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5 things we learned on Thursday at The Masters

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The first round of the 2018 Masters tournament played out under sunny skies, and the return of Tiger Woods to Augusta National was on every patron and viewer’s mind. The first-round script usually calls for the resurgence of an aging, former champion; a stellar showing by a few first-timers, and a statement by one or two favorites. And all of those happened today.

Here’s what we learned from an exciting Day 1.

1) The National giveth and taketh away

In 2017, an unlikely eagle provided the catalyst for Sergio Garcia’s comeback and ultimate victory. In 2018, four consecutive water balls brought the Spaniard to 10-over par on the day. His 13 on the hole was the highest ever recorded by a competitor, and brought him to a score of 81. Barring a low 60s score on Friday, Garcia’s weekend work will be restricted to putting the green jacket on the 2018 champion’s shoulders.

2) Holding the lead is a difficult proposition, no matter the round

At 5:00, six golfers were tied at 3-under par. Four of them came to the 18th tee at 4-under, only to walk off the final green with bogey. One of those fellows was Tony Finau, who gave the golf world a fright during the par three contest by dislocating his ankle during a hole-in-one celebration. A la Dustin Johnson and the Wednesday sockscapade of 2017, Finau wasn’t certain he’d be able to play this morning. He did, and ended up at 4-under par, tied for second place with Matt Kuchar after 18 holes. Not far behind are Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy (69), and Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson (70).

And the leader? Well, Jordan Spieth had birdied 5 consecutive holes (13-17) when he came to to the 18th tee box and hit wood. Not a wood, not a metal wood, but a tree. He had to pitch out to the beginning of the fairway, leaving 250 yards to the green for his third shot. The unflappable Texan (and 2015 Masters champion) smashed his ball greenside, then pitched brilliantly to a few inches to save bogey, and finish at 66 on the day.

3) An amateur made headlines, at just the right time

Doug Ghim was unable to preserve a late lead in last summer’s U.S. Amateur final match. He received an invitation to the Masters based on his runner-up finish, and ensured that he would not leave Augusta without some memorabilia. Ghim made two eagles on the inward nine, for which he will receive four crystal highball glasses. Perhaps now spellcheck everywhere will leave his last name alone, and refrain from adjusting it to GHIN.

4) Let’s talk about Spieth some more

As mentioned above, the 2015 champion and two-time runner-up was the talk of the town on Thursday. His numbers card read like this: 1 eagle, 7 birdies, 3 bogeys and 7 pars. The Texan reached 2-under at the third green, but gave two strokes back over the next four holes. On the 8th, the uphill par 5, a fortuitous carom off the left greenside mounds brought his ball to rest, some 15 feet from eagle. Spieth converted, and returned to red figures. The brilliant birdie run through the back nine was almost undone by his wretched drive at the last, but Spieth played a great pitch back into play, then two more wonderful shots to only lose one stroke in the process.

5) Oh, right, Tiger Woods played today

When a chap signs for 73, and that chap happens to be a four-time champion at Augusta, that plus-one doesn’t usually deserve much media attention. If someone had said back in 2005, “Tiger won’t win a single one of the next dozen Masters,” we’d have questioned the person’s capacity for rational thought. As that did come to pass, including two consecutive years (2016 and 2017) when Woods didn’t even participate in the tournament, today’s plus-one does deserve attention. As Woods himself explained, his sloppy play on the par-five holes accounted for his score. Even-par is sloppy for the game’s greatest player, when 2-under on those holes would have brought him into red figures. Does Woods really have a chance at a 5th green jacket? If he signs for a 66 tomorrow, we might just be convinced.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Clancy

    Apr 6, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    “Tiger won’t win a single one of the next dozen Masters,”

    I said it in 2007, and I said it again each and every year since then when the “Will Tiger…” stories come to light. He’s done. Sure, he might win a tourney here or there again, but he’ll never win another Major. Mark my words.

  2. Wysluxury

    Apr 6, 2018 at 8:05 am

    Who do you think will win 2018 The Masters tournament?

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 6, 2018 at 10:39 am

      Ask me after 36 holes. Anyone can have a great or poor first day. We’ll see if the “right/wrong side of the draw” has impact. Tomorrow’s weather for the 3rd round will impact the event tremendously.

  3. Man

    Apr 6, 2018 at 2:39 am

    That’s what you get for abandoning the company that finally helped you all this time to win a major, Sergio!

  4. Chris

    Apr 6, 2018 at 2:22 am

    Sergios shots were fine, I think the set-up of the course is just plain stupid

    • Keith

      Apr 6, 2018 at 10:29 am

      Have to be able to control your spin. Surprised he didn’t get a little closer with the drops to hit more of a 3/4 shot with less spin.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Apr 6, 2018 at 10:41 am

      Did anyone else see the ball that hung up between 15 green and the water? We saw it 4 times as Sergio’s balls passed it by. Those are the vagaries of the conditioning.

    • DaveJ

      Apr 6, 2018 at 11:22 am

      They were good swings for sure, but he did a poor job of controlling the spin. I wonder if the ball he uses now spins more than his previous ball did. Sounds good on paper until you back 5 up into the drink. He’ll learn from it. I predict he throws a low number out there this afternoon and flirts with the cut.

  5. Bryan

    Apr 6, 2018 at 1:29 am

    Tiger shot -2 70 in the first round of 1997. 40-30

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Andiamo! Molinari claims first major title for Italia at Carnoustie

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Forecasters had suggested that Francesco Molinari was rounding into proper form as the 147th Open championship at Carnoustie approached. He had finished in the top 25 of the last three major championships, including a tie for 2nd at last summer’s PGA Championship. To reach the Claret Jug as champion golfer of the year, he would have to manage his emotions in a pairing with Tiger Woods, and would have to defeat defending champion Jordan Spieth, resurgent Rory McIlroy, inspired Justin Rose, and a host of other, worthy golfers. The golfer from Torino, Italia, was up to the task, and raised the golf world’s loveliest trophy in celebration, Italy’s first major golf champion.

His play over the first portion of the course

Molinari began his round on Sunday with zero birdies and zero bogeys over the first 13 holes. Even as Tiger Woods electrified the crowd with his move to the top of the leaderboard, Molinari ground out par after par, biding his time. His game from tee to green was on point, and when he missed the target, his short game got him to safety.

His approach to 18

It may have looked like a bowling alley, but Molinari was staring down golf’s greatest gauntlet. With unforgiving Barry Burn lurking, with out of bounds so close up the fairway’s port side, no approach shot was easy. With a deep breath and light hands, Molinari played the iron of the tournament, to four short feet.

His putt on 18

Four feet, four miles. Molinari took care of business with a putt that he may not have needed, but a putt that forced Xander Schauffele and others to push that little bit harder. Knowing that the two-time Ryder Cup representative was in at 8 under meant that they needed more than just one birdie. Justin Rose knew that his excellent 6 under would not be good enough. And thus spake Molinari, certain to represent Europe in this fall’s 2018 Ryder Cup.

Perhaps it was fate that Woods presented Molinari with the last Quicken Loans National champion’s trophy earlier this month. A bit more than a fortnight later, Woods would escort Molinari on his walk to golfing greatness. Consider, too, these fateful words from the champion, on the eve of the fourth day: It’s not a day to be aggressive. It’s more a day to make as many pars as possible. 16 pars, along with those two late birdies, were the proper amount.

Forza, Francesco!

 

 

 

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5 things we learned Saturday at the British Open

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Yes, CarNASTY is fun, but CarNICEty is electrifying. The former demands that we empathize with the greats of the game, as they stumble and bumble toward numbers we know well. The Nice version of the course along the river Tay offers birdies and eagles (and perhaps even an albatross?) and keeps us glued to sofas, chairs and yoga balls. I’m hoping for the Nice version on Sunday, because I want excitement with my morning Joe. Let’s toss out five things we learned today, and see if you agree that they matter.

1. What the Royal and Ancient does properly

It allows magic to happen, but only when the wizard properly wields the wand. Jordan Spieth’s driver-putter combination for eagle at the 1st on Saturday was brilliant. Other major championships, thanks mostly to being held on topsoil courses, cannot permit such vagaries. Brilliance is rewarded at Open rota courses, but beware: tomorrow is another day, and should the weather turn, the winds pick up, the raindrops fall, we just might see the antithesis of that result.

2. Jordan Spieth may be a golfer for the ages

Haircuts aside, we will know on Sunday around 3 pm, eastern standard time, but the young Texan relishes the limelight, the pressure cooker, and the major victories. As he admitted in interviews this week, he’s not afraid to press the STOP button and recharge the batteries, clear the mind, whatever it takes. Long game, short game, common shot, creativity required, Spieth played flawless golf on Sunday, beginning with THAT eagle, then adding four birdies over the remaining 17 holes. Sure, he sometimes looks pouty, but he’s hard to bet, or root, against. A win on Sunday would be the first second victory in a major (still with us?) and might set him in the Watson/Vardon/Thomson track for all-time Open winners.

3. Tomato, TomAHto, Zander, Xander, let’s call the whole thing golf

Both golfers have shown us that uncommon names/nicknames are a nice conversation point, but stellar golf in a major championship is something else. Zander Lombard has been completely off form this year, but Carnoustie brought out his finest golf. Xander Schauffele was the surprise of the 2016-17 PGA Tour season, and has revealed a major championship-level skillset during his time alongside the Tay and the Barry. Xander enters day four in a first-place tie with Spieth and Kisner. He’ll play in the final pairing on Sunday with Spieth. Zander sits 5 back of the leading triumvirate, and if his finish on Saturday serves as motivation, he will be part of the conversation on July 22nd.

4. Growl

Johnny Miller said it best today, when he opined that Tiger Woods was ready to burst out and challenge, if not win. Woods 2.0 played marvelous shots on day 3, and other than Spieth, worked his way around Carnoustie better than any other golfer in the field. If the 3-time champion golfer of the year combines mental fortitude with a hot putter, this writer predicts that he will hoist Claret No. 4 on Sunday.

5. Kisner proved me wrong, and might do so again on Sunday

It was Zach, and not Kevin, who failed to manage the closing stretch of Hogan’s Alley. Kisner’s putter stayed warm and his mind remained sharp. He learned from his faux pas on the 36th hole, and played within himself over the final 18 holes. 3 birdies and 15 pars brought the pride of Aiken, South Carolina, to the top of the firs page again. He’ll play with that other Kevin (Chappell) in the penultimate pair on day the fourth. Kisner knows the major pressure from recent touts with immortality, and might break through for a deserved major title.

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Tiger Woods makes a huge move on Saturday at The Open: Here are his updated odds to win

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In case you missed it, Tiger Woods made a huge move on Saturday at Carnoustie in the 2018 Open Championship, making 6 birdies along with only 1 bogey for a 66. Starting at even par for the tournament on the day, he actually got himself into a tie for the lead after playing his 14th hole, but gave a shot back at 16 and now sits 4 strokes back of the 9-under lead (Jordan Spieth, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele tied at the top).

Here are a few highlights from Tiger’s third round.

On Sunday, Tiger will tee off in the third-to-last group, playing with Francesco Molinari.

Although Tiger has 4 strokes and 4 golfers to overcome — one of them being 3-time major champion (and defending champion) Jordan Spieth — he certainly has a chance to win his 15th major on Sunday.

What are his chances exactly? Here’s what Bovada has listed as their odds after Saturday’s round.

Bovada is giving the nod, and rightfully so, to Spieth. He’s been there done that, but there’s plenty of talent right there with him.

Who’s your pick to win the Claret Jug on Sunday?

Related: Tiger Woods playing a new TaylorMade GAPR Lo driving iron at Carnoustie

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