#AskLav: The Masters is so close, you can taste it

By Ryan LavnerMarch 28, 2013, 11:30 am

As if you needed another reason to be deliriously optimistic about this year’s Masters – besides the smack-you-in-the-face storylines of Tiger Woods resuming his race to 18 majors, Rory McIlory bidding to win three-quarters of the career grand slam and Phil Mickelson hoping to avenge last year’s blunder amid the bamboo – there is this:

The chicken sandwich is back in Masters concession stands.

Stand and cheer – politely, of course – because a year after one of the most popular sandwiches was removed in favor of a healthier alternative, deep-fried minds have prevailed in bringing it back. The re-entry of that $3 staple means a hearty lunch consisting of three sandwiches (egg salad, pimento cheese, chicken breast) and a lemonade will cost about $10. (Mmm, food.) Sorry, Waffle House.

Here are a few other savory morsels in this week’s #AskLav mailbag:

The Tour’s hands were tied with this one, alas. With the Masters so late this year (April 11-14), there is an extra week to fill between the Florida swing and the year’s first major. Why not flip-flop San Antonio and Houston, you ask? In its contract, Valero stipulates that the tournament cannot be held Easter weekend, which is the same scenario that led to the Hilton Head tournament being played ahead of the Masters (and not its customary week-after spot) in 2011. That said, the switch hasn’t seemed to hurt the Houston field, with 12 of the top 25 players in the world teeing it up this week. Redstone is always one of the best-manicured courses on Tour, and tournament officials set up the course to replicate the conditions players will face in two weeks. It’s always a great tune-up for Augusta.

Of course, Tiger’s play has been eye-opening – after all, he’s already matched his victory total from last year in the first four PGA Tour stroke-play events this year. But when it comes to Woods, little truly surprises. So give me last year’s major champions. Among the quartet of Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy, they have produced just a pair of top-5 finishes this season, and in neither event were they serious contenders. That said, Bubba’s game turned a corner last week at Bay Hill, and he seems primed to make a spirited title defense in two weeks at Augusta. As for Simpson, well, he captured medalist honors earlier this week at the Tavistock Cup, which just might be the most meaningless sentence I’ve ever typed.

Considering he has never played Bay Hill – and clearly he isn’t afraid of turning down the King, who, as we saw in that EA Sports clip, has some pretty devastating counterpunches – then I wouldn’t count on seeing McIlroy next March in Orlando.

Myriad factors, of course, but the most significant reason is that he’s battling a flaw in his swing. Once that gets sorted out – plenty of practice time in the last two weeks, remember – there won’t be any talk about adjusting to the new equipment, or the pressures of being world No. 1, or whether he lacks the character traits to be a dominant and consistent force in the game. He’ll be just fine by summertime.

Of course he has a chance! This opinion is subject to change, especially after seeing how he performs this week in Houston. There are plenty of good seats still available on the Rory bandwagon, but if he follows up that Sunday 65 at Doral with another good showing at Redstone … yes, he’ll still be miles behind Tiger in terms of Masters favorites.

Stricks is too nice of a guy, so scowling at him might be most damaging. No, seriously, what he did by helping Tiger on the putting green at Doral is no different than what dozens of Tour pros do each week. They help. They are an extra (and expert) set of eyes. Stricker told reporters in Houston this week that he’s had about five players come up and ask him to look at their strokes. Some were joking. Some, however, were quite serious.

Sixteen years – is this some kind of historic anniversary? But since you asked … mostly, I remember sitting in my tiny living room, watching on a little Zenith TV, just a few days after turning 10, and marveling at how a kid just barely a decade older than I was could humiliate the world’s best players. Naturally, it was inspiring. Even at that age, it was impossible not to believe you were witnessing the opening act from the greatest golfer who ever lived.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

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With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."