Experience vs a hot hand at Augusta; Jordan Spieth has both

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.

Jordan Spieth returned to the PGA Tour winners circle after a four-year absence. His victory at the Valero Texas Open was a masterful clinic on crisp iron play and short game wizardry, even though he’s still not hitting all his drives where he wants. Spieth has worked hard to get back into form which has led to several top finishes already this year before Sunday’s win. What’s your take on Spieth’s long road back?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Gee, I hope it wasn’t a fluke!  It’s great to have this guy back and firing on most, if not all, cylinders.  He instantly put himself in the conversation of potential winners of the Masters, and no one would be a more popular champion.  It’s a real credit to perseverance, self-belief, and having a solid support system.  And I hope a prolonged comeback will take the spotlight away from Bryson DeChambeau.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Look it’s not like Spieth was abysmal in his play the last few years, he did contend a few times, but it sure wasn’t like the pace he set a few years back. Long term high performance is tough to sustain. To me his short game is where it’s at, if he can get the ball into the hole without many blemishes on the card, it will take some pressure of his tee ball and maybe free up some swings and improve his accuracy. I think it’s there for him, I think he has a plan and has been more accepting of his poor shots. They do happen from time to time; that’s golf.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: You keep asking about Spieth and I keep start by saying “I am not a fan”. He seems like a decent guy, but I wouldn’t bet on him. Balls flying in every direction followed that old saying “Pros who putt for pars and dogs who chase cars”. One of my own annoyances is all the whining. Just play! Skip all the chatter.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It’s an impressive return to form.  There are many great players that fall on hard times and never recover (see: Duval, David), so to see Spieth return with a good long run of sustained great play, is simply impressive.  He’s obviously trusted his process and team and has worked hard to get back to near the top of the game, and he has to be considered the favourite this week given his career record at Augusta.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): All the hard work finally paid off with a series of top finishes this season and past experience as a winner put him over the top last week. That’s a great combination because I expect he now knows his own swing better than he did before and he certainly knows how to win, so expect him to stay on top for a prolonged period. Lots of people seem concerned with his driving stats but I think Spieth is a lot like Seve Ballesteros – drives it all over the map, then uses exceptional iron play and a magical short game to stay in the mix.

With his win last week and past success at Augusta, Spieth vaults into the featured group as a Masters favourite along with defending champion Dustin Johnson, US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and Players Championship winner Justin Thomas. Who do you think has been overlooked and could be a surprise contender on Sunday?  

Deeks: Well, I picked Cameron Smith as Masters Champ on the Round Table last week, and I’ll stick with that choice in the hope that it elevates me to Visionary status come Sunday night.  I’m not saying Cameron has been overlooked, I don’t think he’s been on ANYONE’s radar… but he had a fine showing at Augusta last year and he seems to have a fine demeanour and level of patience, which you MUST have to succeed there.  (This may be why I never contended at the Masters.  Or played there.). But Cameron aside, I’d love to see Spieth vindicate his comeback with another Green jacket.

Loughry: One surprise contender who has been overlooked perhaps is Reed, he’s actually played well of late and has some history in Georgia (not referring to his college golf days). I could see him on Sunday being right there. If I had a second pick, it would be Sergio, he’s played pretty well lately, if he could putt only a little under average I think he’d win. Putting with your eyes closed at the Masters I don’t think can lead to a win.

Schurman: A surprise contender is difficult to pick when the field is so small. It also contains several unproven amateurs and Past Champions. Nicklaus thought it was the easiest event on tour to win considering the media pressure, the weak field, the overall awe of the property all contributing to the comfort zone of the players. However, my surprise pick is Colin Morikawa.

Rule: Sungjae Im.  He finished T2 in November in his Masters debut and has all the tools to win a major.  I’d be surprised if he isn’t in contention again this year.

Mumford: I’m not sure he’s actually been overlooked but unlike most Majors in recent memory, Rory has fallen off the radar a bit and I think he might relish the lack of attention. Or it may make him hungrier to complete his personal Grand Slam. From further down the list, something is nagging at me that maybe Phil can make one last run at another green jacket. That would be a fun surprise.

The Masters is unlike other Majors given that it is played on the same course every year. Past Masters champions often factor into the mix on Sunday. For the other Majors and even for regular PGA Tour events, recent performance is a strong indicator of who might play well. In handicapping the field at the Masters, do you go with experience or the hot hand?

Deeks: That’s a really good question… because on Sunday afternoon, the leaderboard is usually 50-50 with Augusta veterans and hot rookies (or sophomores).  You would think that knowing where you’ve gotta place the ball, and how the putts break would give you a step up, but so often it’s blind ignorance combined with youthful testosterone that lets the kids succeed.  It’s the latter that makes me think Cameron Smith might surprise us all this weekend.

Loughry: It’s really hard to win back to back weeks, but you’ve seen me praise Spieth’s recent good form hoping it would turn into a win. I will pull for him this week but a win would be a tall order. I like a little of column A and Column B for my Masters picks, someone with experience who is playing well. Dare I put Westwood in there? Langer, mmmm certainly has the experience, but no, I don’t think he’s a factor come Sunday afternoon. But it will be someone who knows Augusta and is playing well the last month or two.

Schurman: For me, it’s a mix. I’ve been to the Masters twice and both times my heart was in my throat the entire day. I felt like a 5-year-old at Disney World, young enough to believe it was true and old enough to recognize things were happening around me. I keep picking Rory and Patrick Cantlay and will until they either win or don’t qualify. Like everyone, I’d love to see Lee Westwood do it and I’m betting on Cam Smith.

Rule: It’s a balance, I think.  There hasn’t been a Masters rookie winner since Fuzzy in 1979 – and he’s the only one since 1935, the second year the tournament ran – so obviously golf course experience is important.  That’s the reason guys like Bernhard Langer and Freddie Couples beat lots of the young guys year in and year out.  But if you aren’t coming into a major with confidence and playing well, it’s going to be hard to find your game under those intense pressure conditions.  So, I’m hoping the combination of experience and hot hand gives Lee Westwood a chance to win his first major this week.

Mumford: As TJ points out, rookies need not apply. Nicklaus won in 1986 and Tiger in 2019, purely on experience. Neither was on what you would call a hot streak. Tiger had won the previous fall but had so many weeks off in between, it’s hard to believe there was a lot of momentum. Lots of repeat winners of the Masters in the last 30 years and lots of past champions that keep contending long after their best stuff. The likely winner will probably have attended the Past Champions dinner on Tuesday evening.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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