Thoughts on the 2016 Masters
1. Danny Willett wins his first major
Danny Willett was unbelievably close to not playing in the Masters. His wife was set to give birth on April 10th, Masters Sunday, and there was no chance that Willett was going to miss it to play in a tournament, even if it was the Masters and this was his best chance to date to win his first major championship. When the news broke that Nicole Willett had given birth to Zacariah, Willett became the last official entrant into the tournament and it goes without saying that he’s had a pretty good few weeks.
Coming into the tournament, Willett was well known amongst serious golf fans, but even though he was ranked 12th in the world coming into the event, he definitely could have walked the streets of Augusta without being bothered by too many people. That’s all changed now of course, and what it means to him is essentially an endless supply of benefits, with the first being that he never has to qualify for this tournament again. With his ability, I don’t think that would have been much of a problem going forward, but I’m sure he’s happy to know that he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to be teeing it up in early April for the next thirty years.
He was probably going to be on the Ryder Cup team in September anyway, but it’s a guarantee now and he moved into the top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time, jumping into the ninth position. On some level, it’s also a form of validation for not only Willett, but the European Tour as well, who have gone through some tough times in recent years with getting big names to commit to fields thanks to the ever increasing purse sizes on the PGA Tour. There are so many good players in Europe who don’t get the attention that they probably should and before last week, Willett was definitely one of them. It’s not an understatement to say that this is absolutely a life changing win.
2. What the loss means for Jordan Spieth
I’ve already gone over everything that happened to Spieth at the start of the back nine in a separate piece, so if you feel the need to relive that, you can check that out at the link above. What I want to touch on here is what this means for Spieth going forward.
A lot was made before the final round started about how Spieth flew his coach, Cameron McCormick, into Augusta in order to look at his swing before he teed off and if you watched any of the first three rounds, it did make some sense. Yes, he was leading, but it definitely didn’t have the same feeling as it has had in the past. There were some bad misses and loose shots, what seemed like a whole lot of fidgeting over the ball (even for him) and just a general sense that he had let a few shots get away. It wasn’t the efficient Spieth that we have become accustomed to over the past eighteen months.
Here’s the thing though: he was leading, and through the front nine on Sunday, he had no one near him despite very clearly having nothing resembling his “A” game. If the mentality of the player is that a 54-hole lead at the Masters isn’t good enough and he needs to call his coach, I actually think that’s a good thing. He’s trying so hard to become the player that he knows he can be, and he’s not afraid to let people know when he thinks that isn’t the case. The maturity and composure that you see in interviews is what’s also going to help him get past what happened on the 12th hole on Sunday. That type of thing has the capacity to destroy the psyche of a player, but I don’t have any doubts that he’s going to get past this and he’ll probably do it fairly quickly too.
If this had happened last year, prior to him winning the Masters and the U.S. Open, I’d think that it’s possible we could see some lingering effects, but that’s not going to happen. Watching him put up a seven on the 12th hole was utterly shocking, but there’s no one in the game today that hasn’t suffered some kind of meltdown because that’s just what happens in golf sometimes. There’s also no one in the game better equipped to handle it and bounce back.
He’s going to be just fine.
3. Ernie’s 9
In my year in review posts for 2015, I mentioned that one of the things that Tiger’s struggles overshadowed was the fact that Ernie Els looked terrible as well. Els hasn’t been a huge factor in the game for some time, but it wasn’t just that he struggled; it was the way in which he did it that made it so painful to watch. It was pretty obvious that he had some form of the yips on the greens, and while things had started to look better in recent weeks, that went right out the window on the opening hole during Thursday’s first round when he posted a nine with six putts. Having it happen on the first hole of the most watched tournament of the year made it even worse, and it was only a matter of time before videos and GIFs surfaced of the calamity. Somehow, it was even worse than I expected.
For the longest time, Els has looked so elegant on the course and while a lot of that has to do with the swing that still looks fantastic, it was also that it all carried over onto the green. He’s always been a good putter, and that’s what makes this even more difficult. Other guys that we’ve seen with the yips in the past, like Tom Watson and Johnny Miller, were never known to be great putters in the first place, so it was at least somewhat understandable when things went a little haywire, but this makes about as much sense as this tournament’s broadcast window. There were a lot of stories written about it in the aftermath, but I thought Joe Posnanski nailed it for Golf Channel. I’m hoping that Els figures it out soon, but it seems unlikely and you know what’s even worse? Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 at Oakmont, where even the best putters are made to look like absolute fools on greens as slick as Ric Flair, and where are they headed in a few months? Yep, back to Oakmont and I can’t think of a worse place for Ernie Els to be in mid June.
4. The broadcast
This was me last year when recapping this event:
So, all of that remains true. You can swap out the names of Vijay, Rickie, Tiger and Sergio for guys like Rory, Jordan, Bryson and Jeff Knox, but the argument is still essentially the same. However, what made this year even worse was that the coverage on CBS, particularly on Saturday, was appalling. Everyone was jacked up about the possibility of a Rory-Jordan duel on Saturday, and apparently so was CBS because they were pretty much the only players shown for the vast majority of the broadcast, at least until Rory started to struggle and then he was booted too.
As Tron Carter pointed out, I think the first time that we saw the tee shot on 13 on Saturday was when the final group got there, which is completely unacceptable. There were too many shots shown on delay instead of live, likely because they were recapping last year’s tournament, which I’m pretty sure we all remember pretty well to begin with.
Sunday was better, likely because of the lack of a superstar duel in the final group and the Spieth implosion, but there were still too many instances of “this was earlier…” instead of showing things live. You’d hear the famous Augusta roars all over the course and knew that something happened, but it would take forever to see what caused them, and what made it worse was that they were teased on the air! When Spieth was losing control on 12 and Willett was assured of the lead, Ian Baker-Finch mentioned that Willett was going to have a three shot lead, and Verne Lundqvist said something to the effect of “Well, not quite. We’re going to show you something in a minute.” That something was Lee Westwood holing out for eagle from off of the 15th green, and we knew it because the leaderboard on Masters.com updated and their Twitter account sent out the video. Don’t get me started on the Jim Nantz interview with Smylie Kaufman on Saturday or how the cameras couldn’t give Willett some peace when he was on Facetime with his wife. The broadcast sorely missed David Feherty, too.
Instead of the weekend at the Masters, it felt like the second round of the Zurich Classic and it’s not good enough.
5. DeChambeau impresses
He didn’t end up having the best weekend, but it was really easy to be impressed with Bryson DeChambeau over his four days at Augusta. His back story is well known at this point, something which Kevin Van Valkenburg eloquently touched on after his second round on Friday, but it’s plainly obvious that DeChambeau is someone that we’re going to be watching at this tournament for years to come, and a lot of what drives that idea is the sheer amount of confidence that he brings to the course. On Friday, DeChambeau played great and came to the 18th tee at 3-under par, needing one more par to shoot 69 when the best anyone had shot all day was 71. It was looking like he would be in one of the final groups on the weekend at his first Masters, and then it all came undone.
He sent his drive way left on the final hole, ending up unplayable behind a holly bush. He reloaded and did pretty much the exact same thing, but this time got lucky with where it ended up…kinda.
He ended up taking a drop left of that fence near a concession area, across the road. I’ve never seen anyone play from that spot, but there was a calmness to DeChambeau that was absolutely staggering; it was like he was playing from the middle of the fairway at his local muni instead of at the Masters with his round taking a quick nosedive. He stepped up to the ball, took two practice swings, looked once and smashed a 250 yard cut with a stunning amount of ease that ended up just short of the green.
Afterwards, this is what DeChambeau had to say about the 18th where he would eventually make triple bogey and fall to even par. From Van Valkenburg’s piece:
” Everybody is going to go back to 18 [and say] oh, he was nervous, he was nervous,” Dechambeau said. “No, I hit two pulled drives. I don’t like the left to right wind on that hole. Subconsciously, I came a little bit over the top and had a closed clubface. It was only two degrees closed. That’s what does it. “
Unless it’s a very, very good act, he’s not bothered by the moment or when he struggles. He’s set to turn pro this week at the RBC Heritage, and it’s going to be fascinating to watch his progress.
6. The conditions
If you take away what happened on the back nine on Sunday, there really wasn’t a whole lot of drama or entertainment throughout the week, and that was mostly thanks to the conditions. It was so windy at points through the first three days that it was honestly shocking to see players post good scores, and even though they’d never admit it, it certainly seemed like Augusta National set up the course to play even more difficult after Spieth tied the scoring record last year. The greens were even faster than usual and some of the pins were needlessly and unfairly tucked, particularly on Saturday when the winds were probably at their highest.
We’re going to remember a lot of things about this tournament, but it being a lot of fun to watch won’t be one of them.
7. Slow play
Chris Solomon wrote a good piece for SB Nation ahead of Sunday’s round about the “slow play” complaints as it related to Spieth, and while I agree with most of it, there is a point to make about slow play in general. Was Spieth slow through the first three days of the tournament? Yeah, he was and there should absolutely be a little bit of leeway when it comes to playing this tournament on this course in those conditions, but what we saw out of him was nothing out of the ordinary if you watch him on a weekly basis. He backs off shots all the time, and even when he doesn’t back off, he still plays pretty slow just like everyone else does on the PGA Tour.
The European Tour has started to make strides in this area, and until the PGA Tour decides to do something on their end, this is the result we’re going to get. It’s nothing new, and honestly, you can’t blame Spieth or the players for it either. If they were told to speed it up more often, the play would be faster. Plain and simple.
I don’t think any one GIF could possibly sum up Rory’s week better than the one above. He was in the final group on Saturday with Spieth and was absolutely blown out of the water pretty much right from the very beginning, and while I still think his talent and game are perfect matches for the course, the same could be said for a lot of guys who didn’t win this tournament over the years, with Greg Norman being the most obvious example. He’s got some short game issues that he needs to resolve if he’s going to contend here, but with all of that said, it’s a testament to his sheer ability that he was able to backdoor another top-10 finish.
There really isn’t much to say about Phil’s missed cut this week other than you don’t expect a player of his form, ability and history to play so miserably at a place that he loves so much. I wouldn’t read too much into it though with how tough the week was for the field. Him arriving at the Champions Dinner like this though may have been the photo of the week:
It couldn’t have been a surprise to anyone that Bernhard Langer fell back on Sunday, but being in the penultimate group at 58 years old at the Masters is just incredible. This tournament has a way of doing this every few years, and it’s honestly one of my favourite things about watching every April.
- Billy Horschel: I can’t believe this happened.
- Lee Westwood: Despite not being shown much on TV and having no sign of life whatsoever in 2016, Westwood finished T2 because of course he did. He’s now finished inside the top 11 of this tournament in seven of the last nine years, and even if he doesn’t win one of these things, he’s probably just going to keep qualifying for them with these high finishes until he decides to retire. He’s like the old guy at the YMCA who doesn’t run up and down the court but always hits from the elbow.
- Smylie Kaufman: As we’ve seen over the past few months, Smylie can flat play in all areas, but he never had a chance on Sunday in the final group with Spieth. He has all of the tools to win one of these though.
- Still think Sergio Garcia is too talented not to win a major championship at some point, but it’s so difficult to keep thinking that way when he was one of the six players who didn’t break 80 on Saturday. Granted, the conditions were brutal, but his piercing ball flight should have helped mitigate at least some of the wind and move up the board with a decent day, but it just didn’t happen. Ditto for Dustin Johnson, who was right there down the stretch but couldn’t get anything going on the greens.
- Larry Mize made the cut despite driving the ball about as far as Mike Weir would if you gave him a pool noodle. Respect.
- Loved everything about the par-3 contest, with Soren Kjeldsen’s son absolutely stealing the show.
- Angel Cabrera posted a 9 on Thursday and a 7 on Friday on the par-5 15th and if he had just made par on those days, he would have been in the final group on Sunday with Spieth. Still can’t get over that.
- Tom Watson’s final Masters was obviously the big farewell of the week, but it should be noted that Ian Woosnam announced that he won’t be returning to play in 2017 either. It’s hard to think of a Masters champion and former world number one as underappreciated, but that’s what Woosnam was, at least to people in North America.
Only 358 days left until next year. Can’t wait to do it again.