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.
Naturally the biggest question heading into this year’s Masters is “Will Tiger Woods play or won’t he?” Tiger has been practicing at Augusta and says it will be a game time decision. Assuming he does play, do you think he can contend or is there just too much rust on his game to make that possible?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Y’know, I think it’s pretty inconsiderate of Tiger to keep everyone guessing till the last minute. I know the field is by invitation only, but if Tiger decides on Wednesday that he won’t be playing, will it then be too late for an alternate to fill the field? (Note to Fred Ridley: I’ll play if Tiger doesn’t.) I guess we’ll know by the time you publish the Round Table comments, Mr. Editor. As for how Tiger will play, if he does play, I think he can win the darn thing if he’s able to walk 72 holes.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario, (@craigloughry): I know this guy (not personally), but he will play. And he’s only there for one reason and one reason only, to win. He wouldn’t play otherwise. He certainly isn’t the player he was, but I don’t think you can ever count him out at Augusta. I think he’ll make the cut, and fair decently, maybe even contend. I know its what we all want to see.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I learned my lesson with Tiger a long time ago. Never bet against him. He loves to play the poor me ‘card’ and I don’t want to be the one who has their photo nailed to the inside of his locker. All reports coming out of Augusta say he is rounding into form. It’ll be nothing short of a miracle if he contends. He simply has too much time away from competition at his age particularly. Bobby Jones retired when he was 28. Four years later he tried to compete on his own course, in his own tournament and found the magic was gone and he didn’t have any surgeries, accidents or personal problems.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Well, by the time everyone is reading this, things should be a lot clearer, but it looks like there is a good chance he is playing, and if he is, that means he believes he can contend. I hope that’s the case, but I would honestly be surprised if he can contend for 4 rounds given how long he’s been off, and the uncertainty of his physical conditioning. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the cut but would pleasantly surprised if he’s in contention come Sunday.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The ‘game time decision’ thing, while not applying to golf was also selfish. Anyway, the practice rounds were probably all about walking not swinging. If the predicted rain comes, that will make it even tougher on the reconstructed leg. If he plays, making the cut would be miraculous. Don’t think he’ll tee it up just to do that.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): We should have learned over the years that if Tiger is healthy, he can win. I think he proved at the Hero Hit and Giggle that he can still hit the ball and make putts, so the only question is how strong the injured leg is and can it hold up for four rounds. My hunch is that even if he has to crawl the last nine holes, Tiger will be in the mix on Sunday.
While Tiger-talk is dominating the headlines this week, what other Masters story should we be talking about?
Deeks: Why, precisely, is Phil not there? Not that I give a hoot, but his absence has not been adequately explained.
Loughry: I’m sure we’ll hear more of it during tournament rounds, but the new tees on 11 and 15 (adding 20 yards to each hole). I think more players will have to layup on 15 (playing 550 now) and as a result, and I also think we’ll see a few more balls in the water too. I know the idea is to help add to the drama…on Sunday, and I hope they’re right!
Schurman: One I’m glad we won’t be talking about is “Phil”. The big story is the number of young players who are capable of winning. I hope the back nine on Sunday has 10 or 12 players tied, one shot or two shots back. In fact, let’s have another play-off. Historically, on average there is one every three years and the last one was in 2017 with Sergio vs Justin Rose.
Rule: I think the main story line is the fact that there isn’t a clear-cut favourite this year. Normally there is a hot golfer that seems to command much of the attention, such as Jon Rahm, DJ and Rory in past years. This year the hottest golfer is new No 1 Scottie Scheffler, but he doesn’t seem to command as much respect. So, I think the story is that it’s wide open and the media will be spreading the 50% of their time not devoted to Tiger across the rest of the field relatively evenly! I’m looking forward to seeing who emerges from the pack.
Quinn: The focus should be on the guys who are 20 years younger, like new #1 Scheffler and Ancer and Niemann and Thomas, and the great young “internationals, er non-Americans, like van Rooyen and Pieters and Power and Straka and Hovland. And more time and serious consideration should be devoted to lowering the age for uninviting past champs like Lyle and Mize and Weir and Olazabal and Couples (Langer’s okay). There should be plenty of rain-delay time to get into that, finally.
Mumford: Tiger’s contemporaries are running out of time. There are a number of high-profile players in their late thirties or forties who have been playing well of late, know Augusta National like the back of their hand and could use one more big win to burnish their resume before time runs out on them. Think of Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Francesco Molinari and Sergio Garcia. Local knowledge plus a small field plays to their advantage. For added incentive, all they have to do is look at the field of young guys who are going to dominate for years and realize it’s time to git ‘er done.
Who’s your pick to put on a green jacket on Sunday night? And who might be a longshot that could get the job done for his first major?
Deeks: I know one guy who won’t be putting on the jacket. He’s in jail in Argentina. But that aside, my pick for winner, and his first major, is Viktor Hovland. My longshot pick is Corey Conners. And my sentimental pick, even though you didn’t ask, is Louis Oosthuizen. Go Louie!
Loughry: I’m leaning on Rahm this year. I can see he’s still in the neighborhood the last few weeks, and I like his game on this course. Dark horse is Ryan Palmer, this guy has had a good few weeks contending, maybe, just maybe he sneaks it out this week?
Schurman: I really like Cam Smith and Brooks Koepka but I have to pick the #1 Player in the world, Scheffler. Suspect driving won’t hurt him too much here, he is a good iron player, he can putt, and he is full of confidence. My long shots are Rory and Adam Scott. Both are hitting the ball well enough. Rory just hasn’t been getting the job done and Scott’s new putter might not be quite ready yet. There is a player who is well under the radar that is a good pick; Dustin Johnson. I hope you notice this is the first time I haven’t picked Cantlay. He now qualifies for my category of ‘wonderful player who has won a lot of money’. He will surface from time to time, but the motivation is gone just like Spieth and maybe Rohm. Before indicting Rohm, I’ll watch what he does this season. All that money, a young family and a couple of years at the top take their toll.
Rule: I know I’m not going out on a long limb with this pick, but I like Cameron Smith. He’s been in contention here before, he’s been playing well and he probably has the best short game in the world right now, which goes a long way to winning at Augusta. My long shot is Sepp Straka, just because he’s in good form, and why not!
Quinn: Even if it’s going to be a wet one, the premium at Augusta National is always chipping and putting. Right now, there is no one better around and on the greens than Cam Smith. That mullet flowing over the green jacket collar would be fair dinkum, mate! Going back to the well, again, but a longshot with a real chance is Tyrell Hatton. One of these weeks…….
Mumford: The Masters always poses the question of whether you should wager on experience or the hot hand. I’m going to stick with the older crowd and take Louis Oosthuizen to win on Sunday. He seems to be in the mix in almost every major and the question about him shouldn’t be why but rather why not? For a first major, I like Cam Smith. He’s not exactly a longshot but in such a small field, nobody can hide in the weeds as a “longshot”. Smith has a phenomenal short game and is an awesome putter – two mandatory requirements for Augusta National. Besides, that gaudy green jacket would go well with his mullet.