Golf Capital – Masters Episode Five, Return of the Cat

@hamishneal

 

Let’s get the basics out of the way. Tiger Woods has Masters title number five, major win number 15 and has joined Jack Nicklaus in elite company having won at least one Masters title in each of three decades. His Sunday triumph at Augusta was the first time he came from behind at 54 holes to win the green jacket. Notably the Nicklaus span of Masters wins is 1963-1986 and Woods is 1997-2019… and beyond?

 

The Masters - Final Round

 

Opening Drive

 

At 13 under Woods prevailed in an early finish on Sunday at Augusta National after impending bad weather saw the tee times moved up and players going out in threesomes. This grouped Woods with Francesco Molinari (who had a two-shot lead after the third round) and prolific majors top ten performer from 2018 Tony Finau.

 

Patrick Cantlay held the lead for a brief period before several others tussled at the top on the run in only for Woods to have a two-stroke buffer with two to play before saulting by one stroke.

 

With plenty of carnage for the final two groups taking hold on the 12th it was a stunning 20 minutes or so to see four players Ian Poulter, Brooks Koepka followed by Finau and Molinari all find the water short of the green. The same hole that claimed Jordan Spieth in 2016 took the legitimate chances of multiple players on Sunday before the Tiger Roar engulfed the course over the final few holes as the chances of a victory, improbable only 18 months ago, became all but certain.

 

Greens in regulation

One of the great images from Sunday will be Woods hugging his son Charlie. Yes, he has won recently but both his children (including daughter Sam) haven’t seen him win a major, Woods noted they had teased him as ‘the YouTube golfer.’

 

As writer Kevin Van Valkenburg noted on Twitter Tiger has been ‘a prodigy, cautionary tale’ before producing ‘joy.’ His flaws (and there are many) and Van Valkenburg also astutely notes are relatable. The image with his son was relatable as was his note talking afterwards that “Sam lost a state soccer tournament yesterday so I sort of convinced them You want to come up to watch the Masters? I was lucky to be able to win.” Woods now humble, isn’t so robotic in those vulnerable moments as he had been previously.

 

Tap in

 

One of the final notes of interest of Woods’ victory was him and Augusta Chairman Billy Payne sharing space in such a public stage at Butler Cabin and the outdoor presentation after Payne took the unprecedented step of lambasting Woods upon his return to the Masters in 2010 following his scandal-plagued period from the end of 2008. Payne, in part, said, “He disappointed all of us and more importantly our kids and grandkids…Is there a way forward? I hope so. I believe so.” Payne’s scolding of Woods would be mildly amusing if it wasn’t for the fact Woods has done so much for the tournament. Woods inspired many of the players he competed strongly with on Sunday (including Tony Finau and Xander Schaufelle,) Woods drives ratings, and his influence on majors and all of golf is this era is unrivalled.

 

Finally it’s worth remembering Payne did make those comments in 2010 nearly two years BEFORE Augusta National admitted its’ first female member. But, as Payne said in the same pre-tournament press conference in 2010 “We’re very secure in who we are… We do things our way.” Our way indeed.

 

This week

RBC Heritage

 

Matt Fitzpatrick

14th at Harbour Town last year the Englishman produced an largely unnoticed T21 at the Master but that came after he fired 11 under par over the final three rounds to salvage an opening 78

 

Graeme McDowell.

Not only a winner already in 2019 the Northern Irishman won this event six years ago and having not played the Masters might work in his favour this week and several top hopes might have their spirit broken after letting chances slip to win a major.

 

Abraham Ancer

Satoshi Kodiara was a course debutante when he won last year and Ancer at 60 in the world is ranked at a similar mark of Kodiara’s 46 having won at the back end 2018 as Kodiara had on the Japan tour in late 2017.

 

LOTTE Championship

 

Brooke Henderson.

 

The Canadian returns to defend her title in Oahu Hawaii and despite the fact she is only 21 has already defended a title before winning in Portland in 2015 and 2016.

 

2019 record:

Feb 13: Nelly Korda win and Paul Dunne third.

Feb 20: Ledioda missed the cut and in Mexico Ancer (T39) was the best of the three.

Feb 27: Best two were Brooke Henderson (T15) after taking an eight on one of the par fives in her opening round and Harrison Endycott T17.

March 6: Matt Millar T23 in NZ was the best result in the tough weather on the South Island.

March 13 Justin Thomas T35 was the best of the TPC Sawgrass four.

March 20: Went off a week early with Kisner but in the Valspar Jon Rahm was T6 as the best result.

April 4: Matt Jones’ T30 was the best of the four options last week after Rahm’s T6 finish the week prior.

April 11: Xander Schauffele. T2 at his second Masters appearance is impressive a show well for the future.

 

Image via Time.com

Golf Capital – Ko’s ANA, Kupcho triumphs at Augusta, Conner’s into the Masters

@hamishneal

 

Another first time major winner was crowned with Jin-young Ko’s victory in the ANA Inspiration in California. This result lays the platform for this week’s opening men’s major of the year the Masters, an event which has seen debut major winners among it’s last four winners stretching back to Jordan Spieth’s major breakthrough in 2015. The last spot in the field at Augusta National went to Canadian Corey Conners following his Texas Open triumph on Sunday.

 

kojy_1141109816_2000x1125.jpg

 

Opening drive

South Korean Jin-young Ko prevailed at Rancho Mirage to win her first major by three shots on Sunday and make the famous leap into Poppie’s Pond after winning the ANA Inpsiration. Ko, the 2018 Australian Open champion, had already won on the LPGA Tour this year with last month’s triumph in the Founders Cup so had come into the event in good form but had only once placed inside the top ten (2015 Women’s British Open – second) in a major in 11 prior starts. Ko at 10 under beat Mi Hyang Lee with Lexi Thompson a further stroke back in third.

 

It was England’s Ian Poulter who grasped a Masters spot the week before the event last year when he won the Houston Open but it could be argued Conners’ effort in San Antonio this week was move impressive. In winning the Texas Open (which is now the week before the Masters after a schedule change) Conner’s needed to birdie his final hole in Monday qualifying to make a playoff which he won with a birdie on the first extra hole. Conners, 27, then carded 30 on the back nine on Sunday to not only claim his first PGA Tour triumph but gain a coveted spot in the Masters. Solid Augusta performer Charley Hoffman was second with a final round 64 netting Ryan Moore third spot.

 

Greens in regulation

Action in Georgia on the weekend saw the inaugural Augusta Womens’ National Amateur take place with victory going to American college star Jennifer Kupcho who shot a final round five-under 67 which included three birdies plus an eagle in the run home to finish at 10 under three clear of Mexican Maria Fassi.

 

Disappointingly the players only got onto the Masters course itself for the final round with the first two rounds of the 54-hole event taking place on the Champions Retreat track. A cruel and unusual punishment for those that were close to cut line but missed the last round.

 

Whilst the staging of this event was certainly notable the contrast to the Jordan Mixed Open (which also took place on the weekend) is stark. As noted last week the mixed event with players from the Ladies European Tour, the men’s Challenge Tour and seniors Staysure Tour provided just that, a mixed finish. England’s LET star Meghan MacLaren, who led into the final round by two strokes, was eventually overhauled by Challenge Tour player Dutchman Daan Huizing. MacLaren, a recent winner in Australia, double-bogeyed the 11th after some earlier dropped shots to open the door for Huizing who last year finished third in the Challenge Tour’s season ending event.

 

Great for Augusta to do what they did with the female Amateur event but I think the event at the Ayla Golf Club in Aqaba really elevates and demonstrates what the actual way forward is for inclusion in golf. As the Straits Times noted Augusta National Golf Club as a “former all-male enclave” only admitted it’s first female members from 2012 onwards. From 2012 to now the European-based tours have been far more inclusive in a real tangible manner when it comes to tournament access and prizemoney, and this is headlined by events like the Vic Open which is linked to the Australasian Tour itself. Come on Augusta and the PGA Tour, you can lift more…

 

Tap in

Even allowing for all of the above, the pomp and circumstance, gravitas, and allure of Augusta and Masters week is something special in not only the world of golf, but the world of spot. Patrons (yes, patrons – listen to the television broadcast they can’t even refer to the attendees as fans) can’t bring electronic devices on site and those at home get the least amount of direct network TV coverage of any major of the season. This leaves a lot to the memory and few watching knowing much about the front nine until perhaps Sunday. All this adds to the mystique and part of the reason many make a trip to venue as one of the sporting ‘must-do’s at some point in their life. It’s the only set venue for a major championship on the men’s tours further solidifying it’s reverential status. The next most famous course in the USA (probably) Pebble Beach last hosted a major in 2010, although it will host this year’s US Open.

 

This week

The Masters

 

Justin Rose

One of the trends among recent Masters winners has been a win earlier that year and Rose fits the bill with his January triumph in San Diego and his recent Masters record includes a T2 (2015) and second place (2017) finish and only once since 2011 has he finished outside the top 14 and that was a T25 finish

 

Justin Thomas

One of my 2018 thoughts for this tournament. Rinse and repeat. Has since won the Bridgestone Invitational and this year was second in the LA (Genesis Open) behind JB Holmes.

 

Jordan Spieth

Now at 33 in the world hasn’t won anywhere since his 2017 Open triumph but is blessed with an elite Masters record having not finished worse than T11 in five goes around the track. His 2015 win kicked of a run of five majors in which he won twice, placed second twice and was T4. It’s hard to win the Masters and to consistently contend means something.

 

Xander Schauffele

If we look at a possible first-time major winner which has been a recent trend it makes sense to look at other big event winners and Schauffele was the TOUR Championship winners in 2018 plus has a WGC title to his credit. It’s asking a lot to win after his one Masters start last year saw him finish T50.but he followed that with two top six finishes in the next two majors.

 

Two more for the event: Genesis Open winner and he of the recent slow-play controversy JB Holmes and plus Dane Thorbjorn Olesen, who was T6 in his Masters debut in 2013.

 

2019 record:

Feb 13: Nelly Korda win and Paul Dunne third.

Feb 20: Ledioda missed the cut and in Mexico Ancer (T39) was the best of the three.

Feb 27: Best two were Brooke Henderson (T15) after taking an eight on one of the par fives in her opening round and Harrison Endycott T17.

March 6: Matt Millar T23 in NZ was the best result in the tough weather on the South Island.

March 13 Justin Thomas T35 was the best of the TPC Sawgrass four.

March 20: Went off a week early with Kisner but in he Valspar Jon Rahm was T6 as the best result.

April 4: Matt Jones’ T30 was the best of the four options last week after Rahm’s T6 finish the week prior.

 

Image via www.lpga.com

Golf Capital – Inspiration time, more Kuchar nonsense.

@hamishneal

 

Big names are winning before big tournaments with the first major of the year only hours away. American Kevin Kisner won the WGC Match-Play Event in Austin as Nasa Hataoka claimed her third PGA tour crown in her last 16 starts plus the weekend saw a great father-son golf story. The first major of the year (the ANA Inspiration) takes place at the Mission Hills complex in Rancho Mirage, California this week.

 

Kevin-Kisner-Matt-Kuchar

 

Opening Drive

 

Kevin Kisner rose to world number 25 with a 3&2 victory at the Austin Country Club over current pantomime villain Matt Kuchar (more on that later) at the WGC Match Play event in Texas. Kisner only progressed to the knockout phase after he won a playoff against Ian Poulter to progress from his group. Kisner then saw off China’s Haotong Li, major winner Louis Oosthuizen and Ryder Cup hero Francesco Molinari.

 

Kisner, last ranked this highly after his T2 finish at the Open last year, continues an interesting trend of winning ranking events in odd years, 2013, 2015 ,207 and 2019. He did win in 2010 on the webdotcom tour though.

 

Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar stirred controversy on Saturday in Austin when a lazy Garcia didn’t check Kuchar had conceded a putt that went close before scoping it away in their quarter final. Kuchar, recently in trouble over his treatment of a local caddie in Mexico, raised it with the referee knowing full well what the outcome would be and went on to progress before losing to Kisner in the final. As a recent former Masters winner the incident didn’t cost Garcia a place in the Masters but given it could have cost another player a spot to progress. It did cost Garcia a chance to win and left a sour taste in the mouth. Kuchar needs to be more circumspect in his on-course behavior lest he become more unpopular that 2018 Masters winner Patrick Reed.

 

The week prior on the PGA Tour saw England’s Paul Casey not only defend his Valspar championship but see off the expected challenge from Dustin Johnson . Despite a final round of one over Casey edged home at Cooperhead by a stroke at eight under over Jason Kokrak and Louis Oosthuizen. Casey, once world number three, said the staff “nearly lost the course” given the struggles some players had. Looking ahead to next week’s Masters Casey, 41, has recorded the following finishes since 2015 at Augusta (T6, T4 6, and T15.)

 

In California the LPGA rolled on with the KIA Classic taking place after Ko Jin-young’s win the week prior in the Founders Cup. Still only 20 years of age Hataoka fired a final round five under 67 to win by three strokes in Carlsbad California. Her win at the Aviara Golf Club places her fourth in the world rankings before the first of the five women’s golf majors.

 

Despite the WGC event taking place there was still an impressive line-up in the Dominican Republic with Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell (the 2010 US Open winner) a one-stroke winner at 18 under of the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship.

 

Greens in Regulation

 

From Kenya to Malaysia and India European Tour has been very global in the last three weeks. Australian Scott Hend survived Nacho Elvira’s monster putt to force a playoff, which came after lightning stopped pay on the 18th, before Hend prevailed in extra holes. Hend’s win in playoff came courtesy of some lucky bounces after finding trees. Both golfers had finished at 15 under two clear of local Jazz Janewattananond at the Saujana Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur. Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher won for the first time in just over five years after his one-stroke triumph in the Indian Open at the DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurumgram. Gallacher credited the win largely to son Jack who was on the bag of the 44-year-old.

 

Tap in

 

Whilst the ANA Inspiration commences the year in golfing majors this week there is quite a unique event going on in the Middle East. The Jordan Mixed Open brings together the Ladies European Tour, the Challenge Tour (men’s second tier European Tour) plus the Staysure Tour (the men’s European seniors tour.) 40 players from each tour will feature at the event at the Ayla Golf Club in Aqaba. Prior to the Masters at Augusta there will also be the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

 

This week

Ana Inspiration

 

Nelly Korda. The Australian Open winner has placed in the top ten in eight of her last ten tournaments. She was 13th here last year.

 

Inbee Park. The South Korea lost on Monday of last year’s event to Pernilla Lindberg but has won here in 2013.

 

Texas Open

 

Abraham Ancer

The Texas-born Mexican won the Australian Open in November and was T12 in the Players before the Match Play so is playing well.

 

Matt Jones. Texas resident Jones is looking to improve the Australia record in this event (recent wins have included Adam Scott in 2010 and Steve Bowdtich in 2014) Ranked outside the top 400 two years ago Jones has top 20 finishes in his last two starts on the PGA Tour.

 

2019 record:

Feb 13: Nelly Korda win and Paul Dunne third.

Feb 20: Ledioda missed the cut and in Mexico Ancer (T39) was the best of the three.

Feb 27: Best two were Brooke Henderson (T15) after taking an eight on one of the par fives in her opening round and Harrison Endycott T17.

March 6: Matt Millar T23 in NZ was the best result in the tough weather on the South Island.

March 13 Justin Thomas T35 was the best of the TPC Sawgrass four.

March 20: Went off a week early with Kisner but in he Valspar Jon Rahm was T6 as the best result.

 

 

Image via golfdigest.com