The 18: Thoughts on the Masters
The 18 is a look at eighteen stories from the previous week or so in the world of golf, and they will usually be on stories that I didn’t dedicate a full post towards. Expect a combination of thoughts, GIFs, images and anything else that caught my eye from the past seven days. Some will be longer thoughts, and others will be no more than a line or two. This week will be a little shorter than normal with a few links at the end, as I’ll have a separate post coming tomorrow with thoughts on the Masters.
The 18 will (hopefully) run every Tuesday. You can catch up on previous versions of The 18 right here.
1. I already wrote a full recap of the tournament from Sergio’s standpoint, so check that out first if you haven’t already done so, but I wanted to make a note here of just how pure he was striking the ball all week. We already know that Sergio is one of the best ball strikers in the world, but what he did all week and particularly on Sunday, was otherworldly good. Granted, it wasn’t all good, as I have no idea at all what happened with either the drive or approach on 10, and the drives on 11 and 13 were downright terrible, but other than that, he didn’t really miss much.
That doesn’t even include all of the tee shots, which never left the middle of the fairway. It was the kind of show that we’ve come to expect from Sergio, but we’ve never seen it in a tournament of this magnitude or when the pressure had been so squarely on his shoulders. The fact that he bounced back after seemingly taking himself out of things made it even better.
Just a tremendous performance.
2. So, we have to talk about the putter. Whenever I saw Sergio putt over the first three days and for the first seven or eight holes on Sunday, my immediate thought was that he has never putted better on this course. Sergio’s biggest problem on the greens is usually that he tries to die everything into the hole, mostly because he seems concerned about having a seven or eight footer coming back if he misses the first one, but that wasn’t an issue most of the week. His speed control was excellent.
Don’t get me wrong: there were definitely some ugly putts, namely on 11, 16, 17 and 18, but there were also some fantastic ones on 12, 13, 15 and 18 in the playoff. We should absolutely focus on the ball striking because that’s what ultimately allowed him to get the job done on Sunday, but the putter was there, too.
3. There is no doubt in my mind that Justin Rose will go on to win this tournament at some point in the next few years. When you combine his pedigree on winning at big time events on tough courses with his incredible ball striking, you have a guy that is just perfectly cut out for this event.
I think he would be the first to tell you that he made some mistakes on the back nine that ultimately cost him the tournament. He shouldn’t have gone over the green on 13 when he had 186 to the pin, which was followed by a missed six footer for birdie. On 17, he hit his approach into the brutal greenside bunker and made bogey, and then of course, the drive in the playoff on 18 that led him to flub one of the pine straw and essentially give Sergio the green jacket.
Those things happened at pretty much the worst possible time, but we know that Rose is not only a capable talent, but one that isn’t going to wilt in the moment, either. He’ll be back, and I don’t think he’ll make the same mistakes again.
Also, the way he handled everything in the aftermath was exactly what you would expect out of Rose, but it was still great to see.
4. The CBS/ESPN broadcast had an incredible amount of ups and downs last week, and it was incredibly frustrating as a viewer. I echo a lot of what Soly, Tron and Big Randy discussed on the No Laying Up podcast on Sunday night (starting at the 43:00 minute mark), but I wanted to just throw in some of my own notes as well.
Thursday was rough, with nowhere near enough actual golf being shown, including right off the top where it took twenty minutes to get into the actual action, and we heard things like “Jon Rahm is my darkhorse pick this week”. Admittedly, Friday was much better, and so was Saturday, but Sunday got off to a terrible start when CBS came on the air and showed live footage of a cup being repaired for several minutes after Russell Henley jarred one. Actual, live golf was happening and we didn’t get to see it because of this. Players were constantly shown on a pretty severe delay compared to where they were on the course or in the case of some players, they weren’t shown much at all, and showing Jordan Spieth’s collapse on 12 last year just because he put it in the water again on Sunday while out of contention seemed weird and oddly out of place.
When it became apparent down the stretch on Sunday that the winner was going to come out of the last group, CBS did a good job of following them and setting the scene. It was, as Soly mentioned on the podcast, tremendous theatre and something I’ll never forget but it feels like we should be getting so much more, especially at a tournament of this magnitude.
Also: I miss David Feherty at Augusta.
5. The other big part of the problem with the broadcast is that for the first three days, full field coverage doesn’t start until 3:00, with Sunday coverage coming on the air at 2:00. This is where the online streams are supposed to come into play, with featured group and hole coverage, but as I talked about last week, they don’t have the best track record with featured group selection. This nightmare scenario manifested itself with the second round coverage, as players like Rory and Sergio were making runs at the top while Charley Hoffman was struggling. Who was available to watch in featured coverage?
- Danny Willett, Matt Kuchar and Curtis Luck
- Angel Cabrera, Henrik Stenson and Tyrrell Hatton
These two groups were chosen prior to the first round, and I can see the argument for them (I guess), but with the other guys that were going to be playing in the morning, this didn’t make any sense. On top of that, none of them played particularly well on Thursday anyway, and that continued through their rounds on Friday morning. It’s easy to say this in hindsight, but why did those groups have to be selected prior to the first round? The Sergio/Westwood/Lowry group played much better in round one than either of those groups and has bigger name value. Wouldn’t that have been the better selection?
Last year at the U.S. Open, FOX went up live from Oakmont at 10:00 AM ET, and while they got the short end of the stick thanks to bad weather, they were ready to go for ten hours of full field coverage on TV. For earlier tee times, featured groups and holes were made available from 7:30 AM. While FOX might not be your preferred broadcaster, at the very least, they were ready to provide you with the kind of coverage that you would expect at a major championship. They treated it like the big deal that it is.
I would love nothing more than to see the Masters get treated in the same fashion.
6. While Sergio’s speed control was very good all week, it was absolutely stunning to see Jordan Spieth’s speed control be as far off as it was on Sunday. The run he put together on Saturday was phenomenal, and I don’t know if it was simply a matter of him running out of gas on Sunday after putting so much into it the day before or if it was just an off day, but it was striking to see him struggle on the greens like he did.
Spieth seems built for Augusta like no one we’ve seen in at least the last twenty years, and even though he was two shots behind, it felt like he was still the favourite. With everything that we saw on Sunday, Spieth struggling to a 75, and having to birdie three of the last four holes to do it, is what caught me off guard the most.
7. Phil Mickelson finished tied for 22nd at 2-over par, and he did it in the most Mickelson way humanly imaginable. Take a look at his scorecard for the week:
That’s two eagles, fourteen birdies, sixteen bogeys and two double bogeys to go along with his thirty eight pars. I talked about this earlier in the year and again last week before the tournament started, but it really does feel like Mickelson is as explosive as he’s ever been, which is great, but it also feels like he has more blow up holes and hits more bad shots than ever before as well. Whenever he was shown on the broadcast last week, it seemed like he was either putting for eagle or bogey, and I don’t have to tell you that that’s usually not the way you win golf tournaments. He’s still a very capable player and I won’t be surprised if he wins this tournament again, but he really needs to clean up these mistakes, which is only going to get harder now as he approaches his 47th birthday in a couple of months.
For comparison sake, Sergio finished eleven shots clear of Mickelson by making the same amount of birdies and one less eagle.
8. I talked about this on the Fried Egg podcast after the round on Sunday, but it felt like whenever I saw a tweet on the weekend that involved an image of the Masters.com shot tracker, it was Rory McIlroy smashing a drive of at least 350 yards. Every single time I saw it, I kept thinking that it was going to be followed by a Rory comin’ tweet after he made an eagle, but that just never happened and Rory never did get close enough to the leaders on the weekend to become a factor.
I really don’t want to make too much of this because at the end of the day, we’re still talking about a player who has won four major championships at age 27, and for all the talk about how he “struggles” at Augusta, he’s posted four consecutive top-10 finishes in this tournament. Regardless of what player we’re talking about, you can’t have those kinds of finishes here if you’re playing poorly or if the course doesn’t suit your game and even though I don’t know for sure, I don’t think that he’s too concerned about it either.
We tend to overdramatize this stuff with Rory because we all know how talented he is, but sometimes you just don’t have it all firing and other players who do end up beating you. The course sets up perfectly for his game, and I’m very confident in saying that he’s going to win at least one of these before his career is over.
9. I’m definitely not alone in saying this, but when the groups and tee times were finalized for Sunday’s round, my immediate thought was that the winner was coming out of the Spieth/Fowler group just in front of Rose and Garcia. Particularly, my focus was on Fowler because he was only one shot back despite not hitting the ball all that well all week. His putter was carrying him over the first three days, but I just figured that his standard ball striking would come back and he would make a run.
Then the final round started, on a day when the course should have been gettable for Fowler, and it just never materialized.
10. Coming into the week, I picked Rory to win the Masters and complete the career grand slam. On the opposite end of that, all I wanted to see from Jason Day was that he got through the week without having to deal with any kind of distraction, and that’s exactly what happened. The combination of rust and the tough course conditions over the first two days were a real bad recipe for Day, and it showed, as he opened with 74-76 and had to play with Jeff Knox on Saturday as the low man on the board.
The weekend was much better though, as Day played the final two rounds in 4-under par and ended up tied for 22nd. Given that he hasn’t played much recently, I think this was pretty much as good as anyone could have reasonably expected him play.
11. There’s very little in golf that gives me more joy than watching Fred Couples at the Masters, and even though we all knew that it probably wouldn’t last for all four days, I continue to just be amazed at what he does here every year. He is pretty much exclusively a Champions Tour player these days, he can’t practice for very long because of his back problems and at 57 years old, he consistently proves that for one week each year, he can still get it done with the very best in the world on an insanely tough track.
12. I wasn’t crazy about Dustin Johnson’s chances to win the tournament before it got underway, but it’s an understatement to say that it sucked to see him pull out with that back injury before it all got started. Considering that 9-under par was the winning score and a low number was out there on both weekend days, I would have loved to see what DJ could do on a course that he has seemingly become more comfortable with in recent years.
13. Much like Couples, I don’t really think anyone held out a lot of hope for Charley Hoffman to hang on after that opening 65. That’s one of those rounds that’s going to get lost in the ether because of everything else that went down over the next three days, but man, that was some ridiculously impressive play. Only one player was within four shots of him, and I have no idea how he posted that 65 in those conditions.
Hoffman is the perfect example of just how deep the talent is on the PGA Tour. He’s a guy that only hardcore golf fans would recognize, that pretty much no one thought had any real chance to win the tournament and yet, he went out on the day where the conditions were brutal, and posted a 65 like he was playing his local muni that day.
14. I’m not even sure there are words that can accurately describe how impressed I am watching Thomas Pieters. Everyone focuses on the fact that he hits the ball into other zip codes, but the rest of his game is so solid, and his demeanour is even better. We all fawn over Augusta National because it’s a legitimately great golf course that has a ton of history attached to it, but Pieters wasn’t really fazed by it in his first trip. After a second round 68, he said that it was “just another golf course” and even though he struggled a little on Saturday with a 75, he closed strong with another 68 on Sunday.
He’s cold blooded, and he should be a great fit at Erin Hills in a couple of months.
15. Shout out to Stew Hagestad for finishing as the low am last week. I don’t know how much golf he plays since he’s a full time financial analyst, but the fact that he made the cut and didn’t have a truly disastrous round while doing so is beyond impressive.
16. When I saw the forecast earlier in the week, I wasn’t thrilled with it because of how difficult it was going to play. Some people like it when the players go out and struggle at the U.S. Open, but I’m really not here for the carnage, especially at Augusta National when it’s just more fun if players are going low. That’s part of what made Hoffman’s opening round so ridiculous, but what actually happened with the first two rounds is that it weeded out a bunch of the field and left us with an extremely stout leaderboard heading into the weekend. It really couldn’t have worked out any better.
17. I know we talk about it pretty much every year, but it’s remarkable to me how often this course and event produces an incredible tournament. I maintain that from a pure golf perspective, I’ll likely never see anything at a higher level than what we got last year with the Stenson/Mickelson duel at Troon, but from a pure drama standpoint, the 2017 Masters is one of the most memorable tournaments of my lifetime.
It had everything you could ever ask for in a tournament. Two great players battling it out down the stretch on a fantastic course, one looking for his first green jacket and the other trying to win a major championship for the first time after years of heartbreak, is the perfect recipe for drama. Then you throw in the inevitable collapse that wasn’t because of incredible shot making, and I’m not sure that you could ask for anything more.
As always, Augusta National treated us to the perfect show.
18. The best reads that I’ve seen so far on the week: