The Round Table at the Masters: Majors, props and sentimental favourites

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.

Scottie Scheffler has been almost unbeatable in recent weeks with two big wins at the API and Players and a near miss last week in Houston. Yet despite the exceptional play, the bigger question around Scheffler is how he will do in the majors, especially the upcoming Masters. Is the focus on majors warranted when discussing a player’s potential or looking back at his career legacy? 

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): It seems to me that, when assessing a player’s career, it’s usually described as “he won XX events, including X majors”.  In other words, the majors always stand out.  You almost never hear, “he won XX events, and finished second twice in majors” … maybe other than Jack Nicklaus, who won 18 majors and had 19 seconds in majors, simply because the 37 number is so amazing.  The more majors Scottie wins, the more likely he’ll be regarded as a great player.  Not so much for the number of ordinary events he wins.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I think Majors definitely matter, more so now than ever with watered-down fields being played globally. No offence to the PGA Tour (or recent winners), but you’re missing some 10-15 world-class players every week from the field, so winning the Texas Children’s Open is commendable, but absolutely no comparison to winning a Major when comparing quality of fields and meaning of the event. Tiger always said, he used other events to get reps in for Majors. That will always be the case for all the top players.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: When it comes to honour, dignity, pride and related things, not much makes sense to me anymore. In the past, there were three kinds of TOUR players: those who played for pride, those who played for money and those who played to survive. We have the players of our “time”, strong competitors who won once in a while and everyone else. Currently, Scheffler is on the cusp of being the ‘player of our time’. He has all the tools but hasn’t played long enough to fill his resume. He needs to go beyond the level of ‘winner’ and get into the bracket of Champion.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Of course, majors are the ultimate measuring stick for a great player’s career.  There are plenty of great players that didn’t win very many majors (Fred Couples), and we think of them as very good but not among the best players of all time.  So ultimately Scheffler has to rack up some major wins to be put in the category that he likely deserves given his dominant play of late.  And I for one think he will win a few more big ones, he’s just too good not to.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: In a previous life before LIV, there was a gold standard not linked to the price of oil. The Majors were the metric and once a player controlled his fade to a back pin moving the ball just a few feet, the dreams were about four tournaments not four off-shore accounts. Hopefully, the current stasis doesn’t muddify the legacy assessment.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): In these fractured times, majors are the only effective way to judge one player’s accomplishments against another. A LIV player could win a boatload of LIV titles, but you would be correct if you asked who he beat. Turns out just a dozen or so world class players. In the watered-down PGA Tour, the same thing is applicable. Strength of field matters and right now only the majors have the strongest fields.

It’s Masters week next week and the pundits and bookies have Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy as the odds-on favourites to take home a green jacket. Next in line are Jordan Spieth, Viktor Hovland and Brookes Koepka. As a prop bet would you take those Top six players or the rest of the field?

Deeks: Yes, I would take those six guys, although I’d be holding my nose to include Rahm and Koepka.  The Masters generally separates the wheat from the chaff, and those guys are prime wheat right now.

Loughry: Scheffler is going to be tough to beat, he’s firing on all cylinders heading into it. I think Koepka will play well too. The only semi-wildcard in that Top 6 is Spieth. I’d take the winner coming out of that Top 6, no other players jump out at me outside that group.

Schurman: Watched the tournaments in Florida and Houston. It occurred to me that we are in a ‘valley’ era. We have several extremely good top players, but nobody is set apart from the pack. There are a few experienced players but there is also a contingent of young players who are capable of winning that is deeper and stronger than we’ve seen in a long time. The last time fields were this strong was in the late ’60s to the mid-’70s (The Nicklaus era). In Jack’s time, there were 10 or 12 Champion-level players. Then a 15-year plateau with many really good players but only a few Champions. Followed by the Tiger era when he was totally separate and a handful of Champions. We might be in a plateau era, but the average top competitor is at a higher level.

Rule: I would take that bet.  Augusta National always seems to bring the top talent to the top of the leaderboard come Sunday, and those guys have all had some success on the course, even those who have yet to win.  So, it’s hard to believe it won’t be one of those 6 guys.  Unless it’s Corey Conners…or Tiger!  One can dream, but my smart money is on the Big 6.

Quinn: Wouldn’t make the bet because it’s a pug’s game. Pro sport’s embrace of  gambling — and pro ‘celebrities’ pimping it — is sickening. Like the amoral nicotine dealers pimping vaping, online gambling is aimed at vulnerable and impressionable youth. It is appalling. Why lawmakers and politicos are waiting to see the damage done is simple — they are attached to the money teat.

Mumford: Fan favourites! Betting favourites! Logic and emotion dictate that you have to take the Top 6 against the rest of the field. There are lots of exceptional players in the next six too: Schauffele, Cantlay, Clark, Aberg, Harman and Homa. Not to mention DJ, DeChambeau, Reed and Smith from the jumpers. And the list of possibles goes even deeper but I still think the edge has to go to the Top 6. They’ve all won green jackets or been close before. Augusta favours experience.

Rory McIlroy will be trying to complete his personal Grand Slam with a win at Augusta next week, and in many hearts, he’s the sentimental favourite. Beyond Rory, who else would be a fitting sentimental winner? In other words, who needs a green jacket to compensate for a missed one earlier or to authenticate a great career that’s just missing a major?

Deeks: I’d have to say Jordan Spieth would be the most popular sentimental favourite, after Rory, even though Spieth has won one Masters.  Jason Day would be another one, a guy who’s come close in the Masters before, but never won.   (But my own personal choice would be any one of these players: Loughry, Schurman, Rule, Quinn, or Mumford.  I suspect none of them are playing this year, though.)

Loughry: I’d like to see Cameron Smith in a Green Jacket. He’s easy to identify with, more like a common man and doesn’t take things too seriously off course. He’s a top 10 player in the world too, a Masters win would once again prove that.

Schurman: I don’t think anyone “needs” a Green Jacket for validation, but Cam Young has had a couple of hard knocks and so has Tommy Fleetwood or any Canadian.

Rule: There are a few sentimental favourites for me next week, with Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood near the top of the list.  But I’d really like to see Rickie Fowler slip on a green jacket. I’ve always been a big Rickie fan, admiring not only his play but his personality. In 2014 he finished top 5 in all majors, and everyone figured it was just a matter of time before he won one.  Here we are 10 years later, he’s due and needs a major more than most.

Quinn: In the game’s current crisis, don’t think it needs a Cinderfella. The Master’s ceremonial tee off is so past its best-before date to be cartoonish. Sentiment well and truly aside, the game needs new, young, non-LIVers to keep the fragile facade upright. The jacket going to a next-gen guy like Aberg could reclaim public interest and tee up the next stage, if there is to be one.

Mumford: Jordan Spieth would be a strong sentimental choice based on past performances at Augusta and one that got away in 2016. And while adding a major to his record won’t get him into the Hall of Fame, I think Rickie Fowler would be a fitting champion and a very popular one.

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

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