This Week in Golf: A Masters Preview
Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Journeyman pro Jim Herman grabbed the final spot in the Masters field with his improbable victory in Houston. Despite being chased by a host of top players (Stenson, Johnson, Fowler, Spieth, Mickelson, Reed), he hung in there. Were you rooting for Herman?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Actually, I was watching the LPGA’s first major, and rooting for Brooke Henderson, who fired a 67 on Sunday, to finish T-10, her seventh Top 10 in a row. Brooke is now just slightly behind Lexi Thompson as Top North American on the Ladies Tour. But to answer your question, dear Inquisitor, it’s always fun to see a Cinderella story, and I was happy for Jim Herman… especially with that chip-in on 16, and the fearless drive on 18 with water on the left. He deserved the victory, and I hope he at least makes the cut at Augusta.
Frank Mastroianni, Freelance Writer: Admittedly I didn’t watch much of the golf this past weekend as I was in the process of driving 15 hours to Augusta. That said I was keeping track of the goings on through my PGA TOUR app and definitely wasn’t rooting against Herman. Besides I always like seeing the underdog grab a win. It’s nice to see him pick up a spot at Augusta as well.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): While my attention was mostly on the Blue Jays at that time, I was flipping over to the golf on commercials to see if Herman could pull it off. I always root for the underdog when I don’t have a horse in the race, but I kind of wanted to see Spieth win this event just to screw with the odds makers in Vegas.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Herman and Vaughan Taylor (Pebble Beach) are the feel good stories of the year and it’s easy to root for a long shot or underdog. However, I was more interested to see if some of the Masters favourites could overcome recent tendencies in advance of this week’s major (DJ self-destructing somewhere; Stenson’s putter going cold; Mickelson’s head exploding; Fowler spraying the ball all over the map; Spieth not firing on all cylinders) and was dismayed to see that none of them had. Unless those guys can get their act together, the Green Jacket may be going back to Australia. But not likely to rookie Jim Herman.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: I must admit I wasn’t rooting for him. The week before the Majors is all about the contenders leaving little time to notice the journeymen. Theirs are the WGC back up events and Finchem’s goofy wrap-around things. Besides, only Sandy Lyle with the Greater Greensboro in 1988 and Phil with the Bell South in 2006 have gone on to win back-to-back at Augusta National. So it’s a good thing that Stenson is still in the mix.
Jim Kenesky, Kenesky Murray Golf Services (@JimKeneskyGolf): I love underdogs. So yes, I was rooting for him. I can relate to his progress and feel his is a similar story to many former and current club professionals – that if they only had a chance they could certainly be a member of the PGA Tour.
Craig Loughry, GAO Director of Handicapping (@craigloughry): You’re damn right I was rooting for Herman. Who doesn’t like the underdog (Cinderella) story. Those other guys you know are going to get a few more wins each, and Herman, maybe not so much, and he’s been through so much. Make no mistake though, he’s got some game, he’s not a fluke, if you’re playing on the PGA Tour, that doesn’t happen by accident. This was a good story, and good for the Tour in general.
Tiger Woods announced last week that he won’t play in the Masters this year? Will he be missed?
Quinn: He’ll be missed only because CBS will spend tonnes of prime time on his absence and what he’s done at The Masters at the expense of live action. He is no longer a factor in the Day-Rory-Spieth etc etc era, and will be missed as much as Arnie not taking the ceremonial tee shot.
Loughry: Tiger will be missed in that he’s not in the field. But there are so many other storylines heading into The Masters: The big three, Adam Scott rekindling some magic, DJ’s recent good form, Bubba Watson, and Phil playing well. Pick one – all are interesting.
Kaplan: I think he will be missed, but he’s making the right choice if he is not physically up to it. I’d rather see a fully recovered Tiger at some point down the line, than Woods delaying (and potentially harming) the recovery process by rushing to tee it up this week when he is not yet ready.
Mumford: For nearly twenty years, Tiger was ‘the’ story at Augusta. Even when he didn’t win he still managed to dominate media attention right up until they gave someone else the green jacket. Golf is in a different era now with exciting new stars with lots of personality and great storylines. The Tiger era is over. He was one of a kind but I won’t miss Tiger at all.
Kenesky: Tiger Who? Oh yeah that ten year flash in time player who won almost everything known to golf. I hate Majors without him, but reality is that time is moving forward and we have to embrace the new generation of golfers. It’s just so concerning knowing that almost all the greats in time had long lasting careers. I just hope Tiger gets healthy to bring his game back to a highly competitive level and do some damage in his 40’s.
Who do you think will be putting on the Green Jacket on Sunday evening?
Kenesky: Bubba. Though not my favourite player, his game is just ideal for Augusta. I won’t be surprised if he finishes with five Green Jackets by the end of his career. How about a Bubba/Day playoff? Jason Day is definitely my “Seeking his 1st Green Jacket” favourite.
Deeks: This is a real tough one, because there are so many great players today, all of them playing at or near peak form. But only one can win, and completely ignoring past performance (which I honestly don’t know), I’m going to pick Henrik Stenson, because I think he deserves a major and he’s often overlooked in the Elite Group. But I’d be really pleased to see either McIlroy or Day win it, too.
Loughry: Jason Day, he’s the best on the planet right now, and has been so close several times at Augusta. He hits it high and long, and putts the hell out of it, he’s my pick. Dark horse is Adam Scott, but I think the flat stick will let him down on those greens.
Mumford: Any difference between the favourites is negligible. They all hit it long or at least long enough. They can all putt. They all have plenty of experience at Augusta and all have recently won on Tour, including majors. For the first time in forever, nobody has a significant edge. There are eight or nine players in that elite group and I fully expect the champion to be one of them and would be delighted for whoever it may be. If I have to pick one player, it’s Rory McIlroy because I believe he wants it more – partly for the career Grand Slam but also because last year he had to watch from the sidelines as Spieth and Day won majors and moved ahead of him in the rankings. He needs to prove he still belongs on top.
Kaplan: Although all of the momentum right now is with J-Day, give me Spieth on those greens. Allegedly, Greller and Spieth hired a local caddy to walk the course with them a few years ago during the practice round and the duo frantically wrote down every scrap of putting wisdom that was relayed. The result? A Green Jacket and a runner up for the young Texan in two tries. Which brings me to another question: why don’t more players hire local caddies for the weekend?
Mastroianni: Hideki Matsuyama. Been saying it for weeks. His game is top notch. Really only lacks on the green and with a good week on the rugs I say he’s hard to beat. He finished 5th at last years Masters, he has three top 10s and six top 25s in ten events played this year, leads in birdies, and despite horrible driving accuracy which you can get away with at Augusta, he’s 14th in GIR. Look out!
Quinn: My pick since last fall has been Jason Day. If his back holds up, he should be right in it when it all begins on the back nine Sunday. He has the length and precision with his wedges, is a brilliant putter, and he now knows the course as well as anyone. He was T2 in 2011 and in 2013 he birdied 13, 14 and 15 before messing up 16 and 17 to miss the Cabrera-Scott playoff. The heart and mind say Day.