Punch Shot: Who is the current Masters favorite?

By Golf Channel Digital, Rex HoggardMarch 11, 2015, 7:00 pm

Rory McIlroy is currently the odds-on favorite to win the Masters Tournament. But should he be? GolfChannel.com writers weigh in with their current favorite to win, with one month to go before the event begins at Augusta National.


Who’s going to forget that great escape at the 10th hole in 2012, when Bubba Watson hit that amazing hook around the trees to save par and beat Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff for his first Masters’ victory.

Or Watson’s towering blast over the trees at the 13th last year, where he cut the corner with that mammoth 366-yard drive  in the final round to set up his second victory at Augusta National.

“This place suits him perfectly,” Rickie Fowler said last year. “He’s able to hit golf shots around here that some guys can’t.”

Bubba Watson makes his way around Augusta National like some caretaker’s son, like the kid who knows all a property’s shortcuts, all its nooks and crannies. We see the comfort he has there, his confident sense of belonging. So do other players. It’s what makes Bubba the favorite to win his third Masters’ title in four years. The belief he takes to that iconic golf course knowing it embraces him as much as he embraces it makes him the man to beat no matter what the oddsmakers say.


An angrily tossed club and more than a sleeve of lost golf balls aside, Rory McIlroy is still the man to beat at Augusta National.

The world No. 1 missed the cut in his first start on the PGA Tour two weeks ago at the Honda Classic and received more attention last week at Doral for throwing his 3-iron into a lake than he did for his game. But as McIlroy has proven in his young career, he is exceedingly adept at turning things around.

Remember, this is the same guy who struggled in 2013 - only to come back and win two majors and a World Golf Championships event in 2014.

At Doral, where he tied for ninth with something well less than his best stuff, McIlroy was particularly concerned with his inability to move the ball from right-to-left in a healthy breeze.

As a result, he will spend this week with his father and New England quarterback Tom Brady looking for answers at Augusta National.

He has plenty of time to cure what ails his long game. But most importantly, he has plenty of motivation to turn things around in time for the Masters – a chance to win the career Grand Slam.


The oddsmakers in Las Vegas still favor Rory McIlroy, but if the Masters started tomorrow I’d give my No. 1 seed to Bubba Watson.

While McIlroy chases the career Grand Slam, Watson is in search of another impressive feat – three green jackets in a four-year span. There’s reason to think that he’ll get it, too, considering the fact that the golf course appears to be tailor-made to suit his arcing ball flight. His recent form doesn’t hurt his cause, either: Watson has a win, a runner-up and a third-place finish already this season, with each of his five starts going for no worse than a T-14 result.

McIlroy has the game to compete and win at Augusta National, but the suffocating pressure that will come with his quest for a third straight major victory will be too much for him this year. He’ll get his green jacket someday – likely more than one – but as Phil Mickelson can attest, chasing the fourth leg of the slam can prove difficult.


Bubba Watson.

You may have seen the stat floated last week: The years Watson has won the Masters (2012, ’14), he also finished runner-up at Doral. Well, the world No. 2 finished third last week at Trump’s Place, so that should portend well for next month’s gathering in Augusta.

Truth is, Watson was the Masters favorite even before he bombed his way around the beastly Blue Monster. His impressive performance there only strengthened our belief.

In his last six PGA Tour starts, Watson hasn’t finished outside the top 15 while winning once and finishing inside the top three on three other occasions. The player who once was the most unpredictable force in the game has become decidedly predictable, in that he contends almost every single week.

That shouldn’t change at the Masters. Until further notice, his nuclear driver, shot-making ability and imagination around the greens will always be a recipe for green-jacketed success. 

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”