Monday Scramble: Jaw-dropping Masters finish

By Will GrayApril 11, 2016, 3:30 pm

Jordan Spieth's hopes for a second straight green jacket perish in Rae's Creek, while Danny Willett fills the void to snag his maiden major title. All that and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Minutes, hours, even a day after the final shot of the 80th Masters was struck, the pervading sentiment seemed unanimous.

What the hell just happened?

As Spieth strode to the 10th tee Sunday afternoon, the tournament appeared to be on ice. Spieth had just rolled in his fourth birdie in a row, ballooned his advantage to five shots and seemed on the cusp of rewriting another few pages of golf history.

But there's no such thing as a sure thing, even for one of the game's best.

Willett left town with the green jacket, sure, but this week was always about Spieth. He strode down Magnolia Lane to be feted as the defending champ. He opened with a flawless 66 to stamp his name once again on the proceedings, then held the top spot for almost the entire rest of the way.

Almost.

But green jackets aren't handed out after 54 holes, or 63 holes, or even 71 holes. It's a lesson that many learned before Spieth was even born, and one that he was reminded of, the hard way, for the second time in the last three years.


1. Spieth's jarring collapse on the par-3 12th hole has been well-documented, as he strode the shortest hole on the course with a one-shot lead and left barely clinging to any hopes of victory. A quadruple bogey in the heat of battle tends to do that.

While Spieth largely lamented his tee shot, a "stock" 9-iron that he hoped to fade into a back-right pin, that wasn't the shot that cost him the green jacket. No, even though a potential double bogey would have dropped him out of the lead, he still would have held a viable position with a pair of par-5s on deck.

Instead it was his third shot that proved to be his undoing, a chunked wedge from 80 yards that seemed more likely to come from a pro-am participant than a two-time major champion.

Spieth stated after the round that he and caddie Michael Greller wanted to find a yardage where he could get some spin on the ball – an option the drop zone, according to Spieth, did not afford. But he never seemed entirely comfortable over the shot, which gave him an awkward angle to a tucked pin, and the result belied his perceived unsteadiness.

Hindsight remains a powerful tool, but had Spieth eked out a double bogey – which would have been his fourth double of the week – he probably would have left town with the green jacket still in tow.

2. Instead, Spieth could only shake his head as we were left to wonder where Sunday's performance ranks in the annals of major championship stumbles. The parallels to Greg Norman's collapse on the same hallowed grounds 20 years ago are too easy to pass up: both seemingly had the tournament well in hand, and both ended up losing to Englishmen – the only Englishmen to don a green jacket – who each rallied with sterling rounds of 67.

Of course, the big distinction between Spieth's runner-up and that of Norman's: Spieth will still get an invitation back to the Champions Dinner next year.

3. Norman famously never won another major after his debacle in 1996, and Arnold Palmer never won another major after coughing up a six-shot lead down the stretch at the 1966 U.S. Open. But recent history is a bit more on Spieth's side.

Consider that Rory McIlroy let the green jacket get away in 2011, surrendering a four-shot advantage on the final day, only to rebound and win the very next major at Congressional.

Likewise, Adam Scott watched the claret jug slip through his fingers at Lytham in 2012, but he came back to win the Masters the very next spring. They're refreshing lessons of resilience Spieth can hope to emulate as he gets set to defend another major title at Oakmont this summer.

4. The sting of his collapse will take awhile to abate. But when it does, Spieth's recent run in majors will stand as a rather impressive tally: Win, Win, T-4, second, T-2.



5. For Spieth, there was a little extra salt in the wound because as defending champ, he had to literally put the jacket on the guy who had beaten him for the title only minutes before. And he had to do it twice – first inside Butler Cabin for the television broadcast, then in a longer ceremony outside in front of hundreds of patrons.

It's a situation he knew entering the day was possible, but likely not one he expected to play out after making the turn with a five-shot lead.

"I can't think of anyone else who may have had a tougher ceremony to experience," Spieth said afterward.

The closest parallel would have been in 1954, when defending champ Ben Hogan entered the final round with a lead but ultimately lost in an 18-hole playoff to Sam Snead.

6. Even though the sting of defeat was more than fresh for Spieth as he welcomed Willett into one of golf's most exclusive clubs, the 22-year-old handled himself with both class and grace.

While we've seen plenty of superstars in other sports shirk from the spotlight after difficult defeats, Spieth endured the post-round ceremonies and stepped to the microphone to answer every question about what amounted to his worst golfing nightmare. It was a refreshing reminder of what separates him – and many of his PGA Tour brethren – from other athletes put in a similar spot.



7. While this will go down as the One That Got Away for Spieth, Willett was a deserving champion. A bogey-free 67 in the pressure-cooker of a final round at Augusta is no small feat, and he should be commended for taking advantage of his opportunity.

Willett was handed a surprising lead as he left the 15th hole, but he promptly strode to the next tee and stuffed it to 7 feet on No. 16 to give himself a little cushion. That, more than any other shot he himself struck, will likely be remembered as the one that really won him the tournament.

8. Perhaps we should have seen a major breakthrough coming for Willett. His third-place finish at last year's WGC-Match Play may have been surprising, but he backed it up with a T-6 finish at the Open Championship after holding the 36-hole lead. Then just a few weeks ago, when everyone took Bubba Watson's runner-up finish at Doral as a sign he would again contend at the Masters, it was Willett who shared third place.

It's been clear for a while now that Willett can hold his own against a world-class field. Now he has the green jacket to prove it.

"It still doesn't sink in quite what you've achieved," Willett said. "I've won a couple golf tournaments around the world, but this is just a different league."

9. Caddie bib numbers at the Masters are assigned based on when a player checks in on-site for the tournament. With his wife having just given birth to the couple's first child the week before, Willett's caddie wore No. 89 as he was the final player to register for the tournament. Coincidentally, that's the same number Jack Nicklaus' caddie, his son Jackie, wore in 1986.

Next year, the script will be flipped. Willett's caddie will wear the No. 1 bib - annually reserved for the defending champion.

10. Willett topped the standings, but it was a bona fide English invasion Sunday at Augusta. Five Englishmen finished T-10 or better, including Lee Westwood, who tied for second, and Paul Casey and Matthew Fitzpatrick, both of whom closed with 67. Throw in stalwart Justin Rose, T-10, and it was a banner week for the Queen's crew.

While Casey won't be at Hazeltine, the other performances served as a stark reminder that Darren Clarke's team will pack a hefty punch this fall at the Ryder Cup – which, for those counting, starts in 171 days.



11. It seems like eons ago, but it was only Saturday afternoon that Rory McIlroy strode to the first tee in the final pairing and within one shot of Spieth. His subsequent demise in the third round was rather surprising, and all the more frustrating given Spieth's various struggles over the weekend.

McIlroy finished T-10 for his third straight top-10 finish at the Masters, showing that he has the chops to handle Augusta National. But he's also now 0-for-2 in his quest to round out the career Grand Slam, a hurdle that grows ever higher with each passing year.

McIlroy will have to wait another 51 weeks to get his crack at a green jacket, and he'll have to field plenty of Grand Slam questions in the interim. But the Ulsterman had checked off so many boxes as he stood on that tee Saturday – recent form, health, simply avoiding the wrong side of the early-round draw – that it made his birdie-free effort in the spotlight seem all the more disappointing.

"I think that’s more me mentally and I’m trying to deal with the pressure of it and the thrill of the achievement if it were to happen," he said. "I think that’s the thing that’s really holding me back."

It's a candid assessment from McIlroy, but it still makes you wonder how he'll handle the situation the next time he finds himself in the Masters mix. At age 26, it still seems likely that he'll snag a green jacket at some point.

But the same was said about Norman, Tom Weiskopf and Ernie Els – all of whom never got their coveted piece of outerwear.

11. For a brief moment Sunday, it seemed the golf gods were going to repay Dustin Johnson with some Chambers Bay karma, as he sat in a great position to take advantage of Spieth's unexpected collapse.

Indeed, this seemed like the exact kind of scenario where Johnson – or Westwood, for that matter – might finally snag a major trophy: freed from the pressures and expectations of being near the lead for much of the final round, an opportunity basically fell into his lap with only a few holes remaining.

But just like at Chambers, Johnson's tee-to-green prowess was neutralized by his struggles on the greens. While he afforded himself three eagle attempts from inside 20 feet during the final round, he didn't convert any of them, including leaving the first two just short. He had a costly four-putt on No. 6, and by the time he three-putted No. 17 for double bogey, his window of opportunity had come and gone.

"I'm doing all the right things," he said. "I hit it in all the right spots, hit some great shots. I'll get 'em next time."

Johnson will have more chances, but if he's ever going to win a major – and frankly, it's a big if – he'll need to find a way to do it on the greens.

 

 


We have to find a way to make this happen. Right?

This week's award winners ... 

Your brother won the Masters, but you won Twitter: Thanks to gems like this one, the Internet quickly became enamored with the play-by-play prowess of Willett's brother, P.J., during the final round:


The streak is finally over: Given their recent success in the other majors, not to mention the Ryder Cup, it was always puzzling that a European hadn't won the Masters since the turn of the century. Consider that streak vanquished, as Euros will no longer have to hear about Jose Maria Olazabal's 1999 victory as the most recent continental conquest.

He called bank: The 16th green was the place to be Sunday, as three players made an ace on the hole known as "Redbud." But none was more improbable than Louis Oosthuizen, whose ball ricocheted off J.B. Holmes' before dropping for a hole-in-one. And to think, that's not even Oosthuizen's most impressive hole-out at Augusta National.



Courage of a champion: If Spieth is to be (rightfully) extolled for stepping up after disappointment, Els might deserve a medal. The four-time major champ suffered through a battle of the yips on the biggest stage the game has to offer, six-putting his opening hole of the tournament. It's an issue he has faced before in recent months, but for Els it struck at the worst possible time.

Nevertheless, he not only answered questions after an opening-round 80, he took time to sign a few autographs after an emergency session on the putting green.

Better luck next year: Two big whiffs from a pair of early-tournament favorites, as Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson both missed the cut. Fowler continued his propensity for big numbers on a big stage, as his opening 80 was his eighth score of 78 or higher in a major.

Mickelson, meanwhile, continues to mystify. He came into last year's Masters with no form to speak of and left a runner-up. This year, all signs point to a big week and he flames out with a second-round 79, his highest score ever at Augusta.

Seriously, better luck next year: Invitations to the 2017 Masters were doled out to everyone who cracked the top 12 in this year's standings. It's a group that includes the likes of Westwood, Fitzpatrick, Soren Kjeldsen and Daniel Berger, all of whom can book their Augusta travel without worrying about winning a tournament or facing an OWGR sweat.

Fond farewell: It was the last trip around Augusta National for two-time champ Tom Watson, as well as Ian Woosnam, a winner in 1991 who bowed out after missing the cut for the eighth straight year. It was also likely the final Masters start for 2011 Open champ Darren Clarke, while Keegan Bradley has now exhausted his five-year Masters exemption for winning the 2011 PGA Championship.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.


1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.

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Spieth selected by peers to run for PAC chairman

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 6:43 pm

Jordan Spieth may still be relatively young, but he has gained the confidence of some of the PGA Tour's most seasoned voices.

Spieth is one of two players selected by the current player directors of the Tour's Policy Board to run for Chairman of the Player Advisory Council (PAC). Spieth will face Billy Hurley III in an election that will end Feb. 13, with the leading vote-getter replacing Davis Love III next year on the Policy Board for a three-year term through 2021.

Last year's PAC chairman, Johnson Wagner, replaces Jason Bohn as a player director on the Policy Board beginning this year and running through 2020. Other existing player directors include Charley Hoffman (2017-19), Kevin Streelman (2017-19) and Love (2016-18).

The 16-member PAC advises and consults with the Policy Board and Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on "issues affecting the Tour."

In addition to Spieth and Hurley, other PAC members for 2018 include Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Chesson Hadley, James Hahn, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri, Geoff Ogilvy, Sam Saunders, Chris Stroud, Justin Thomas, Kyle Thompson and Cameron Tringale.