25-1): The shortest hitter among the bunch listed here, he also plays from the fairway more than the rest. A tenacious competitor with excellent big-game instincts. It doesn’t hurt that he makes putts on Sundays, either.

Paul Casey (25-1): Has made steady progress at the majors since melting in the final-round heat at the 2007 U.S. Open. A streaky putter with prodigious length, he also hits a high ball, which never hurt anyone at Augusta National.

Nick Watney (30-1): Swing coach Butch Harmon loves his ability to shape the ball with his driver, and a much-improved putter has turned him into the game’s hot young star. Collapsed with third-round lead at last year’s PGA. From adversity, success often grows.

Woods (30-1): He hasn’t played back-to-back quality rounds in forever, and there are times when he looks nothing like the greatest player who ever lived, but hey, he’s still Tiger Woods. Hasn’t putted well at the majors in recent years. How about a 3-wood off the tee if the driver is misbehaving?

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm