Group thoughts: Breaking down the Masters field

By Will GrayApril 8, 2015, 12:14 pm

The wait is almost over.

Yes, the first three days of Masters week can border on excruciatingly slow. The field is already set, the groupings have been announced and the Par 3 Contest will soon be won by some brave soul willing to tempt fate.

The Masters offered 19 categories by which players could qualify for this week’s event. In turn, let’s break the field of 97 into 19 categories before play begins. If the number works for Augusta National, then …

1. Winner: Bubba Watson

Watson is going for three green jackets in four years, and signs are pointing toward the southpaw entering rarified Masters air. His advantage off the tee, touch around the greens and strong results this year all show that he’s ready to serve some more grilled chicken at next year’s dinner.

2. Jacket measurements, please: Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker, Jason DayDustin Johnson

These guys will be close enough to the lead heading into Sunday that the club will ask if they’re a 40 regular or a 42 long. Unfortunately for them, they won’t have a starring role in this year’s green jacket ceremony.

3. Weekend contenders: Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Hideki MatsuyamaJ.B. Holmes

All guys that will appear around the first page of the leaderboard at some point over the final 36 holes. It will make for a solid week and a nice paycheck, but not quite what some in this group – especially those chasing the career Grand Slam – had hoped for.

4. Please come back next year: Paul Casey, Chris Kirk, Brooks Koepka, Shane LowryRyan Palmer

The top 12 plus ties earn invitations back for the 2016 Masters, a select group that included the likes of John Senden, Jonas Blixt and Kevin Stadler a year ago. These guys all have the game to put together a sneaky-good result, and can perhaps get a head start on booking next year’s travel.

5. Silently solid: Bill Haas, Jim Furyk, Jamie Donaldson, Billy Horschel, Martin Kaymer, Hunter Mahan, Senden

These are the players who will finish about T-28; you’ll see their name on the final leaderboard scroll and realize you never actually watched them hit a shot. Some consistent golf on a tough track, but not anything that will warrant the attention of the leaders.

6. Please pass the OWGR points: Thomas Bjorn, Thongchai Jaidee, Branden Grace, Anirban Lahiri, Joost Luiten, Bernd Wiesberger, Victor Dubuisson

The world rankings are the gift that keeps on giving: crack the top 50 and you receive more chances to earn points to remain inside the top 50, and the beat goes on. These internationals will look to pad their point total, with a few eyeing a potential jump in the early Presidents Cup standings.

7. Might want to confirm the hotel’s cancellation policy: Sangmoon Bae, Blixt, Luke Donald, Jason Dufner, Matt Every, Rickie Fowler, Stephen Gallacher, Morgan Hoffmann, Graeme McDowell, Stadler, Kevin Streelman, Steve Stricker

This motley crew includes players with mediocre records at Augusta National, questionable form entering this week, or both. They might play their way past the 36-hole cut, but … to be on the safe side, it’s still good to double check the hotel’s policy. Last thing you want is to get stuck with an extra night on the bill after going 78-74.

8. Players named Tiger: Tiger Woods

The guy gets his own category, because your guess is as good as mine.

9. Glad to be back: Ben Crane, Padraig Harrington, Mikko Ilonen, Ben Martin, Geoff Ogilvy, Camilo Villegas

All players making return trips after Masters absences short (one year for Harrington) and long (14 years for Ilonen). It must be a little extra rewarding to reach the summit of the game, slip back down and then find a way to get back to the top.

10. Frame that invitation: Erik Compton, James Hahn, Brian Harman, Seung-Yul Noh, Robert Streb, Brendon Todd, Cameron Tringale, Danny Willett

All first-time participants in this year’s Masters. Inevitably, some will play their way back into the field at Augusta National – perhaps as soon as next year. But just in case … don’t be afraid to splurge on a nice frame.

11. First-round leader: Miguel Angel Jimenez

Admittedly, some wishful thinking. But a boy can dream, just like the Most Interesting Man in Golf can open with a tidy 66 on a course where he finished fourth a year ago. Right?

12. Flashes of brilliance: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson

Five men who are fully capable of putting up a 31 for nine holes at any time, but likely won’t sustain a run. For Stenson, Bradley and Simpson, any title chances will be defined by their work on the greens – although that’s hardly a revelation at Augusta National.

13. Solid sleeper picks: Russell Henley, Charley Hoffman, Ryan Moore, Kevin Na, Brandt Snedeker, Gary Woodland

Every good office pool entry (for entertainment purposes only) needs a quality sleeper pick to round out the roster. These are guys who have been playing well this year, have played well at Augusta National before, and have the ability to make an unexpected run up the leaderboard this weekend.

14. Hope you enjoyed the Champions Dinner: Angel Cabrera, Trevor Immelman, Zach Johnson, Larry Mize, Mark O’Meara, Jose Maria Olazabal, Charl Schwartzel, Vijay Singh, Tom Watson, Mike Weir, Ian Woosnam

All deserving winners who have earned their way into the most exclusive fraternity in golf. But for the majority of this list, the week’s biggest highlights will be made before the final putt drops on Friday – and perhaps even before the first shot is struck on Thursday.

15. Good enough to warrant flashback highlights: Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle

For Couples and Langer, this is old hat: play well for a couple of rounds and force the folks in the TV trucks to cue up footage from your Masters victories. It makes for a heartwarming story, even if the level of play drops off a bit over the weekend. Lyle gets a promotion into this category after making two consecutive Masters cuts.

16. Claret jug crew: Darren Clarke, Ernie Els

Two worthy champions who have qualified based on their recent Open Championship wins. They’ll both play with the reassurance that they’ll be back in 2016 regardless of their finish this week.

17. See you in Butler Cabin on Sunday: Corey Conners

The low amateur always gets a front-row seat for the green jacket ceremony in Butler Cabin, and this week that distinction will go to Conners, a runner-up at last year’s U.S. Amateur who will play the first two rounds alongside fellow Canadian Weir.

18. Take plenty of pictures: Antonio Murdaca, Matias Dominguez, Scott Harvey, Byron Meth, Gunn Yang, Bradley Neil

The rest of the amateurs will likely enjoy 36 holes of memorable golf, a few hours of restless sleep in the Crow’s Nest and the experience of a lifetime. Soak it in, because chances are you won’t be back inside these ropes again.

19. Once more, with feeling: Ben Crenshaw

Crenshaw will take his 44th and final competitive lap around Augusta National this week. A two-time winner, few players have a better understanding of the tournament’s tradition and history than does Crenshaw. He’ll be missed, but not before he gets one final send-off.

Getty Images

Watch: Daly makes birdie from 18-foot-deep bunker

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 11:14 pm

John Daly on Friday somehow got up and down for birdie from the deepest bunker on the PGA Tour.

The sand to the left of the green on the 16th hole at the Stadium Course at PGA West sits 18 feet below the surface of the green.

That proved no problem for Daly, who cleared the lip three times taller than he is and then rolled in a 26-footer.

He fared just slightly better than former Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill.

Getty Images

Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

Getty Images

Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

Getty Images

Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.