Could Brad Faxon Win The Masters
Granted, we haven't played a major yet. And granted, we've had eight different winners in the eight events played thus far on the PGA Tour. But Brad Faxon happens to be the early (let's emphasize early) pacesetter for Player of the Year honors.
Phil Mickelson and Davis Love and Mark Calcavecchia are each one win away from pulling ahead of the rejuvenated Rhode Islander, but for now, the man ABC-TV's Ian Baker-Finch (trying to be a bit more bold in his pronouncements, not unlike Johnny Miller of NBC-TV) said was a better roller of the rock than even his Magic Wandness himself, Gentle Ben Crenshaw, HAS had the best year. Yet until Fax uses that Itzhak Perlman sweep of his bow to, say, win the Masters as Crenshaw did TWICE, I'll have to disagree with the agreeable Aussie, Baker-Finch. Crenshaw's still the better putter.
But here's the thing: I see no reason why Fax can't be a modern-day Crenshaw at Augusta, considering the way he's now striking the golf ball. Previously wild and unreliable from tee to green, Faxon's shortened his swing, tightened a few screws, and come to the understanding if not the outright epiphany that if he can just find a way to consistently knock the ball to even 20 feet, he's bound to make his share of birdies. Or even eagles. The guy leads the tour with ten eagles already this year. That's incredible in just a handful of tournaments. Which makes a Faxon run at the Masters not that unfathomable.
What is Augusta but a chess game where you put the ball in the right spot and then let your putter keep you in the game? Why not a BETTER BALL-HITTING Faxon to win at Augusta National this year? He's focused. He's positive on and off the course with a new bride after a painful divorce. He's intent on fulfilling longer-term goals like a return to the Ryder Cup. The difference is now he's got the tools to re-build that dream. He's no longer just a guy who, as they say, skanks it and makes everything he looks at. He's a guy who hits it fairly decently--not Tiger or Mickelson-like, but decently. And he still pretty much makes everything he looks at.
That sounds like a Masters contender to me. If he gets it done there, I'll be happy to agree with the agreeable Mr. Baker-Finch that perhaps Faxon's a better putter than Ben.
By the way, Faxon failed to qualify for the Masters in 2000, the first time he's missed since 1992. In eight appearances, he's missed only one cut, posted five top-25s with a low finish of a tie for ninth and a high of a tie for 31st in 1993. By way of comparison, Vijay's best finish prior to his win last year was a tie for 17th.
In Praise of David Feherty
Speaking of announcers, a Baker-Finch counterpart at CBS, David Feherty, is already a young announcing and writing standout, perfectly teamed with Gary McCord. His slant on the world, either written or verbal, is uniquely and uproariously his own. Inimitable.
Back on the course, Joe Durant's long been a superb ball hitter and green finder, frequently among the leaders in those stat categories. It's no surprise that at the Hope he went scuba diving deep now that he seems to have tapped into a new reservoir of short game prowess that previously had eluded him.
His pleasant demeanor and simple swing action appear well suited for future success. Of course, it so often comes down to getting the ball in the cup. Putting. Even the best strikers must come face to face with that reality. Once they do--and Vijay's another good example--success really flows.
DOES RIVIERA HAVE A DEFENSE?
Hey, wondering whether Riviera's got an answer to all the low scoring? In recent years, it's yielded some eye poppers. Elk's record 267 in the '95 PGA. Ted Tryba's course record 10-under par 61 in 1999. Maybe they should tuck some pins, grow some rough and put the thought back into the process. These guys are absolutely fearless.
Southern California bred Tiger Woods, interestingly enough, has never won at Riviera, yet has played it quite frequently through his formative and early professional years.
TIGER IN 2001
In the bigger picture, Tiger's obviously not the ONLY one who's capable of winning golf tournaments. We've seen that in the early part of 2001. But in my mind, he's still also THE ONLY ONE capable of winning an event by fifteen shots (2000 U.S. Open.) Or a dozen (1997 Masters.) Or eight (2000 British Open.)
If he putts, he can run and hide like no one else. If he doesn't make all his putts, then he's capable of still contending and finishing eighth. Or fifth. He's going to chalk up his share of top-10s. And years from now that'll actually become another hallmark of his. His Nicklaus-like ability to never really be out-and-out terrible on the golf course.
From the time he turned professional in 1962 until 1978, Jack Nicklaus never, ever had less than 10 top-10s in any one season. 17 straight years. Starting with his first full season in 1997, Tiger's had four straight seasons with no less than nine. He's gone nine, 13, 16 and 17 for a four-year average of about 14 top-10s per year compared with Jack, who had a first four-year average of almost 17 top-10s.
A STORM ON THE HORIZON
Waiting for Tiger to break out is like waiting for a tornado. When it arrives, it'll be full of fury and power. And remember, Tiger's not opposed to tinkering with his swing in the short term if it means getting it straight at just the right time...at, say, the Masters, where he'd set off an avalanche of Grand Slam debating were he to win this April.
MUSING ABOUT BOBBY JONES
Speaking of the Masters and the Grand Slam for that matter...a friend showed me a photo of a young Bobby Jones, cradling the Claret Jug, face handsome and perfect and hopeful and smiling and full of all of the promise of the world. Jones walked away at the very height of it all. I wonder what he would have thought of capitalizing on endorsements, which is obviously a much more pervasive thread in the overall quilt nowadays?
Would Jones have done car commercials, ads for McDonald's or a credit card company? Doubtful. Perhaps one company of consequence, but it certainly wouldn't have screamed at you. Something to think about. Jones walked away from competitive golf before he was 30, yet quickly developed something else so lasting and alluring that it would come to rival his on-course feats of the 1920s and his unparalleled season of 1930. And that something else naturally was Augusta National.
And so when I saw that radiant face, that natural, heroic visage, it sparked pangs of longing for Augusta. Springtime. A time of hope, when brightness is something we preternaturally invite into our lives, be it the brightness of the outdoors, the brightness of a flower in bloom, the brightness of kids laughing and yelling at a little league baseball game, or the brightness of a dimpled white ball against a clear blue, April sky.
Forgive the romantic side trip. And I know some cringe at that sort of fawning, reverential, perhaps even trite view. But Augusta's like a play, like a time-honored show that's good in large part because it is what it has always been. This romantic sort of view of Augusta is what Jones has inspired. Not flashy. But certainly substantial. A certain dignity. A manner of acting. A definitely unspoken code of civility. Humility.
BACK TO FAXON
Which leads us back to Faxon. Think about him for a moment. Does he embody any of those qualities? Is his game suitable? Was Olazabal's on two occasions? Of course, the Tour hasn't even swung to Florida yet. Los Angeles and Riviera beckon for a fond West Coast farewell. And here I am ruminating on the Masters. The mind's prone to drift that way with spring an increasingly more visible specter in the distance.
Who are your early Masters Favorites?
Share your thoughts!
Full Coverage of the 2001 Masters Tournament
After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective
Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.
On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...
Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner
On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...
Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.
After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.
Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.
A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray
Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call
PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.
At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.
“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”
Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.
Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.
Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.
“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.
Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park
PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.
Laura Davies won the day.
It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.
Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.
Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.
For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.
In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.
“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”
At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.
“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”
Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.
“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.
With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.
“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”
Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.
“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”
She also relished showing certain fans something.
“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.
Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.
In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.
Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.
“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.
After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.
“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”
Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.
In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.
“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”
And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.
Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill
ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.
The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?
“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”
And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.
After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.
“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”