Tag Archives: Zach Johnson

2016 The Masters – Picking a Winner

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.Magnolia Lane

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.

Call your bookies and good luck!Zach Johnson

What Has Experience Taught You?

Rickie Fowler LosesMichael Breed, of The Golf Channel, expressed an interesting definition of experience. He said, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” Last Sunday, Rickie Fowler got a good dose of experience. Fowler is a seasoned 27-year old professional with six wins world-wide (three on the PGA Tour) and top-5 finishes in all the majors. I’m a Rickie fan and expected him to manage his game better down the stretch, yet what happened on the 17th hole at the TPC of Scottsdale saddened me and will get added to the bone yard of golf “experiences”.Michael Breed

The lesson that has to be learned over and over is that aggressive play under pressure rarely pays off. Rickie last week, Phil Mickelson’s epic collapse at the 2006 US Open, Jean van de Velde at The Open in 1999 at Carnoustie, are just a few examples. It’s fascinating why players don’t learn from those who have gone before them. Maybe the adrenaline release under pressure affects their thinking, but almost always these experiences can be directed to poor course management. In fact, rarely in golf will you get in trouble playing overly-conservative in clutch situations. When Zach Johnson won the 2007 Masters, he laid up on every par five and played them 11-under without making a bogey. You may think that’s a whacky strategy for a professional at Augusta, but Zach clearly understood his strengths and limitations, and played to them. Rickie had hit seven drives into the water on #17 at Phoenix in previous rounds! With a two-shot lead why not hit 5-iron-sand wedge and make an easy par or birdie?

Think back to an experience you’ve had. Did you have to experience it to learn or did you learn from someone else’s misfortune? Unfortunately, I’m a hands-on learner and got a lesson on course management under pressure. I was in a club championship match about 20 years ago and standing on the 18th tee with a two-shot lead. This hole has water that stretches fully across the fairway about 320 yards off the tee. I had played the hole hundreds of times but had never hit the water. The day was hot, the wind was blowing hard from behind, and the ground was dry.  My drive trickled into the front bank of the hazard and I had to struggle to make bogey. Fortunately, my nearest competitor made par and I finished one stroke ahead but I will never forget the feeling I had looking at my ball sitting on the mud bank and thinking, “What were you thinking?”

Are you a risk taker under pressure or can you manage your game to your abilities? Please share a similar experience if you have one.

Thanks and play well!

2014 Masters Picks

Masters LogoThe 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.

MajorWinners 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.

Jason Day From golfdigest.com
Jason Day
From golfdigest.com

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!