Tiger, Rory, Phil? Who will win the Masters?

By Jay CoffinApril 3, 2012, 4:00 pm

The 76th Masters is arguably the most anticipated major in recent memory. With Tiger Woods back on his game and Rory McIlroy hungry for redemption, who's the favorite for the week? GolfChannel.com editorial director Jay Coffin and senior writers Jason Sobel and Rex Hoggard face off on who they think this year's champion will be.

By JAY COFFIN

AUGUSTA, Ga. – When picking someone to win a golf tournament you want to take a player who gives you the best chance on Sunday, someone you know will be in the hunt no matter what happens.

Tiger Woods is that person.

This is Woods’ 18th Masters, which is difficult to believe. Throw out the first two that he played as an amateur (he tied for 41st in 1995 and missed the cut in 1996) and he’s finished worse than eighth only three times. A tie for 22nd place in 2004 is his worst finish, but he hasn’t finished worse than sixth in each of the past seven years.

Even if Woods didn’t win the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago, he’d still be the pick this week because the numbers don’t lie. That he did win at Bay Hill just makes the pick stronger because Woods is more comfortable with his game now than at any point over the previous 30 months.

It would be a mild surprise if neither Rory McIlroy nor Phil Mickelson are in contention come Sunday. It’d be an absolute shock if Woods isn’t there.


By JASON SOBEL

AUGUSTA, Ga. – You know the game is engaged in a unique situation when the world’s No. 1-ranked player is a veritable underdog at one of the year’s biggest tournaments.

Entering the Masters, much of the prognosticating and speculating revolves around Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, which allows Luke Donald to sneak into Augusta National Golf Club under the radar.

While he may have ascended to the No. 1 position without winning a major championship, Donald didn’t do it with smoke and mirrors. He’s been the game’s most consistent player over the past 15 months and has easily established himself as the most proficient from 100 yards and in – an important characteristic at any tournament, but especially imperative at Augusta.

Donald currently ranks first on the PGA Tour in the “strokes gained – putting” statistic after also leading that category for each of the last three years. Green jackets are won with the flatstick and it’s undeniable that he wields a hotter one than anybody else in the field.

There’s a special sense of anticipation surrounding the Masters, considering Woods, McIlroy and Mickelson have all shown solid form in the early part of this season, each winning a tournament already. Well, so has Donald – and he just may add a second title come Sunday.


By REX HOGGARD

AUGUSTA, Ga. – On paper this isn’t a fair fight, but then picks are based more on gut feelings than getting the facts straight.

Nearly every betting house has Tiger Woods tabbed as this week’s Masters’ favorite, ignoring – however conveniently – Rory McIlroy’s body of work over the last 12 months.

Forgotten in the post-Arnold Palmer Invitational euphoria is the Ulsterman’s temporary climb to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking, a run that included three worldwide victories, 17 top-5 finishes and his first major championship.

That eight-stroke U.S. Open romp should give McIlroy the edge over Woods and all others this week. Following his Masters’ meltdown McIlroy scored the ultimate bounce-back victory with his eight-stroke Congressional walkover in June.

And if there were any ghosts lingering from his back-nine collapse last year he seemed to stare them down last week during a scouting trip to the home of the Masters.

“I had a quick glance on the way past walking down the middle of the (10th) fairway last week,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully I’ll do the same thing during the week this week.”

Through three rounds last year McIlroy was dominant on his way to a four-stroke lead. Even after posting a 1-over 37 on the front nine on Sunday he was still a shot clear.

The gut may say it is Woods’ week, but the facts point to McIlroy.

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Notes: Koepka has Tiger's vote for Player of the Year

By Doug FergusonAugust 22, 2018, 12:51 am

PARAMUS, N.J. - Brooks Koepka already can count on one award this year. He has clinched the points-based award from the PGA of America as Player of the Year. Majors are worth 30 points, and there is a 50-point bonus for winning two of them. That gives Koepka 110 points for his U.S. Open and PGA Championship victories.

Even if Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas or Bubba Watson wins all four FedEx Cup playoff events for seven titles this year, they would not catch Koepka.

The PGA Tour award is a vote of the players.

That's still up for grabs, though Tiger Woods thinks the race is over.

''You win two majors, you've got it,'' Woods said. ''It's not real complicated.''

Woods thought back to 1998, when David Duval won four times on the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour vote went to Mark O'Meara for his Masters and British Open titles.

''I think two majors trumps it,'' he said.


A QUICK TURN FOR THE BETTER

Stewart Cink enters the FedEx Cup playoffs at No. 58 in the standings, his best starting position since 2010. Thanks to a tie for fourth at the PGA Championship, he will return to the Masters for the first time in five years.

He would not have seen this coming three months ago.

''The main thing that happened was ... what you think are bad circumstances turn out to be good circumstances,'' Cink said.

Cink enjoys the late spring because he typically plays well on some of those courses, such as Colonial, Muirfield Village and Quail Hollow. Bad final rounds turned potential top 10s into middle-of-the-pack, if not lower. The final straw was Memorial, where he ended a streak of making the cut in 19 consecutive appearances.

''I felt like crap playing bad golf,'' Cink said. ''I had to have a little bit of something to wake me up. I didn't do anything new, I just recommitted to what I was working on the last year.''

That can be a tall order for a 45-year-old whose last victory was the 2009 British Open at Turnberry. Cink put in time with swing coach Mike Lipnick, and he started hitting the ball the way he envisioned the flight. Over the next two months, he had three top 5s - a runner-up at the Travelers Championship when he closed with a 62, and a tie for fourth at the St. Jude Classic and the PGA Championship.

The real test was at Bellerive, where he played in the raucous arena with Tiger Woods in the third round and matched his 66. In the mix at a major for longer than he can remember, Cink finished with two birdies for a 67 to tie for fourth.

''Being paired with Tiger helped me,'' Cink said. ''I was nervous playing with the Tiger. The crowd was a factor. It felt like a Ryder Cup. It was a great challenge, and I really wanted to embrace it and test myself and see how well I can hang in there. I didn't have the option to fall back into a comfort zone. There wouldn't have been one in that group. I'm proud of myself the way I played.''

Cink's five-year exemption to the Masters from his British Open victory ran out in 2014, when he shot 68 on Sunday and missed by one shot finishing in the top 12 to earn a trip back to Augusta National. He looks forward to going back.

But that's in April. Ahead of him is a chance to return home to East Lake for the Tour Championship for the first time since 2009.

''I'm super excited,'' he said. ''I have a better chance to go back to East Lake, and that's a goal from here on out to see if I can make it.''

More than recommitting to his golf, Cink said his heart is in the right place. The last two years have provided the ultimate test after his wife, Lisa, was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. He said her health has been steady - no setbacks - the last several months.

''It goes without saying that my life has taken on a different perspective,'' Cink said. ''I'm enjoying playing golf. I don't have anything to lose. I'm having fun competing, testing myself. There's no downside. ... I wish I could tell my 18-year-old self that.''


WRAPPING UP THE MAJORS

An obscure record was set at the PGA Championship. Seven players had all four rounds in the 60s, led by champion Brooks Koepka. The others were Stewart Cink, Jon Rahm, Francesco Molinari, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose and Webb Simpson.

The previous record was five players with all four rounds in the 60s at Baltusrol in 2016, Valhalla in 2014 and Riviera in 1995.

Koepka and Charl Schwartzel each shot 63 in the second round. That extended the streak to four consecutive years when at least one player shot 63 or better in the majors. Tommy Fleetwood also had a 63 at the U.S. Open, so that makes 2018 the fourth time there were at least three rounds of 63 in the same year. The other years were 1980 (Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf at the U.S. Open, Isao Aoki at the British); 1993 (Nick Faldo and Payne Stewart at the British, Vijay Singh at the PGA); and 2016 (Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson at the British, Robert Streb at the PGA).

Tiger Woods also got in on the act. His 64 in the final round at Bellerive tied for low score of the round. The last time no one had a lower score than Woods in one round at a major was in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where he and Dustin Johnson each shot 66 on Saturday.


DIVOTS

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho has won the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the leading player in the 2018 world amateur golf ranking. The award gives Kupcho an exemption into the U.S. Women's Open and the Women's British Open provided she stays an amateur. ... Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose each have a mathematical chance to reach No. 1 in the world this week at The Northern Trust. ... The University of St. Andrews is honoring teaching pro Renee Powell and British journalist Katharine Whitehorn by naming a residence hall after each of them. Powell in 2008 became the first female golfer in the five centuries of St. Andrews to receive an honorary doctorate degree. ... Darren Clarke makes his PGA Tour Champions debut this week at the Boeing Classic outside Seattle.


STAT OF THE WEEK

Only two players outside the top 25 in the world have won majors in the last five years. Martin Kaymer was No. 28 when he won the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, and Jimmy Walker was No. 48 when he won the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol.


FINAL WORD

''You don't want to be put on the bench in the playoffs.'' - Harris English, whose tie for 11th at the Wyndham Championship was narrowly enough for him to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for The Northern Trust

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 21, 2018, 10:20 pm

It's the first tournament of the FedExCup Playoffs and the top 125 on the season-long points list are battling it out to see who will move on to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for The Northern Trust. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; Click here for live stream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; Click here for live stream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; Click here for live stream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, Noon-1:45PM ET; Click here for live stream; CBS, 2-6 p.m.


Purse: $9 million ($1.62 million to winner)

Course: Course: Ridgewood Country Club (par 71, 7,319 yards)

Defending champion: Dustin Johnson (Defeated Jordan Spieth with a birdie on the first playoff hole at Glen Oaks Club)

Notable tee times (all times ET)

• 7:54 a.m. Thursday, 12:55 p.m. Friday: Tiger Woods, Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood

• 8:05 a.m. Thursday, 1:06 p.m. Friday: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka

• 8:16 a.m. Thursday, 1:17 p.m. Friday: Webb Simpson, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau

• 12:44 p.m. Thursday, 7:43 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Beau Hossler, Byeong-Hun An

• 12:55 p.m. Thursday, 7:54 a.m. Friday: Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau

Key stats:

The top 100 players in FedExCup points after The Northern Trust advance to the Dell Technologies Championship.

• The field includes 120 of the top 125 in this season’s FedExCup – all except No. 17 Rickie Fowler, No. 21 Rory McIlroy, No. 50 Henrik Stenson, No. 93 Patrick Rodgers and No. 122 Bud Cauley.

• 2007 and 2009 FedExCup champion Tiger Woods is making his first appearance in the FedExCup Playoffs since 2013. Although he has won each of the other three playoff events, he has never won The Northern Trust.

• In the 11 years that this event has been part of the FedExCup Playoffs, the winner has gone on to capture the FedExCup just once - Vijay Singh in 2008.

• The defending champion is Dustin Johnson. Ernie Els (1996-1997) is the only player to successfully defend his title.

• Jordan Spieth finished runner-up last year. Three runners-up have gone on to win the next year - Seve Ballesteros (1987-1988), Dennis Paulson (1999-2000), and Padraig Harrington

(2004-2005).

• The course record in this event at Ridgewood Country Club is 62 by Hunter Mahan in the first round in 2008. The tournament record for 18 holes is 61 by Brandt Snedeker in the final round in 2011 at Plainfield Country Club.

(Stats and information provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit)

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Na holding out hope for Ryder Cup captain's pick

By Rex HoggardAugust 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

PARAMUS, N.J. – There are no shortage of goals for players as the PGA Tour reaches the final month of the season, and how players prioritize those accomplishments depends on individual motivations.

For example, coming into the season Kevin Na’s primary goal was to win a Tour event, which he accomplished last month at the Greenbrier. After that, things get interesting.

“I think win, No. 1. Ryder Cup, No. 2. Tour Championship, No. 3,” he said on Tuesday at The Northern Trust.

Na is currently 19th on the FedExCup point list, which gives him a good chance to qualify for the season finale, which comes with an invitation to three of next year’s four majors. The more pressing concern would be this year’s Ryder Cup.


The Northern Trust: Articles, photos and videos


Na finish 18th on the U.S. Ryder Cup point list and he would likely need to do something extraordinary the next two weeks for captain Jim Furyk to make him one of his picks. Still, making the team that will travel to Paris next month is always on his short list.

“If I can somehow get my name on one of those lists of players that play the Ryder Cup; maybe at the end of my career, instead of saying, you know, you probably say, I had X amount of wins; and I played X amount of Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, I think is pretty cool,” said Na, who has never played on a Ryder or Presidents Cup team.

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Woods tinkering with driver shaft, loft at The Northern Trust

By Rex HoggardAugust 21, 2018, 9:11 pm

PARAMUS, N.J. – Tiger Woods said on Tuesday at The Northern Trust that he spent last week attending his children’s soccer games and tinkering with his driver.

Although he finished runner-up at the PGA Championship, Woods hit just 5 of 14 fairways on Sunday at Bellerive and ranked 74th for the week in fairways hit. It was no surprise that his focus heading into the FedExCup Playoffs was finding more fairways.

“We've been working on it, experimenting with different shafts and different lofts on my driver and 3-wood, as well,” Woods said. “Just trying different things. I've still got two more days and I'll still be monkeying around with a couple things and come game time we'll see what I go with.”


The Northern Trust: Articles, photos and videos


Woods played an abbreviated practice round on Tuesday at Ridgewood Country Club, which included Nos. 1-8 and Nos. 15-18, with a new driver that features a different shaft from the one he used at the PGA Championship and more loft (9.5 degrees).

He also had a TaylorMade equipment representative walking with him on Tuesday and went to the practice range after his round for more work.