And just like that, the Masters script is flipped

By Rex HoggardApril 7, 2017, 12:26 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Within a wind-whipped, 10-minute window the most pressing questions the golf world pondered in the days and weeks leading up to the year’s first major were, to varying degrees, answered.

Would Dustin Johnson live up to his status as the pre-Masters favorite? Well, no, but more on that later.

Would Jordan Spieth be haunted by the ghosts of the 2016 edition, which essentially ended when he rinsed two golf balls into the creek at the 12th hole? Again, nope, but even that answer was complicated.

Johnson never hit a shot that mattered following a dramatic warm up that ended when he arrived at the first tee and concluded that his ailing back wasn’t up to the Masters task.

The world No. 1 “seriously injured” his lower back on the eve of the first round when he fell on a staircase at the house he’s staying at this week. Overnight treatment, multiple trips to his physical therapist and the best of intentions weren’t enough to put DJ back together again and his withdrawal marked just the second time – the first was Tiger Woods in 2014 – the top-ranked player didn’t tee it up at the Masters.

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“I couldn't make a good backswing, every time right at impact it would just catch,” Johnson said. “So I just don't feel like there's any chance of me competing. It hurts.”

Spieth endured a pain of a different kind, just not where everyone figured it might happen.

Following a quadruple bogey-7 at the 12th hole during the final round last year, Spieth has spent the better part of 12 months being forced down a memory lane he’d just assume avoid, but on Thursday he finally had a chance to put some distance between himself and his meltdown in ’16. A well-played and safe shot right of the hole set up a two-putt par just moments after Johnson had started for the exit.

“I was a bit surprised at how loud the cheer was when my ball landed about 34 feet away from the hole,” Spieth laughed. “But I was relieved to see it down and on the green. I guess everybody else felt maybe more than I did on it.”

But as the 2015 Masters champion has learned in just three short years, Augusta National gives and takes with equal abandon.

Following his round, Fred Couples, who once again turned back the clock with an opening 73 that left him tied for 22nd, was asked about the par-5 15th hole, “There’ll be a lot of funny stories on that hole,” he said. After a quadruple bogey-9 at No. 15 on Thursday, Spieth wasn’t laughing.

After laying up, Spieth spun his third shot into a water hazard, sent his fifth shot over the green and he three-putted from 29 feet to drop to 4 over par.

“You think of it as a birdie hole, obviously being a par 5, unfortunately I still thought of it as a birdie hole today and it really isn't, when you layup,” said Spieth, who finished with a 75 for his worst round at the Masters. “So I didn't take my medicine, and hit it about 15 feet right with a club that takes the spin off.”

In less time than it takes to cross Washington Road, the most popular talking points heading into this week’s tournament – Spieth’s demons on the hole they call Golden Bell and DJ’s dominance – were essentially non-stories, overshadowed by the gritty play of a veteran who has exactly one top-10 finish in 22 major championship starts and a 37-year-old journeyman playing his first Masters.

At one point on a wild and windy day, two dozen players were tied for lead before Charley Hoffman, whose tie for ninth in ’15 at Augusta National is the highlight of an otherwise nondescript Grand Slam resume, pulled away with the kind of second-nine that is normally reserved for Sunday afternoons.

Hoffman birdied the 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes and his 7-under 65 left him four strokes clear of William McGirt, who is making his first start at the Masters and defied the norm with just a single bogey that left him alone in second place.

“There wasn't, I wouldn't say, a ton of pressure today. You're just trying to make ends meet really,” Hoffman said. “Obviously going to sleep on the lead at a major championship here at Augusta National is not going to be the easiest thing.”

After months of buildup, it certainly wasn’t what fans expected at the year’s first Grand Slam gathering; but in Johnson and Spieth’s defense they weren’t the only stars who didn’t exactly deliver on Day 1.

Rory McIlroy rallied to finish with an even-par 72 after making the turn in 3 over par, and Jason Day hit just 10 of 18 greens in regulation on his way to a 74. Put another way, at 57 years old Couples outplayed six of the top 10 players in the world ranking.

Some of the toughest conditions at the Masters since the opening round in 2007 had something to do with a leaderboard that didn’t go to script, and there are still 54 holes for the cosmic tumblers to fall back into their proper position, but there’s no denying that Day 1 didn’t go as expected for either the frontrunners or those whose expectations exceeded reality.

After 12 months of speculation and frenzied anticipation, it only took 10 minutes for everything to take a curious turn.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.