Hawk's Nest: Handicapping the Masters field

By John HawkinsApril 8, 2013, 1:20 pm

Come mid-August, I’ll be pleading for five minutes of moving air, but in Connecticut at this point in the year, golf really blows. The weatherman says 62 degrees and sunny. He neglects to mention the two-club breeze that gets old in a hurry, a nuisance for which I have no solutions a few rounds into the season.

The game can be hard enough in dead-calm conditions. When the wind is whipping relentlessly, I become preoccupied with a right-to-left ball flight, which is fine if you spend six hours a week on the practice range, bend it like Beckham or harness it like Hogan.

I do none of the above. My draw is like a 13-year-old boy – it doesn’t listen, and on those sporadic occasions when it does behave, it tricks me into thinking I can hit a bunch more just like it. This leads to a hook, then a 20-yard block, then a pathetic slice that meanders helplessly in the same gusts I had such high hopes of taming.

As the saying goes, April breezes bring swing diseases. I can’t wait to see what May has in mind. Until then, this is the perfect week to ditch my clubs, drown in my couch and overdose on the best little sporting event known to man.

LOTS AND LOTS of things make the Masters special, whether you’re playing in the tournament, on the grounds in any capacity or watching it on television. As much as there is to like about March Madness, college basketball’s grandest showcase has become a staggering submission to commercial excess. Everybody’s getting rich but the kids who provide the actual product, forging a giant hypocrisy that flies directly in the face of its original intent.

The Super Bowl is now a football game smothered in 60-second sales pitches for Doritos and Godaddy.com, then literally blanketed in smoke by a halftime show ostentatiously sponsored by a company that makes soft drinks. When a power outage halted play for 34 minutes early in the second half this year, symbolism turned into low-hanging fruit.

What happens in the game isn’t so important anymore. Not when Destiny’s Child reunites onstage for the first time in seven years.

At Augusta National Golf Club, a membership full of well-heeled men (and now two women), hosts a golf tournament at which the essence of competition and best interests of those watching – on-site spectators and TV viewers – remain extremely high priorities. That’s not to say the club has no financial motive. It just goes out of its way to cleanly disguise and/or downplay that factor.

Distractions and disruptions are eliminated at virtually any cost. No media inside the ropes, very few commercial interruptions, all bleachers and grandstands positioned away from the greens to avoid the occasional lucky carom or free drop – everything is done with a purpose. The golf is what really matters. (Video: Hawkins: Top five Masters in last 20 years)

By design, the club strictly enforces its tournament policies, very few of which are outlined or even posted. For instance, spectators are prohibited from running or even jogging while on the grounds. Cellphones? Don’t even think about it. Players aren’t allowed to hit a second or third ball during practice rounds.

When Tiger Woods birdied the second playoff hole to beat Chris DiMarco in 2005, I bolted from the media center and headed for the 18th green, where Woods had just won his fourth Masters. The gallery was at least five-deep, meaning I couldn’t see a thing, so I instinctively hopped onto the front of a nearby cart to see if I could get a better view.

A half-dozen security guys instantly converged on me – you’d have thought I’d just left a meeting with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. For about 90 seconds, I was certain they were going to confiscate my media badge, which surely would lead to a lifetime ban. Maybe those rent-a-cops just wanted to scare the hell out of me. If so, mission accomplished.

There have been plenty of times over the years when I’ve bemoaned Augusta National’s old-world thinking or questioned a bunch of laws I didn’t know existed. Much like the Rules of Golf as a whole, they don’t always make sense on the surface. Once you realize the club’s primary mission during Masters week is to preserve and protect the competitive element, bewilderment turns into respect.

Compromise has never been an option. That’s what makes it different. Nowadays, that’s what makes it really, really good.

ANY ATTEMPT TO handicap the Masters field is, at best, educated guesswork. This isn’t a Kentucky Derby, where two or three horses are clearly superior (on paper) to the 12 or 13 others. At 3-1 odds on the services I’ve seen, Woods is the obvious favorite, but that doesn’t mean much when you consider where the last six champions stood in the world ranking at the time of their Masters victory:

• 2012: Bubba Watson, 16th

• 2011: Charl Schwartzel, 29th

• 2010: Phil Mickelson, third

• 2009: Angel Cabrera, 69th

• 2008: Trevor Immelman, 29th

• 2007: Zach Johnson, 56th

And while we’re at it, this seems like an excellent time to debunk a few other Masters-winner myths.

MYTH: The course favors players with a right-to-left ball flight.

REALITY: We can talk all week about the shape of the holes and how a draw (for a right-handed player) works better, but Jack Nicklaus and his power fade did fairly well at the old ballyard. Fred Couples, who hardly ever hit a draw, has been one of the most consistent high-level performers in tournament history. In my 20 years of covering golf full-time, I’ve come to realize there are more right-to-left tour pros than left-to-right guys – but the L-to-Rs probably produce superior results.

Besides, shot shape doesn’t mean nearly as much as it once did. Equipment advances and changes to Augusta National have reduced the ability and importance of curving the ball. A venue once partial to a shot-maker’s skill and imagination is now more of a parkland-style course, conducive to position golf off the tee.

In other words, long and straight is a good idea.

MYTH: Only bombers win the Masters.

REALITY: Immelman. Johnson. Mike Weir over Len Mattiace in a playoff battle among singles hitters in 2003. Mark O’Meara (1998). Jose Maria Olazabal (1994, '99). Hey, driving it a mile is a great asset just about anywhere – one of the more valuable tools any golfer can own. The truth is, most of the top players in any era drove the ball a long way. And top players win green jackets, as the list of all-time greats who didn’t claim a Masters title is a fairly short one.

Johnson won his in ’07 by laying up on all the par 5s, which became the biggest news that week. Augusta National is the ultimate “second-shot course,” designed with an extreme emphasis on putting from score-able spots on each and every green. The lengthening of the par 5s hasn’t done a whole lot to prevent players from reaching them in two shots when weather permits. As the greens have gotten faster over the years, however, you’re better off with a flat 8-footer off a third-shot wedge than a 65-foot triple-breaker after a pair of mighty blows.

You’ve got to play smart. It’s another thing that will never change.

MYTH: You can’t win this tournament unless you have a terrific short game.

REALITY: Another one of those generalizations that applies to every golf tournament. Bubba ranked 158th in putting and 106th in scrambling on Tour last year. Schwartzel was 100th in sand saves and 102nd in putting the year before. It was often said that Nicklaus couldn’t chip, but nobody had anything negative to say when he was pouring in 15-footers. Bernhard Langer was a ball-striking machine, but not exactly money with the putter. His two Masters victories turn this theory into baloney.

Of course, Woods and Mickelson have two of the greatest short games ever – and seven wins at Augusta National to prove it. Olazabal was an absolute magician around the greens, but Steve Stricker, still widely recognized as one of the best putters in the game, hasn’t come close. You want to win a Masters? Shoot the lowest score, dude. Doesn’t matter how you do it.


Woods (5-2) – A rare case of the bookies slightly underestimating Tiger’s chances. Red Shirt’s recent history has him in a very good place mentally, and I really think he woke up one morning around Christmas and realized he needs to get on the horse if he wants to catch Nicklaus. Has done everything well at various points this season. (Video: Hawkins: Four before; one more for Tiger?)

Rory McIlroy (10-1) – I don’t like the slow starts: 73-73-72 in the first round at each of his last three tournaments. In his final tune-up at the Valero Texas Open, McIlroy’s sheer ability allowed him to make up massive ground on a star-deprived field and finish solo second, which is obviously a huge step forward, but this week is very different. This week, it’s big-boy golf, and giving away strokes on Thursday can prove just as costly as giving them away on Sunday.

Mickelson (12-1) – He destroyed the field in Phoenix and finished T-3 at Doral, but I’m not quite sure what to make of him in the here and now. Sure, Philly Mick has putted better lately, but I still make it a point not to leave the TV when he’s standing over a 4-footer. Too good not to factor, but is he too dated to win it a fourth time? Only Nicklaus (1986) and Crenshaw (1995) were older than Phil is now. (Video: Hawkins: The Phil factor at Augusta National)

Keegan Bradley (13-1) – The more I see, the more I like. A great competitor who arrives off four consecutive top-10s, and at this point, any self-doubt Bradley had about becoming one of the game’s best should be completely eliminated. This guy just doesn’t shoot many lousy scores; just three rounds higher than 71 among the 33 he’s played in 2013. If not this spring, put a green jacket on layaway.

Justin Rose (15-1) – Some might say he has “quietly” emerged as one of the best in the world, but I don’t know how quiet Rose’s rise has been. Now drives it miles longer than in previous years, ranking ninth in average distance after going 84th, 99th and 97th. Very solid 2013 statistics overall, has gone T-8, T-11 and T-20 at the Masters since squandering a nice chance to win in ’07. If he’s not on your short list, you haven’t been paying attention.

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Furyk: Not a 'good idea' to team Tiger, Phil at Ryder Cup

By Ryan LavnerJune 25, 2018, 1:12 pm

Those hoping for another Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson partnership at the Ryder Cup might be sorely disappointed.

U.S. captain Jim Furyk all but slammed the door on the reboot Monday on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive.” Speaking at the CVS Health Charity Classic, Furyk laughed off the idea and said that it wouldn’t be a “good idea” for him to team them again.

“It worked out so well the first time,” he said, chuckling, referring to the 2004 matches, where captain Hal Sutton paired the sport’s two biggest stars and watched them go 0-2 en route to a lopsided team defeat at home.

Colin Montgomerie, who was also on the set and a member of that ’04 European squad, chimed in: “It was a great decision for Europe!”

Woods and Mickelson’s relationship has improved in recent years, since they were part of the task force that morphed into the Ryder Cup committee. They even played a practice round together this year at the Masters. But Furyk seemed to suggest even that wouldn’t be enough to put them together again in Paris.

“I hope they’re both watching, because they just fell off the couch laughing,” Furyk said. “I wouldn’t guess that would be a good idea as a captain, I’m just saying.”

Both Mickelson and Woods are outside the top 8 automatic qualifiers. Mickelson is currently ranked 10th, while Woods is now 39th.

Woods has already been named a vice captain for this year’s matches, though Furyk said that Woods had broached the topic of being a playing vice captain as early as January. Furyk added that he hasn’t discussed what Woods would need to show him over the course of the year to be considered for a captain’s pick.

“He hasn’t played as big of a schedule as everybody else,” Furyk said, “but when he has played, he’s played pretty well. Definitely an eye-opener for everyone.”

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Grandma hopes sick JT has some 's***-kicking antibiotics'

By Grill Room TeamJune 25, 2018, 1:08 pm

Justin Thomas tied for 56th at the Travelers Championship, still recovering from a brutal test at the U.S. Open and, apparently, battling an illness.

Thomas is next competing at this week's French Open, along with the likes of Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia and a host of potential Ryder Cup foes.

Count his grandmother as one who is pulling – really, really pulling – for his physical recovery.

Grandmothers are the best. And as you can make out from the top of the text exchange, she finally figured out what was on JT’s pants in Round 1 at Shinnecock Hills.

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What's in the bag: Travelers champion Watson

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 12:22 pm

Bubba Watson won the Travelers Championship for a third time in his career. Here's a look inside his bag:

Driver: Ping G400 LST (7.6 degrees), with Grafalloy Bi-Matrix Prototype X shaft

Fairway wood:  Ping G (13.2 degrees), with Fujikura Tour Spec 8.2 X shaft

Irons: Ping iBlade (2), Ping S55 (4-PW), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 2.0 (52 degrees, 55 degrees, 63 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 shafts

Putter: Ping PLD Anser

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

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Travelers purse payout: Bubba, Cink close low, earn big

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 12:06 pm

Bubba Watson shot 63 on Sunday to win the Travelers Championship. He took home the trophy, but he wasn't the only player to earn a big payday. Here's how the purse was paid out at TPC River Highlands:

1 Bubba Watson -17 $1,260,000
T2 Stewart Cink -14 $462,000
T2 Beau Hossler -14 $462,000
T2 J.B. Holmes -14 $462,000
T2 Paul Casey -14 $462,000
T6 Kevin Tway -13 $234,500
T6 Brian Harman -13 $234,500
T6 Russell Henley -13 $234,500
T9 Chase Seiffert -12 $189,000
T9 Bryson DeChambeau -12 $189,000
T9 Anirban Lahiri -12 $189,000
T12 Rory McIlroy -11 $147,000
T12 Ryan Blaum -11 $147,000
T12 Jason Day -11 $147,000
T15 Charley Hoffman -10 $115,500
T15 Patrick Cantlay -10 $115,500
T15 Danny Lee -10 $115,500
T15 Kyle Stanley -10 $115,500
T19 Brooks Koepka -9 $79,000
T19 Fabian Gomez -9 $79,000
T19 David Lingmerth -9 $79,000
T19 Zach Johnson -9 $79,000
T19 Emiliano Grillo -9 $79,000
T19 Matt Jones -9 $79,000
T19 Jamie Lovemark -9 $79,000
T26 Sam Ryder -8 $49,700
T26 Si Woo Kim -8 $49,700
T26 Richy Werenski -8 $49,700
T26 Blayne Barber -8 $49,700
T26 Steve Marino -8 $49,700
T26 Peter Malnati -8 $49,700
T26 Patrick Rodgers -8 $49,700
T33 Alex Cejka -7 $39,550
T33 Tyler Duncan -7 $39,550
T33 Kevin Streelman -7 $39,550
T36 Seamus Power -6 $35,175
T36 James Hahn -6 $35,175
T38 Scott Stallings -5 $30,800
T38 Russell Knox -5 $30,800
T38 Brandon Harkins -5 $30,800
T38 Lanto Griffin -5 $30,800
T42 Adam Hadwin -4 $24,500
T42 J.J. Henry -4 $24,500
T42 Jordan Spieth -4 $24,500
T42 Mackenzie Hughes -4 $24,500
T42 Brett Stegmaier -4 $24,500
T47 Billy Hurley III -3 $17,578
T47 Vaughn Taylor -3 $17,578
T47 Sam Saunders -3 $17,578
T47 Kelly Kraft -3 $17,578
T47 Keegan Bradley -3 $17,578
T47 J.J. Spaun -3 $17,578
T47 Wesley Bryan -3 $17,578
T47 Denny McCarthy -3 $17,578
T47 Scott Brown -3 $17,578
T56 Ryan Armour -2 $15,680
T56 Keith Mitchell -2 $15,680
T56 Ken Duke -2 $15,680
T56 Justin Thomas -2 $15,680
T56 Hunter Mahan -2 $15,680
T61 John Huh -1 $14,910
T61 Martin Laird -1 $14,910
T61 Steve Wheatcroft -1 $14,910
T61 James Driscoll -1 $14,910
T61 Tom Lovelady -1 $14,910
T61 Nick Hardy -1 $14,910
T67 Daniel Berger E $14,350
T67 Trey Mullinax E $14,350
T69 Cameron Tringale 1 $14,000
T69 Kyle Thompson 1 $14,000
T69 Ethan Tracy 1 $14,000
T72 Dominic Bozzelli 2 $13,650
T72 Martin Flores 2 $13,650
74 Padraig Harrington 4 $13,440