Saturday, April 29, 2017

Monday Scramble: Deuces wild and mild at Augusta

Sergio Garcia bags his elusive major, Justin Rose suffers another close call, the world No. 1 heads to the disabled list and more in this week’s Masters edition of Monday Scramble:

He finally did it.

After years of close calls, what-ifs and what-might-have-beens, Sergio Garcia is, in fact, a major champion.

The Spaniard’s skill set has been major caliber for nearly two decades, but many wondered if this day would ever come. Garcia’s Masters win in a playoff over Justin Rose came in his 71st career major start as a pro – a longer wait than any previous major champ.

So when his birdie putt on the first extra hole found the bottom of the cup, the joy on his face was palpable, but so was the sense of relief. It was nearly the same putt, and largely the same reaction, as the one that ushered Phil Mickelson into the club of major winners 13 years ago.

At age 37, Garcia has endured more than his fair share of heartbreak in big events. But now no one can take that green jacket off his shoulders.


1. Granted, it wasn’t easy. In fact, it appeared downright unlikely as Garcia surveyed his options for a penalty drop in the woods left of No. 13.

At that point he was two shots down to Rose, but he managed to salvage par, birdied the next hole and eagled No. 15 – after hitting the pin with his approach, no less – to draw even with the Englishman.

It was the type of scintillating ball-striking in the clutch that we’re used to seeing from Garcia’s opponents, but this time he was the one rising to the occasion.

2. It’s a bit ironic that Garcia’s breakthrough win came at a course where he basically resigned himself to a major-less career a few years ago.

“It’s too much of a guessing game,” he said of Augusta National in 2009. “They can do whatever they want. It’s not my problem. I just come here and play and then I go home. That’s about it.”

Suffice it to say his opinion of the place may change now that he can come and go as he pleases.

3. At this point, it seems like Garcia can start preparing his induction speech for the World Golf Hall of Fame.

He still has a few years to go before he’s ushered into the Hall, and perhaps more majors to win. But his resume at this point – 13 European Tour wins, 10 on the PGA Tour, a Masters, a Players Championship and a stellar Ryder Cup career – might put him ahead of a few folks already enshrined.

It certainly assures that he’ll get there one day.



4. While Garcia experienced the thrill of victory, Rose was left to stomach the agony of defeat. It was considerably tougher since the Englishman appeared to have one arm inside the jacket as he took a two-shot lead into the final five holes, and again when he answered Garcia’s eagle on No. 15 with a birdie of his own on No. 16.

But he gave that shot back on the next hole with an untimely bogey, then couldn’t convert one last birdie on No. 18 in regulation. By the time Garcia stepped over his winning putt, Rose already had his hat off to congratulate him.

Rose will have more cracks at Augusta National, and he can take solace in the U.S. Open trophy and gold medal he has already won. But as Rose himself told reporters afterwards, this one is “going to sting for sure.”

5. Rose entered the week with more birdies or eagles at Augusta National than any other player since 2012, and his 21 birdies this week were two clear of the field. His Masters record now includes four top-10 finishes since 2012, with only one finish outside the top 25 in 11 trips since 2004. Pretty stout.

6. In the great debate of playing the week before a major versus resting up, Rose has now played the Shell Houston Open twice since 2011. Each time he has followed with a runner-up finish at the Masters – first to Jordan Spieth in 2015, and now to Garcia. It’ll be interesting to see if his 2018 Masters prep includes a detour through Texas.



7. This year’s Masters will be remembered for the battle waged between Garcia and Rose, which means that Dustin Johnson’s surprising withdrawal will eventually fade.

But it was still a shocking development in real time, as the world No. 1 unexpectedly slipped down some stairs on the eve of the tournament, then walked off the first tee without ever hitting a shot.

Johnson was considered the tournament favorite and had won each of his last three starts, allowing him to walk down Magnolia Lane brimming with confidence. A few days later, he walked away holding his back and wondering what might have been.

At age 32, DJ will have plenty more chances to win a green jacket. But if he fails to get it done, this will stick out as an opportunity that got away in a most unusual fashion.

8. The irony is that Johnson’s fall likely would have never happened if the Par-3 Contest hadn’t been washed out.

Heavy rains Wednesday afternoon led tournament officials to cancel the contest for the first time since its inception in 1960. That meant that instead of being on the course hitting some recreational wedges, he was at home where a seemingly benign effort to move his car led to injury and an early exit.



9. After clawing back from an opening-round quad, Jordan Spieth seemed in prime position to continue his top-2 streak at the Masters. Instead, he played the first 12 holes of the final round in 5 over and saw his dreams of another green jacket slip away.

Of course, Spieth rinsed his tee shot on No. 12 for the second straight year. But while last year’s error paved the way for Danny Willett’s surprising victory, this time around it merely snuffed out any remote hope Spieth still harbored after stumbling out of the gates.

Spieth said weeks ago that he wanted this particular Masters to be over so he could stop answering questions about last year’s collapse. He got his wish, although he very nearly flipped the script on a course where he continues to elevate his game year in and year out.

10. In perhaps his best chance to win a major since the 2014 PGA Championship, Rickie Fowler faded from view Sunday.

Fowler held a share of the 36-hole lead and was one shot back heading into Sunday. He was confident and appeared poised to nab a watershed victory of his own. Instead, a final-round 76 dropped him out of the top 10.

Granted, Fowler’s chances for victory ended before he closed the tournament with three straight bogeys. But the ball-striking that carried him into contention simply wasn’t there during the final round, as he hit only seven of 18 greens in regulation.

Great players continue to create major opportunities for themselves – just ask Garcia. But this is one that Fowler would like to have back.



10. Rory McIlroy will have to wait another year for his next chance to close out the career Grand Slam.

A T-7 finish will look good on paper years from now, but those that watched know that the Ulsterman was never really a factor. While McIlroy closed with a 3-under 69, his first sub-70 round of the week, he’ll likely rue the 71 he carded in the third round that included a double bogey on No. 7 and a bevy of short misses.

“I feel like every time I tee it up here I have a real chance to win,” McIlroy said. “Top-10s right now isn’t good enough.”

McIlroy seemed in a great spot entering the week, with much of the attention going to Johnson and Spieth. But he couldn’t capitalize. Now he’s faced with the ominous stat that no player that has completed the career Grand Slam needed more than three tries at the final leg.

Next year will mark McIlroy’s fourth attempt to do so at Augusta National.

11. It’s never too early to start handicapping the field, so here’s a look at the top contenders for the U.S. Open this summer at Erin Hills:

1. Dustin Johnson: If Spieth can contend three straight years at the Masters, why can’t DJ do it at the U.S. Open? A big ballpark will only accentuate the edge he has over most of the field.

2. Jason Day: Assuming his mother’s health situation doesn’t keep him off the course, Day will be going for his fifth straight top-10 finish in this event.

3. Jordan Spieth: Still has only two finishes outside the top 15 in majors since the 2015 Masters.

4. Henrik Stenson: Should thrive on a course and at an event where his accuracy off the tee again pays dividends.

5. Sergio Garcia: After winning the ’04 Masters, Phil Mickelson won two of the next eight majors. Just saying.

Not exactly a WTH moment, but certainly one of the more poignant moments of the week was when Augusta National chairman Billy Payne draped Arnold Palmer’s green jacket over an empty chair on the first tee.

The golf world has spent the last several months paying tribute to Palmer’s memory, including a touching week last month at Bay Hill. But as is often the case, no one does it better than the folks at ANGC, where the honorary starter ceremony proved even more moving than usual.

With Palmer’s widow standing by, Jack Nicklaus wiped a tear from his eye, striped a drive and then tipped his hat skyward. Arnie is missed, especially at a tournament where he was a staple for more than 60 years. But he won’t be forgotten.

This week’s award winners … 


Making Mid-Am History: Stewart Hagestad. The amateur celebrated his 27th birthday Monday, one day after becoming the first reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champ to ever make the Masters cut. Hagestad won a mini-tour event a few weeks ago where he accepted the first-place prize in scrip instead of cash to retain his amateur status. Turned out to be a pretty good call.

The Fourth Remains Elusive: Could apply to McIlroy in his quest for the Slam, but it also pertains to Mickelson who came up short of a fourth green jacket. After holding his own in the wind through 36 holes, Lefty wasn’t able to break par over the weekend in his bid to replicate Nicklaus’ Masters-winning moment at age 46. 

Numerology Buffs, Take Note: Last year Danny Willett won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, then showed up to the Masters with caddie bib No. 89. This year Garcia won in Dubai, then got – you guessed it – bib No. 89. Expect a line out the door once player No. 88 registers next spring.

Exclusive Company: Garcia was low amateur at the Masters in 1999, and he became just the fifth player to earn low am honors and later don a green jacket. The others? Woods, Nicklaus, Mickelson and Ben Crenshaw.



A Tradition Unlike Any Other: Fred Couples flirting with the lead at the Masters. On the 25-year anniversary of his major win, Couples was in the mix through 36 holes before going 74-72 over the weekend. It was still a more than respectable showing for the silver-haired Couples, who at age 57 is still able to keep up with players half his age at Augusta National.

Experience Counts: While this year the winner’s circle on the PGA Tour has been dominated by 20-somethings, the last three majors have gone to Stenson (age 40), Jimmy Walker (age 37) and Garcia (age 37).

Extending His Stay: Russell Henley. Henley was the last player in the field, having won in Houston the week prior. But after closing with a final-round 69, the Georgia native snagged a share of 11th place and earned an invite back next year for a top-12 finish.

Channeling the King: In a week filled with cool moments, Spieth asking caddie Michael Greller “What would Arnie do?” before lashing one off the pine straw on No. 13 during the third round ranks pretty high on the list.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Tyrrell Hatton. One of the hottest players entering the week bombed out with rounds of 80-78. Alas.


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