Have you putted with the flagstick in yet? Under rule 13.2a(2), you may now putt on the green without having the flagstick attended or removed. Some players on tour such as Adam Scott, are taking every putt with it in. The mad scientist, Bryson DeChambeau, has identified a COR (coefficient of restitution), whatever that is, and declared he’ll putt with it in to take advantage of this calculation (other than in US Opens where the flagstick is made of some different material). Others are keeping it in or having it removed to suit situations.
Anecdotally, I’ve observed that most shots that strike the pin from off the green end up closer to the hole than if the pin hadn’t been in and this is in the forefront of my mind. I have not played in 2019 (still rehabbing elbow tendonitis) so I have plenty of time to think about how this will play out.
My initial thoughts:
On long putts where I’d normally have the flagstick tended, I’ll leave it in as a backstop. This is definitely beneficial if I am coming in too fast. The one exception is if the wind is blowing and the flapping of the flag creates a distraction. Then I’ll ask for a tend.
On downhill putts of any length, I’ll leave it in as a guard against too much speed.
On short straight putts, I’ll leave it in and use it as a small target to try and bang the ball against. This will help me get more aggressive, which I badly need to do.
On short to medium breaking putts where I’m trying to feel the speed, I’ll take it out unless the hole is on a severe slope and I can guard against a runaway.
I have a system I use for putts of 15 feet and longer to judge the distance. Will this need to change? I was also planning on getting a professional putter fitting and replacing my 1980s model Ping Answer with something customized to my game, but this may have to wait. Changing putter and approach at the same time may not be a wise choice.
The most important aspect will be to practice all putts with real flagsticks and not just those skinny little three-foot high metal pins used on most practice greens. A round on my 9-hole executive course will be just the ticket.
Have you putted with the flagstick in yet? Please share any thoughts or strategies you have.
Steve Williams’ account of life on tour in Out Of The Rough (2015), is a fascinating look inside the experiences of the world’s most successful caddie. Williams covers his career starting as a youth who got a very early start in the game, and was encouraged by his father to get involved at the expense of finishing school (which he never did). Throughout the book he returns to this theme and wishes that he’d completed his education, but is thankful that his Dad looked the other way.
Williams’ list of high profile bosses is impressive. He was on the bag for 150 wins world wide and carried for the likes of Greg Norman (who he classifies as the toughest player he ever worked for), Ray Floyd, Ian Baker-Finch, Tiger Woods, and Adam Scott. Williams provides many inside the ropes anecdotes, as well as passages from the aforementioned players that detail his contributions to their careers.
Most golf fans got their introduction to Williams as Tiger Woods’ caddie during the 13 years of Tiger’s pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ majors record. What we learned is that Williams took on and ultimately mirrored Tiger’s psychic mentality and single mindedness during the chase, and he gives the reader the impression that he almost felt dual ownership of the successes and failures with Tiger, even though Woods was ultimately the one hitting the shots. Williams is a perfectionist and readily admits that some of the boorish behavior TV fans have become familiar with was born out of this single-mindedness attitude but also due to his natural personality. Williams has always been very business like on the course and protective of his players which has gotten him into trouble. Like the time he took a camera off a spectator at the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black and threw it in a lake. Tiger appreciated Williams’ support and picked up the cost of his fine.
Williams notes that he maintains an active friendship with all his ex-bosses except for one; Tiger. After their falling out at the AT&T National in 2011 the two have rarely spoken and Williams holds a lot of bitterness towards Tiger that he can’t let go of.
Williams details a few regrets. There’s some poor advice he gave to Norman and Ray Floyd that may have cost them major titles, as well as the interview he gave after the 2011 WGC Bridgestone, after Tiger had sacked him and Adam Scott won with Williams on the bag. The book also has several excellent passages between Williams and his ex-bosses, like the time Greg Norman confided in him during an all night beer drinking therapy session on the beach after blowing the 1996 Masters to Nick Faldo. The details around the extraordinary effort by Tiger to win the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg were fascinating.
Williams ultimately obtained celebrity status and in the book he sometimes makes this more about himself than the professionals he worked for, but at the end of the day, most of his good fortune was due to being on the bag of Tiger.
Check this book out. It’s fresh, it’s current, and there’s good content for golf fans at every level.
Time to try a new game; The Biggest Golf Loser. This is a game where I try and lose as many bad habits with my golf swing as possible. A little background: For the last seven years, I have averaged between 8 and 9 GIR per round. Amazingly consistent but amazingly mediocre. This year is no different and I am right on the number at 8.32. Recently I have been struggling even more with my iron game, so much to the point where I’ll have a shot of 100 yards from either the fairway or light rough and have no idea if I can hit the green. This shot is a simple 3/4 gap wedge for me and is my bread and butter, my go-to play.
The trouble started at the tail end of my Myrtle Beach trip where I started either blowing these shots way right with a huge push cut, or hitting them fat. Yesterday at Bear Trap Dunes in Delaware I decided to work on my swing and had one of those range sessions that make you want to quit. Oddly enough, I was piping my driver, but every iron in the bag was all over the place. Just pure garbage. Thank God for mobile phones, so I whipped out mine and shot the following video with a 6-iron. WARNING: Parental Guidance Is Strongly Advised.
The best part about this video is the swing of the lady in the background wearing the pink top. Seriously, it’s a good thing that you can video yourself when you have no move and then compare your swing to a model.
Call me nuts but I used the Adam Scott wedge shot below as my measuring stick. You’re probably thinking, “What’s this idiot thinking; he’s going to hit iron shots like Adam Scott?” No, but I can see why my game is all over the place and the key in the Scott video is the lack of moving parts.
In my video, I am setting up poorly, with my weight too far back. On my back swing, I rise up and keep the club moving back with my arms long after I’ve finished my shoulder turn. Then I transition to my downswing with an upper body lateral move to the target and release the club way too early. Where this garbage came from I’ll never know, but that’s golf.
In the Scott video, notice how restricted his back swing is and how little his head moves as he transitions. He fully rotates through the ball, even though it’s just a wedge shot, and you can see both his shoulder blades on his follow through. I cannot get to this position without putting myself in traction, but if I focus on fully turning through the ball, I might be able to solve for that early release.
So much to work on but where to start? Actually, I’ve started today by carefully working on a more restricted back swing and to keep my head level. I’ve decided not to play for the next three weeks while I work on some corrections and allow them to sink in without the pressure of scoring.
Do you see anything else in this pretzel factory or do you think I have a handle on it? Hope you are hitting it better than me right now. Play well!
Yesterday it was reported that Adam Scott is skipping the Olympic Games this summer. Good for him. Fellow Australian and gold medalist swimmer Dawn Frazer basically had a meltdown and accused Scott of being unpatriotic. Anyone who witnessed Scott’s magnificent 2013 Masters triumph and celebration of country knows better. This has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with taking a principled stand against the obvious misplacement of a sport that does not belong in the Olympic Games. Scott is a professional. Professional golfers biggest stage is the majors. The Olympics should be for amateurs. I get that it’s not but there’s nothing wrong with taking a stand in what you believe in. Thankfully, South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel quickly followed suit and I suspect the floodgates of professionals sensing a guilt free option to skip has been opened.
The addition of professional sports to the Olympics has cheapened an event that was once the crown jewel of amateur competition. The Soviet basketball team first violated the spirit of amateurism at the 1972 Olympic Games which started the downhill spiral. Now the world’s biggest professional events have been added and it’s a joke. How bad is this? Let’s compare a few: World Cup vs. Olympic soccer? No contest. Baseball World Series vs Olympic baseball? Already decided. NBA Championship vs USA Dream team destroying every country by 50 points? What a laugher. Wimbledon vs Olympic tennis? You get the picture.
Folks who think Olympic Golf is about growing the game globally are being mislead. Golf is a game played largely in developed countries and will probably remain that way because of market forces. Sure a driving range or course may pop up in Senegal or Ecuador, but those are outliers.
Sometimes you simply need to take action because it’s the right thing to do. I stand in solidarity with Scott, Oostie, Schwartzel, and anyone else who cares to skip Olympic golf. Good for them.
The Masters isn’t the most difficult major to win but it has become the most coveted because of what it represents. In Michael Bamberger’s Men In Green, he describes Ken Venturi’s inability to get past his defeat in the 1958 Masters, and how it haunted him the rest of his life. It certainly showcases the importance of winning this championship and how it can make or break a player.
The 2016 edition feels like the passing of the torch from the cadre of players in their 40s and 50s (Woods, Singh, Els, Mickelson, Couples), who competed and thrilled us for years, to the younger set that is dominating play today. Of the previous group, only Lefty can be considered competitive enough to have a chance. But at 45, he’s seeing the slow inevitable loss of “the edge”. Everyone who’s ever played the game goes through the process, as the venerable Arnold Palmer has described it.
A tip of the cap goes to The King who will not be hitting his ceremonial Masters tee shot this year because of an unfortunate injury. We wish him a speedy recovery.
Now to the business at hand, let’s break the field into three groups of contenders.
Group 1 (Superstars): Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Adam Scott, and Bubba Watson. The world’s #1 ranking rotates regularly in this circle and sort of confirms the lack of importance of that title. Whomever is hot at the moment is the World #1.
Group 2 (Cagey Veterans): Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen, Zach Johnson, and Jim Furyk. All major winners and usually in contention.
Group 3 (BPTNWM: Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, and I’ll lump in Rickie Fowler, since he’s been so close with top five finishes in all the majors. Certainly he has the talent, and now he’s got the expectations.
There are plenty of great players on the periphery like Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Kevin Kistner, and Danny Willett, but the champion will come from one of the first three groups.
Picking major winners is hard so let’s use the process of elimination to arrive at a champion. Getting started, here’s why Rory McIlroy will not win it despite all that talent. Rory has won his four majors but also has that Masters bugaboo since he fired the final round 80 in 2011. Becoming a first time champion at Augusta is hard work as the magnolia baggage piles up. I’m not wild about the timing of his putting change to left hand low. It may be working for him now but I like to see stability with the flatstick heading into a date with these slickmeisters. Adam Scott is striping it too, but I don’t like him for the same reason. Too soon away from the broomstick to handle the mental grind on these greens.
Now we know what the issue with defending champion Jordan Spieth is. He overextended himself with commitments after his stellar year. Seems reasonable, and he appears to be regaining some mojo, but is also struggling with the putter and won’t get all the way back, at least not this week.
Someone with imagination will win The Masters Someone who’s a great putter will win. Someone who can grind will win. Ricky Fowler can make birdies with the best of them but can he grind? He got ground out in Phoenix as a front-runner and that didn’t sit well. To have a chance he needs to come from behind on Sunday. Not likely.
Jason Day fits the bill on the requirements. Before last year’s breakthrough in the PGA, he seemed to always have an untimely injury or bout with vertigo, or illness, or lost a little focus, or something that just prevented him from breaking through. Nobody was closer in the majors, but he finally broke through in 2015, but not at Augusta. He’s the hottest on the planet coming in and I like him for a top-3 but not a jacket.
If golf was played on a 15 hole course and majors were 60 holes not 72, Sergio Garcia would be challenging Jack and Tiger for all time supremacy. Maybe Sergio needs a golf shirt with an XXXXL size collar to have a chance. Sorry Sergio, no chance. I’m also losing faith in Dustin (more talent than anyone) Johnson. Seems he runs with a bit of Sergio fever at crunch time. I’m not picking him in a major until he wins one.
So who’s left? It’s Zach Johnson vs. Bubba Watson. David vs Goliath. Bubba is hitting the ball great and leads the tour in the all important GIR statistic. But unlike normal Bubba, his putting is mediocre and his scrambling is horrible and you’ve gotta have touch and guts around these greens to win.
So your 2016 Masters Champion will be touch and guts Zach Johnson, with Jason Day finishing second and Bubba coming in third. For those of you looking for a dark horse in your Calcutta, Charl Schwartzel is an ex-champion, has had a nice quiet but solid start to his season and will be cheap! Look for him to contend.
Boy what I would give for a ticket to this year’s British Open Championship at St. Andrews. The story lines are compelling, especially Jordan Spieth’s attempt to win the third leg of the Grand Slam. Early odds have him as an overwhelming favorite now that his main competition, Rory McIlroy is injured. The board (sans McIlroy) looks eerily similar to the pre-tournament betting at the U.S. Open. Spieth is the heavy favorite, and way ahead of Dustin Johnson, who’s at 12:1. Again, these are not the actual win probabilities, but how the public has elected to wager their money. Let’s sift through the data and get a smart pick for those who failed to cash in on Spieth at Chambers Bay.
Think Jordan Spieth needs more seasoning to win The Open? This guy handles pressure better than anyone on the planet. He putts better than anyone on the planet, and has more guts than anyone on the planet. I’m pulling very hard for him this week but don’t think he closes the deal. Why? The Open, more than any other major, is susceptible to the come out of nowhere winners like Darren Clarke, Tod Hamilton, and Ben Curtis. Also, some ageless contender like Tom Watson or Greg Norman (in their 50s) seems to make a serious run. It’s clear, the slower greens are the equalizer and don’t require as much nerve to putt, which negates Spieth’s advantage. I also don’t like that he’s playing John Deere in-lieu of the Scottish Open. He should have made the trip early to get acclimated. Make no mistake, he deserves the short odds and is playing the best in the world right now. I’m hopeful he gets it done but just don’t see it.
Rory McIlroy; very unfortunate timing on the ankle injury and will not play. Last time out at St. Andrews, Rory finished 3rd in The Open, eight shots behind in the route perpetuated by Louis Oosthuizen. Oosthuizen has a beautiful swing but only seems to be in contention in every third or fourth tournament. Not this week.
Excellent value play is Adam Scott. Scott has gone back to the long putter, had a solid U.S. Open, shooting 64 in the final round, and seems to have shaken off his early season doldrums by resigning Stevie Williams on the bag. Williams was with Tiger Woods for both his Open Championship victories at St. Andrews which is a significant intangible. The stars are aligned, and at 20:1 odds the smart money is backing the Aussie.
What to do with Dustin Johnson. If anyone can forget the debacle at Chambers Bay it’s D.J. Nothing seems to phase him, but that three-putt was a bad choke; worse than the grounded club debacle at Whistling Straits in the PGA. Can he overcome? He’ll either contend or totally collapse. I think he contends and puts up a good fight. If D.J. is going to win a major, it will be The Open on the slower greens. I’m not feeling the closing power this week, though.
Sneaky long shot is Retief Goosen. You can get him at 250:1 to win and I don’t see a victory in his future but would not rule out a top 10. Goose is the perfect horse for this course despite his inconsistent play of late.
Interesting side note: I’m watching Phil and Tiger head-to-head this week. They’re both in the 25-30:1 range but trending in opposite directions, Phil is at the age where majors rarely are won. He still has game but doesn’t seem to put four consecutive rounds together any more. Tiger had a decent showing at Greenbriar in some very soft conditions. Links golf with it’s precision ball placement off the tee doesn’t suit Tiger’s rebuild project. If the wind gets up, it could get ugly. I’m thinking Lefty takes him down.
Augusta National, like no other venue tests a player’s patience, persistence, and concentration. To win The Masters, players need to contend for 63 holes then charge on the back nine on Sunday. More important than shooting a very low round is avoiding a bad day. A deep dive into the tournament archives reveals that over the last 60 years, avoiding one bad number has been the key to Masters victory.
Jack Nicklaus is arguably the greatest Masters player of all time. From 1959 through 1993, Jack had only three rounds of 77 or worse in 125 played; just incredible consistency. He won with two 74s on the card in 1963 and a 76 in the second round in 1966. But when players card a 77, it’s basically over. In the last 62 years, only Nick Faldo in 1989 has won the tournament after recording a 77 for one of his four rounds. Go back to Sam Snead in 1952, for the next round of 77, to find another champion. So as we don our green jackets and settle into marathon coverage with our pimento cheese sandwiches, know that as soon as your favorite shoots 5-over for the day, he’s cooked. Just ask Greg Norman (1996) how that works.
For 2015, let’s see who can avoid the big number and who’s primed to win it. Get your Calcutta ready.
Group 1:“Masters Champions.” (Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods) Adam Scott has shot three 77s or worse in 48 Masters rounds, but none since 2008. Good recent consistency, ball striking is in excellent form, but his putting is horrible after switching from the broomstick. Might make the cut, but you gotta roll the rock. He will not contend. Defending champion Bubba Watson is in excellent form. Bombs it off the tee, short game is razor sharp, 2/24 at 77 or worse with rounds in 2011 and 2013 respectively, and he’s controlling his emotions. Great value play at 10/1 odds. Three time champion, Phil Mickelson has played 84 Masters rounds and fired only two at 77 or worse; amazing consistency for the proverbial roller coaster rider. But Lefty will hit 45 years old in June and hasn’t been in good form over the past two Masters. Scores are going up with age. Maybe he makes the cut. Tiger Woods; no chance. Just listed as a courtesy.
Group 2:“Other Major Winners.” (Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose) Rory McIlroy brings the Air 3-Iron show to Georgia and is a bit off mentally. Game is suited for Augusta with his high ball flight, but five of 22 Masters rounds are at 77 or worse; with one each in the last five tournaments. Enough talent to finish top-10 in his sleep, but I want to see him get over the psychological dumpster on this track before I ride him. Martin Kaymer has only one 77 out of 20 rounds but has never finished higher than 31st. You need to be a great chipper to win at Augusta. Kaymer is not and is more comfortable putting from off the green. I don’t like the fit. He will make the cut but bide his time waiting to defend at the U.S. Open. Justin Rose has only three bad rounds out of 36 and has never missed a Masters cut. Last five years have all been top-25 finishes. Is moving in the right direction and is more seasoned with pressure since his U.S. Open victory. Will be in the top-10.
Group 3: “First Major?” (Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Ricky Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Jason Day) Matt Kuchar has the best shot in this cast. His short game and putting could be best on tour and the ex-Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket is very comfortable on the grounds. Could be his year but he already feels overdue. Dustin Johnson is playing great but doesn’t have the short game to win here. Sergio Garcia has a long record of futility at Augusta. Six bad rounds out of 54 were mostly early in his career, but he’s got that choke mentality on the back nine on Sunday and that’s where The Masters is won. Ricky Fowler tied for fifth last year and has not missed a cut in his four appearances. With only one bad round in 16, I look for a top-10. Henrik Stenson is the world’s #2 player, but as Judge Smails said in Caddyshack, “Some people just don’t belong.”
Henrik hasn’t belonged at Augusta because the course is in his head. He’s got three rounds in the 80s and five at 77 or worse out of 30. Awesome ball striker but historically poor around the greens, despite some improvement this year. Despite the angst, he’ll rebound and post a top-20. I keep asking myself when Jordan Spieth will win a major. He’s always in contention, but burns a little hot at times and must control his temper in this event. He’s not the straightest ball striker but that won’t hurt him at Augusta. Missing 3-5 foot putts will, and I’m not sure he’s sold on this looking at the hole part time putting method. If he figures it out, could win it. Patrick Reed is not one of the top five players in the world but is in the top 10. Awesome in match play format but has a very short Masters history. Needs more seasoning and will not contend this year. Jason Day was my pick last year and continues to disappoint. Always gets close and seems to make back-to-back bogeys at the wrong time. Flights it high like Rory and is suited for the venue, but struggles to control his distances on short irons. Miss with too many wedges here and you can’t win it. Look for another top-10.
Winner: Bubba Watson to repeat and weep.
Runner Up: Jordan Spieth cools his jets and gets closer than ever
Third: Rory McIlroy keeps all his clubs in the bag, breaks the bad number streak, but no career slam this year
Here we are in the dead of winter and I am fighting the irresistible urge to tinker with my golf swing. Last weekend, it was 60 degrees and I spent two hours on the range and had a real good opening session. Probably too good, which is why I’m feeling greedy. If you are like me, the reason we do this is because of the safety factor of winter. You can make minor tweaks or wholesale changes during periods of inactivity without suffering the consequences of a slump-inducing fix. I know it’s a bad idea and still do it. Do you as well?
Two years ago, I became infatuated with Adam Scott’s golf swing and tried to impart his down the line setup and move through the ball. I loved the way he kept his spine angle rock solid and the way he torqued against his very stable lower body, and modeled it for myself over the winter. Problem is this 54-year old bag of bones has nothing in common with Adam Scott. The wholesale changes fell apart with the first ball struck in anger.
The modern day swings of players like Scott, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and Dustin Johnson, are all modeled off Tiger Woods and are not meant to be copied by desk jockeys. Each has clearly spent many hours in the gym, and if you watch the follow through with their driver swings, each gets tremendous body rotation and the shaft points towards the target at finish. Is the human back designed to undergo this much rotational stress over a protracted period? I’m left to think that it’s not and players with a more upright swing like Phil Mickelson are doing their backs a favor. Phil has his own physical issues, but I suspect lower back pain is not one of them. Only one guy on the Senior Tour torques his body even close to these guys and that is Fred Couples. Most others have more of a classic restricted finish and are still playing into their 50s. Of course, Freddy’s back issues are well known and I can’t help but wonder, beautiful tempo aside, if the tremendous rotation he gets is responsible.
So I smartly re-read the Grateful Golfer’s post on The Best Golf Swings Ever, where he reminded us that despite the number of writings and videos available on the swings of the greatest professionals of all time, the swing we should be working on is our own. This is great advice and would add that you copy the visualization, pre-shot routines, and mental preparation of the top pros, but when it comes to swing mechanics, focus on improving your own technique.
So it’s off to go pump some 12 oz curls old style. See you in the gym.
Picking a winner for the 2014 British Open Championship is an exercise in deciphering the actual probabilities of victory from the preferences of the betting public. There is considerable money to be made betting against the current John Q trend lines. Consider, U.S. Open Champion Martin Kaymer is at 20:1 in early action with Tiger Woods leaping ahead of him at 16:1. Are you kidding? Kaymer is in awesome form, has his head screwed on right, and is a multiple recent major winner. The smart money is on him and Adam Scott. Tiger looks about as well oiled as the 38-year old Huffy sitting in my garage with the chain off. The stiffness and restricted back swing on display at the recent Quicken Loans National should have Tiger in the 150:1 range.
Rory McIlroy is the pre-tournament favorite at 10:1, but doesn’t play well enough in this perennial home game and will not win it. He is looking good in early action at the Scottish Open and we’ll be watching to see if the positive momentum he gained from Woz-gate changes his personal and professional performance around major time.
Could one of the B.P.T.N.H.W.A.M. contenders take it this year? How do you officially get on this list? Is it fair to keep someone on past the age of 40? I think not, so Steve Strickercomes off at 47. Of the five remaining principals, Henrik Stenson has been the closest and doesn’t appear to psych himself out and warrants considerable support. Sergio Garcia has played well on this course but he doesn’t have the stones with the flat stick to ever win a major. It’s not happening this week for Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, or Jason Day. Actually, Day has some good potential, but I’d like to see him playing more frequently and try less to time his game around the majors.
So, when do we put Jordan Spieth on this list? He’s clearly one of the best players in the world even if he still can’t order a beer with his wings at Hooters. I’m a huge Spieth fan and like him for a top 10 but he’s too young for the list and will likely break through at The Masters or U.S. Open.
Dark horse look-outs: Jim Furyk is at ease with himself again, is playing well, and contended on this venue in 2006. Every year we see an older player make a move at The Open and this year it’s him. Phil Mickelson has the mind and experience to win this, but different parts of his game go out of sync too frequently and I fear the age of Phil contending in every major is quickly vanishing.
The Masters green prognostication jacket is out of the closet. Ready for a changing of the guard? It’s here and this year’s champion will be a first time major winner.
First, the usual suspects. Tiger’s body is breaking down and he’s withdrawn. Phil’s body appears to be giving him more difficulty than in the past and while he’s overcome some significant arthritic issues, age is becoming a factor. I love watching Phil compete, but he is 43 and will turn 44 in June, and from a major winning standpoint, players hit the wall at 44 (see data from golfmajorchampionships.com below). Phil still has game and usually turns it on at Augusta no matter what type of form he’s showing in the preceding weeks. That being said, of all the majors contested since Willie Park won the first Open Championship in 1860, only eight have been won by a player older than 43, making Jack Nicklaus‘ victory in the 1986 Masters, at age 46 all that more impressive. Look for a top-10 finish for Phil.
Augusta National is the premier horses-for-courses venue and picking the winner is the easiest of all the majors because course familiarity is a huge advantage and some of the entrants are aging past champions who have no chance The contest also boasts the smallest field of all the majors with 97 entrants in 2014. The other majors routinely field more than 150.
I love the newer younger cast of characters because they all have great ability and are dynamite when they get hot, but each has a distinct weakness that prevents dominating performances from week-to-week. Come Sunday evening, the tournament will pit four players head-to-head: Rory McIlroy, Matt Kuchar, Adam Scott, and Jason Day. Let’s take them in reverse order.
Jason Day will win The Masters this year.
He’s been so close with a 3rd in 2013 and a T-2nd in 2011 and it is now his time. Jason hit’s it a long way, knows the course very well, and has finally got his mind right. I loved the way he kept his cool and closed at the WGC Accenture when Victor Dubuisson kept getting up-and-down out of trash cans, dumpsters, and desert cactus against him in the final. Day’s weakness is his ability to control his distances under pressure. He’s adjusted with a repeatable pre-shot routine and doesn’t deviate based on the situation. Alan Shipnuck’s piece at Golf.com on Day is must reading for students of the mental game. Day’s visualization techniques are more in-depth than any I’m aware of. His fascination with Navy Seals training and affinity for hitting the gym are sounding Tiger-esque and I would caution him about taking too extreme an approach. But for this week, as long as his sore thumb holds up, he wins his first major.
Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar will tie for second. Scott is the horse for this course, has Steve Williams on the bag for steadiness and sense of purpose, and has the full compliment of tools. He’s susceptible to getting on bogey runs which are protracted and seem to come at terrible times under pressure. Yes, he pulled through last year in an epic moment for self and country, but his fellow Aussie will edge him out. In the back of Scott’s mind has to be the upcoming ban on anchoring and how he will adjust. Is it starting to affect his current work with the flat stick?
Kuchar plays well at Augusta, knows the course intimately, and has the temperament. He won THE PLAYERS Championship, which is just as hard as a major, and is also ready. Kuchar’s achilles heel is his driving distance. He’s also mediocre in GIR and the fact that he’s so highly rated year after year in scoring average is a testament to his lights out short game and putting. This new closed stance and slightly over the top move is supposedly getting the job done, but doesn’t bode well for the right to left ball flight needed at Augusta and will be just enough to hold him back. Down the line shots at Shell indicate he’s made a slight correction from last week at Valero but still looks too closed to me. Hopefully it helps him.
Rory McIlroy finishes alone in 4th. The Northern Irishman is starting to look like Phil Mickelson from a roller coaster perspective. When hot, there’s nobody better, but when his driving is off, it affects his mindset and his total game suffers. Physically, he’s got the tools to be the best player in the world and is a multiple major winner. He’s still young and it still may happen. Now I need to see a serious run with no final round collapse.
Value picks for your Calcutta. Look for Zach Johnson to make a run. The 2007 champion had a great 2013 season, is hitting fairways and greens in 2014, but has slipped to 68th in total putting.
Nobody wins in his first attempt at Augusta, but I look at these three making their Masters debut to have an impact. Jordan Spieth has the guts and the game to win a major-now. Billy Horschel got real hot this time last year and has the confidence to contend. Harris English has all the physical tools but needs more time under the gun. Missing from the conversation is Jimmy Walker who’s leading the Tour in FedEx points and has three wins under his belt. He kills it of the tee, putts great, but is only 86th in scrambling, which is a must have around Augusta. While he’s shown steady improvement over the last five years, I don’t look for him to make a move in his Masters debut until he gets some experience chipping to these greens.
Masters Sunday is one of my favorite days of the year. Play golf in the morning and settle into exciting final round coverage in the afternoon; I can’t wait. Good luck in your pools!
Tiger Woods just turned the 2013 PGA Championship picking apple cart upside down with the butt kicking he administered at Bridgestone, but let’s settle things down and take an organized approach to pick your winner for this year’s event at Oak Hill.
Like most majors, position off the tee and putting will be critical and the course setup at Oak Hill doesn’t appear terribly long at 7,163 yards, but is brutally difficult and should be playing fast and firm. With no soaking rain in the forecast for the week it will stay tough and a few strokes under par should win it.
We’ve seen this drill with Tiger before as he’s won the same WGC event at Firestone eight times and actually followed up one time with a victory in the 2007 PGA at Southern Hills. The key for Woods in the majors is getting out to a fast start because he doesn’t play well and never wins from behind. When Tiger is on, he can dominate like nobody else, but his dominating weeks have been ill-timed in 2013 and he’s placing too much pressure on himself to win a major for the sake of his legacy. In effect, he can’t get out of his own way in the big ones. Does anyone think Tiger looks like he’s having fun competing in a major for the last five years? Despite his recent prowess, I don’t like him to win here.
Adam Scott was totally at peace with himself and took The Masters. Justin Rose won the war of attrition at The U.S. Open, and Phil Mickelson charged from behind to capture the claret jug at Muirfield. The only story missing from the majors is the wire-to-wire winner and it will happen here forBrandt Snedekerwho is super hot since finishing 17th at The U.S. Open and has fully recovered from his mid-season rib injury. I liked his steady if not unspectacular win at RBC two weeks ago and do not think he has peaked too soon.
Phil Mickelson has figured out that you can leave driver in the bag for the majors and still contend. It’s eliminated many costly mistakes off the tee, but it’s too soon for Lefty, who is still in a fog after winning The British Open, or from looking at his tax bill from his winnings. Other contenders: Lee Westwood is an interesting play and I was pleasantly surprised at his performance in the British Open. He seemed to have righted the ship with a new mental approach on the greens and was rolling it quite well, but his ball striking deserted him at the critical juncture. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Lee needs this tournament almost as bad as Tiger. Outwardly, he doesn’t seem to put nearly as much pressure on himself, but inwardly, it must be a crushing grind. I think he comes close AGAIN.
You won’t find my dark horse on anyone’s odds board, but I’m loving Angel Cabrera‘s moxie when it comes to big tournament play. The guy is lose and seems to play great with house money. Watch him and enjoy!
It’s a good thing the official odds don’t reflect a player’s actual chance of winning and just the public’s appetite for spending, because the public is looking like a drunken sailor bidding up Tiger Woods as the favorite at 8/1. He’s coming off an injury and his putting stroke has deserted him again. Those waiting for the next big win to get back on the Jack Nicklaus record chase can keep waiting.
Did Phil “The Thrill” give us a great ride at the U.S. Open or what? The difficult aspect of a Mickelson pick is the consistency component. It’s simply not there, but what you get with Phil is good theater. I’ve never liked him in the British Open, and except for his final round charge at Royal St. George’s in 2011, he’s been a major underachiever. This week the roller coaster is heading downhill so keep your billfold in your pocket and Lefty off your board at 25/1.
U.S. Open champion, Justin Rose is suffering from burnout. Even though I loved the way he finally conquered the unreasonably high expectations he’s dealt with since his miracle British Open finish in 1998, he’s a poor play at 18/1. At Merion, he didn’t get too excited as he made clutch shot after clutch shot and stuck to his tunnel vision game plan, but the withdraw from the AT&T is a red flag. I’m hoping he can relax and just play golf but it’s asking too much.
I see much of the same positive mental approach in Mr. Overdue, Jason Day. The Aussie peaks his game for the majors, a bit like Angel Cabrera, but with more talent and less results. One of these days Day is going to break through and I like him here at 33/1.
Rory McIlroy can’t handle the pressure of a home game for some reason and lately, he can’t handle any pressure. He was in poor form at the Irish Open and missed the cut, and his club destroying tantrum in the U.S. Open was an embarrassment. Let’s face it, the lad doesn’t handle adversity very well. Got to keep your cool out there and I’m very cool on him this week.
My favorite play here is a Sunday three-ball bet on Ernie Els, especially if he’s in a group with other big name players. You will get a good price as people continue to underestimate him because of his age. He’s in good form after winning the BMW International Open and is simply made for the pressure on the final day of this tournament. He won it last year, and did as well in 2002 at the same venue, and is a superb pick at 25/1 to win straight up.
Dark horse play: Padraig Harrington. 40/1 is a good price for Paddy and a top-10 finish is in the offering. He hasn’t done much as of late, but finished 5th in the 2002 British Open at Muirfield and is a good horses for courses play.
Your 2013 British Open picks:
Champion Golfer of The Year:Ernie Els in a repeat
Runner Up: Jason Day starting to look like Mickelson with the runner up finishes.
Third: Adam Scott gets back on track but not all the way.
What happened to Adam Scott at the British Open was a terrible experience that nobody should have to go through but everyone who plays golf has probably experienced to some point. My Adam Scott moment occurred last Monday at Eagles Landing in Ocean City, MD. This was not a tournament round where competitive pressures can get the best of you, but a recreational round where a personal scoring record was at stake. Having been in both situations, I recognized the similarities afterwards.
Heading out to the course, I had no expectations for good form since I had not played or practiced for two weeks. Just showed up and teed off after pitching and putting for about 10 minutes. The round started off innocent enough with a routine par on #1 and a misplayed chip on #2 that led to a double bogey. I steadied myself with a couple of pars and then reeled off four birdies in five holes to close the front nine in two-under 34. Five more pars and a birdie later, I was at three-under with three to play and knew my personal best score of 2-under was at risk of falling. Normally, I never total my score after nine holes because I try to stay in the moment and not think about score, and I didn’t this time, but trust me, when you are three-under, you know it.
I had actually started to come unglued on the 15th hole and pushed a three-iron layup off the tee into a pond for a lost ball, but managed to save par by draining a big right to left breaking 40-foot putt. Convinced the golfing gods were on my side, I stepped up to the 16th tee, which is a very simple 300 yard par-4 and cold topped a 3-wood into a swamp 50 feet in front of the tee. My brain was running 1,000 mph now and I re-teed, determined not to think about any mechanical thoughts, and I nailed my 3-wood in the middle of the fairway. Unfortunately I was left with one of those in between distances of 66 yards and hit my 56 degree about 50 yards. Three putts later I had a triple and was back to even-par and in a mild state of shock.
Even-par through 16 is great at this course, but I felt like I was 10-over. The 17th is a medium length par-3 and I managed to place my 6-iron about 15 feet under the hole. Still reeling from the three-putt on the prior hole, I got tight and left the first putt about 4 feet short and missed the par attempt. #18 is a par-4 that was playing very short and required only a precision layup with a medium to long iron and then a medium iron to the green with a forced carry over a marsh. My tee shot barely hit the clubface and I left myself an impossible shot from deep rough that needed to fly under a tree and over the marsh. Made it under the tree and no farther – double bogey. So I played the first 15 holes in three-under and the last three in six-over.
The propensity to choke can happen at any time to anyone and to a player of any caliber. What could I have done differently? I thought I was staying in the moment, at least trying to, but it didn’t work. What could Adam Scott have done differently at Lytham? Seems like the urge to protect, get cautious, and think mechanically all work against you, but there has to be a way to stop the bleeding especially when you’re hot and playing well.
Look closely at the swings of these young guns next to Tiger and notice what they all have in common except for the last (Luke Donald). They finish with the club nearly pointing at the target which indicates a tremendous amount of power released through significant torque build up. Is the human back designed to take this much stress over time? From left to right and top to bottom, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Ryo Ishikawa, Martin Kaymer, and Nick Watney have clearly modeled their swings off Woods and have developed their bodies to permit the extraordinary ability to twist and finish in balance. Scott and McIlroy are amazingly close in position and are perfectly in balance; just beautiful. It’s no surprise that so many young players would copy Tiger and adopt his commitment level to physical training to squeeze every ounce of power out of their bodies. Unfortunately, Tiger has lost his power advantage over “the field” and is just another pro with a high torque move who used to awe fans and competitors alike. Sergio Garcia, Geoff Ogilvy, and Hunter Mahan also have the same extended finish. Luke Donald is the exception, with a more classic finish with hands held high and the club appearing to run neatly through his ears. His restricted follow through by today’s standards provides better control and accuracy, but doesn’t offer up the length off the tee enjoyed by the others. These young gun moves are very violent and the significant torquing puts a lot of stress on the back and hips. In short, it’s not natural. I’m not surprised that Tiger’s body is breaking down from the foundation up. Players with more unconventional moves like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson still clobber the ball but don’t finish with the full twist and I’d suspect will be more resistant to injury over the years. Let’s watch these other power hitters to see if they can sustain under the physical demands over a 15-20 year period, or if they break down in their early- mid 30s like Tiger.
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