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Opinion & Analysis

Tiger Woods’ victory was great, but was it really the best Masters win in the past 15 years?

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After this year’s Masters, Jim Nantz proudly stated “It’s the best event I’ve ever covered. And I feel very fortunate to have been in that spot.” Now the hype train has slowed down a touch, we can look at this recent Masters and ask was it the best in the last 15 years?

We all know the Masters doesn’t start till the back nine Sunday, so I’ve judged the 2005 to 2019 tournaments on the storylines heading into Sunday, the leaderboard at the start of the back nine, and the final result. While doing this I realized two things, Augusta National didn’t really “Tiger Proof” Augusta, because he was around the lead most years, and we have been spoiled with some pretty exciting Sundays since Tiger’s last win in 2005.

15. 2008: Trevor Immelman (280)

No offense to Trevor, who has one of the best swings in recent years, but this Masters was very dull. Trev started the day with a two-shot lead over Steve Flesch and Brandt Snedeker, and by the 14th he had a five-shot lead. No one really made a run at the eventual champion, and he played solid, not spectacular, golf over the final day to close out a three-shot victory over Tiger.

14. 2014: Bubba Watson (280)

The start of the day saw Bubba and Spieth in the lead at 5 under, with Blixt, Fowler, and Kuchar tied for second. What started as a day with promise didn’t eventuate to much, and by the start of the back nine, it was a two-horse race between Spieth and Watson. While it was exciting to see our young hero Speith try to win his first Masters, both he and Watson pared the last five holes to give Watson a three-shot win.

13. 2007: Zach Johnson (289)

An interesting Masters if you’re a fan of meteorology as it was unseasonably cold and windy all week, but unfortunately had an unclimactic finish. Stuart Appleby started the day with the lead and hopes of becoming Australia’s first Masters champion, but by the start of the back nine Zach Johnson, Rory Sabbatini, and Appelby were one back of Retief Goosen, with Tiger lurking. Sadly for the viewers at home, Zach was the only player in contention to play the back nine under par and took the victory. You have to respect his clutch play and ability to score, but in the end, it wasn’t the close finish we were hoping for.

12. 2006: Phil Mickelson (281)

In a year where the course played quite tough, the final round started with Phil and Fred Couples in tied at 4 under. Phil played solid in the final round and cruised to victory over Tim Clark, Chad Campbell, Couples, Goosen, and Woods. While it was nice to see Phil get his third major, no one made a charge and it resulted in a mundane year.

11. 2018: Patrick Reed (273)

After playing great golf all week, Reed started the final round with a three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy. Rory had his chances early but failed to capitalize, and by the turn, Reed had a four-shot lead over Rory, Fowler, Spieth, and Rahm. While Spieth and Fowler made an improbable late charge, Reed played solid golf and held on for the win. It was an impressive effort, but Reed’s victory will forever be marred by the awkward applause from the patrons.

10. 2016: Danny Willett (283)

A Sunday morning leader board that consisted of Spieth, Smylie Kaufman, Bernhard Langer, and Hideki Matsuyama. Everyone was excited to watch Jordan go back to back, and when he made the turn with a five shot lead it looked likely. However, after a cringe-worthy bogey, bogey, quad start the back nine he found himself was one behind Willet. The Englishman held onto the lead to capture his first major in what was a stunning final round. Sadly, for Willett, this Masters will be remembered for Jordan’s capitulation, and not his bogey-free 67 that lead to a three-shot win. All in all, a weird and interesting Sunday at Masters.

9. 2015: Jordan Spieth (270)

After an uninspired Champions Dinner of traditional caesar, grilled chicken breast, green beans, mashed potatoes, corn, macaroni and cheese, and dessert of confetti cake and vanilla ice cream, it was little surprise to see only two past champions in the top 10 heading into the final day. The main storyline for Sunday was whether Jordan was going to break the 18 under tournament record as he held a comfortable four-shot lead over Justin Rose. Over the front nine, Spieth had a few bogeys but over the back nine firmly regained the lead and ended up winning by four. Although no one really challenged for the title, it was a stacked leaderboard and was great to see Jordan get his first major and tie the tournament scoring record.

8. 2010: Phil Michelson (272)

Lee Westwood and Phil were in the final group on Sunday with Tiger a few shots back. A lot of golf fans were hoping that Lee could snag his first major and at the start of the back nine it was, Lee (-11), KJ Choi (-12) and Mickelson (-12) battling it out. The back nine was exciting with birdies and eagles and a 64 from Anthony Kim, but this Masters will always be remembered for the shot from the pine straw on 13 by Lefty. It helped him keep momentum and he ended up winning his third green jacket by three shots.

7. 2009: Angel Cabrera (276)

I feel bad for putting this win here, but outside of the year-round golf fan, the 2009 Masters didn’t spark much interest. However, if the same storyline was carried out by big-name players it would’ve made the top four. The round started with Angel and Kenny Perry tied for the lead with Chad Campbell two back. By the 10th Perry had a one-shot lead over Campbell and a charging Mickelson. As Mickelson failed to make up any more ground, Perry took a two shot leading with two holes to play. Everyone at home was thinking “OMG Kenny Perry is going to win the Masters!!??”. However, two closing bogeys lead to a Campbell, Perry, Cabrera playoff. With a gutsy up and down on the first playoff hole, Cabrera managed to make par and head to the second playoff hole with Perry. Here Cabrera made a routine par and captured his second major in the process.

6. 2017: Sergio (279)

After a week of solid golf, Sergio entered the final round tied with Justin Rose at 6 under, with several quality players within a few shots of the lead. Most fans were hoping it would finally be Sergio’s first major. But could he do it on his 74th attempt? Over the front nine, the two overnight leaders separated themselves from the pack by going out in 34. Starting the back nine, Sergio’s bogeys at 10 and 11 gifted rose a two-shot lead. This lead would last to the 15th hole where Sergio made an awe-inspiring eagle and Rose birdied for the pair to be tied at 9 under. On the 16th, Rose made a clutch birdie to take firm control of the tournament. But Rose’s weak bogey on 17, followed by him and Sergio making pars on 18, sent the tournament into extra holes. Sergio made birdie on the first playoff hole, handing the Spaniard his first major on what would’ve been Seve Ballesteros’ 60th birthday.

5. 2013: Adam Scott (279)

For some people, fifth might be a bit too generous ranking for 2013, but as an Australian, it was hard to not put this near the top. Angel Cabrera and Brandt Snedeker were in the final group Sunday with three Australians Day, Scott, and Leishman just off the lead. By the time the final group made the turn, Cabrera held a two-shot lead and looked well on his way to a second green jacket. But the back nine had some interesting moments, as Scott and Day made some birdies and Angel stubbled. When Adam rolled in a 25-foot bomb on the 72nd hole the tournament appeared over, until moments later when Angel hit a clutch wedge to three feet to tie. The playoff ended with Scott birding the second hole, giving Australia their first Master’s title.

4. 2012: Bubba Watson (278)

The 2012 Masters Sunday will be remembered by two incredible shots, but it started off with little know Swede Peter Hanson holding a one-shot lead over Phil Mickelson, with Oosthuizen and Watson a few back. The front nine was one of the more exciting in recent years with Oosthuizen gaining the lead with an albatross on the second hole. By the time the leaders made it to Amen Corner, there were five players within three shots of the lead still held by Oosthuizen. In the end, it came down to a three-player race between Oosthuizen, Bubba Watson, and Matt Kuchar. When Kuchar eagled 15, he temporarily tied Oosthuizen at 9 under but fell away with a bogey on 16th hole. Watson made four consecutive birdies and Oosthuizen made one more for the pair to be tied at 10 under through 72 holes. In the playoff, Watson and Oosthuizen made regulation pars on the 18th after narrowly missing their birdie putts. On the next, Oosthuizen hit the fairway while Bubba missed way right in the trees. We all thought Bubba was done until he managed to sling hook a wedge to 10 feet, and after Oosthuizen made a weak bogey, Bubba had his first major.

3. 2005: Tiger Woods (276)

After an exciting third round played over Saturday and Sunday morning, Tiger would hold a three-shot lead going into the final round paired with Chris DiMarco. After his 65 in the third round, which included seven straight birdies, Tiger looked like a sure thing to capture his fourth green jacket, and this was punctuated by a birdie, birdie start. After a week of great golf, barring the back nine in the third round, DiMarco played solid golf over the front nine, and made the turn three shots behind Tiger. After Tiger struggled through Amen Corner, his lead was down to one as the pair stood on the 16th tee. DiMarco had the honor and hit a great shot below the hole, while Tiger pulled his tee shot left leaving his ball in an extremely difficult situation. What looked like a two-shot swing in Dimarco’s favor quickly evaporated, as Tiger holed his chip for birdie, in what some think is his greatest shot ever. The disappointing part of this Masters was Tiger’s bogey, bogey finish to force a playoff, and if DiMarco’s chip on the last hadn’t lipped out we could’ve had a different champion.
On the first hole of the playoff, Tiger made a 15ft putt to seal the victory and his ninth major title.

2. 2011: Charl Schwartzel (274)

After playing flawless golf all week, Rory McIlroy looked set to comfortably win his first major, but his four-shot lead at the start of Sunday’s round was cut short with a bogey at the first. The front nine had its moments with Schwartzel’s eagle on three, Tiger’s front-nine 31, and numerous players hanging around the lead. After Rory made triple on the 10th, Tiger, Schwartzel, Cabrera, and Scott were tied. Over the back nine, eight different golfers looked like they might win the event. Schwartzel eventually made four birdies in a row to pull away from the pack and beat Day and Scott by two shots. In an afternoon where the cameras struggled to capture every meaningful shot, it truly was an exciting Masters, but it didn’t have the potential playoff or champion many were hoping for.

1. 2019: Tiger Woods (275)

I originally started writing this article thinking 2011 was better, but when you look at the altering leaderboard on the back-nine, the eventual champion, and the mix of new and ‘old’ generation golfers, this was the best Masters in the last 15 years.

With the treats of thunderstorms in the area, tee times were moved up Sunday and the players went out in groups of three. Francesco Molinari held the lead at the start of the day, and had control of the tournament until he made a double bogey at the 12th. Tiger, who was paired with Molinari, gained a share of the lead after a regulation par on the 12th, which left patrons and tv audiences around the world buzzing with the possibilities of Tiger’s Cinderella story. Over the final stretch, DJ, Koepka, Schauffele, Cantlay, Fowler, Rahm, Watson, Finau, Simpson, and Day, all made runs at the lead but were unable to top Tiger, who birdied 13, 15, and 16 to take control of the tournament. I will forgive a “weak” but controlled bogey on the last to see the GOAT collect his 15th major. The fist pump, the tour sauce quality of the family embrace, and the walk to clubhouse left few dry eyes in the house.

 

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James was born in Sydney, Australia, and has been golfing since he was 14 years old. He played college golf in Texas where he studied finance and philosophy. He now works in the energy industry and golfs as much as possible.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Geoffrey Holland

    May 11, 2019 at 9:45 pm

    Aside from the content of this article, the editing, spelling, and use of English is pathetic. You even misspelled Mickelson at one point!
    Cabrera ‘stubbled’?

    Have you not heard of proofreading? This is a pathetic attempt at writing. Do better.

  2. Barry

    May 11, 2019 at 5:44 pm

    My reaction to this article: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilcRS5eUpwk

    James….seriously. Please tell me you were drunk, high or both when writing this article.

    Your #2 pick (Charl Schwartzel, 2011) is easily bottom 3. Totally forgettable, except for the trainwreck was Rory that day. A great tournament is WON, not lost. You probably loved the 1996 Faldo victory too.

    Also, you cannot rank Patrick Reed winning anything low enough (that was #99 out of 15), and Phil’s 2006 needs to be way higher (as does El Pato’s 2009).

    Please seek professional help.

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Opinion & Analysis

A day at the CP Women’s Open

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It’s another beautiful summer day in August. Just like any other pro-am at a professional tour event, amateurs are nervously warming up on the driving range and on the putting green next to their pros. As they make their way to the opening tees, they pose for their pictures, hear their names called, and watch their marque player stripe one down the fairway. But instead of walking up 50 yards to the “am tees,” they get to tee it up from where the pros play—because this is different: this is the LPGA Tour!

I’m just going to get right to it, if you haven’t been to an LPGA Tour event you NEED to GO! I’ve been to a lot of golf events as both a spectator and as media member, and I can say an LPGA Tour event is probably the most fun you can have watching professional golf.

The CP Women’s Open is one of the biggest non-majors in women’s golf. 96 of the top 100 players in the world are in the field, and attendance numbers for this stop on the schedule are some of the highest on tour. The 2019 edition it is being held at exclusive Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ontario, which is about an hour north of downtown Toronto and designed by noted Canadian architect Doug Carrick. The defending Champion is none other than 21-year-old Canadian phenom Brooke Henderson, who won in emotional fashion last year.

From a fan’s perspective, there are some notable differences at an LPGA Tour event, and as a true “golf fan,” not just men’s golf fan, there are some big parts of the experience that I believe everyone can enjoy:

  • Access: It is certainly a refreshing and laidback vibe around the golf course. It’s easy to find great vantage points around the range and practice facility to watch the players go through their routines—a popular watching spot. Smaller infrastructure doesn’t mean a smaller footprint, and there is still a lot to see, plus with few large multi-story grandstands around some of the finishing holes, getting up close to watch shots is easier for everyone.
  • Relatability: This is a big one, and something I think most golfers don’t consider when they choose to watch professional golf. Just like with the men’s game there are obviously outliers when it comes to distance on the LPGA Tour but average distances are more in line with better club players than club players are to PGA Tour Pros. The game is less about power and more about placement. Watching players hit hybrids as accurately as wedges is amazing to watch. Every player from a scratch to a higher handicap can learn a great deal from watching the throwback style of actually hitting fairways and greens vs. modern bomb and gouge.
  • Crowds: (I don’t believe this is just a “Canadian Thing”) It was refreshing to spend an entire day on the course and never hear a “mashed potatoes” or “get in the hole” yelled on the tee of a par 5. The LPGA Tour offers an extremely family-friendly atmosphere, with a lot more young kids, especially young girls out to watch their idols play. This for me is a huge takeaway. So much of professional sports is focused on the men, and with that you often see crowds reflect that. As a father to a young daughter, if she decides to play golf, I love the fact that she can watch people like her play the game at a high level.

There is a lot of talk about the difference between men’s and women’s professional sports, but as far as “the product” goes, I believe that LPGA Tour offers one of the best in professional sports, including value. With a great forecast, a great course, and essentially every top player in the field, this week’s CP Women’s Open is destined to be another great event. If you get the chance to attend this or any LPGA Tour event, I can’t encourage you enough to go!

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Podcasts

TG2: New podcaster Larry D on his show “Bogey Golf”

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GolfWRX Radio welcomes a new podcast, Bogey Golf with Larry D and we talk to Larry. He lets us in on his show, who he is, why he loves the game, and even what’s in his bag! Rob missed his member-guest and Knudson got a new driver.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Getting to know Payne Stewart

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Ever since that final putt fell in Pinehurst in 1999, Payne Stewart’s memory has enjoyed mythical qualities. A man of complex charm, but many of us who grew up without him recognize only his Knickerbocker pants, his flat cap, and his W.W.J.D. covered wrist wrapped around that United States Open trophy.

I had a wonderful opportunity to play a round of golf with two men that know a lot about Payne. One through friendship and the other through journalistic research.

Lamar Haynes was Payne Stewart’s close friend and teammate on the SMU golf team. He’s full of stories about Payne from the good old days. Kevin Robbins is an author who just finished a new book on Stewart’s final year of life, set to release to the public for purchase this October. He works as a professor of journalism at the University of Texas but has also enjoyed an impressive career as a reporter and golf writer for over 20 years.

We met at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, to talk about Payne. Robbins is a solid golfer who spends time working on his game, which tells me a lot about his personality. He is one of us.  As for Haynes, the guy hasn’t lost much since those SMU golf team days. He can still swing it. Fantastic iron player. And both men are wonderful conversationalists. They offered a unique perspective on Stewart—the golfer I grew up idolizing but never really knew. There’s a good chance you don’t really know him, either. At least not the whole story.

“Most golf fans now know the story of his ’99 U.S. Open win,” Robbins said.  “What they don’t know is where he came from.”

Robbins’ book, The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Foreverchronicles Payne’s last year on earth with dramatic detail, covering his triumph at Pinehurst and the Ryder Cup at Brookline. And, of course, it tells the story of that tragic plane crash that took our champion from us. What the book doesn’t do is hide any of the blemishes about Payne’s life that have either been forgotten or pushed aside by brighter moments and memories.

“I thought that the other Payne Stewart books, while they have a place, they didn’t tell the whole story,” Robbins said.

The whole story, from what I read, was Payne being brash. A poor winner and sometimes a poor sport when he lost. He often said things he shouldn’t have said and then made those mistakes again and again.

“He had no filter,” remembered Haynes.  “Several close friends on tour had a hard time with him when he won his first Open. He didn’t take into account any of the consequences his words could create. He had a huge heart. Huge heart. But at times there was just no filter. But he grew a great deal over the last 2 or three years.”

It’s most certainly is a book about a change. A change in a man that was better late than never. But also a change in golf that began at the turn of the century and hasn’t really slowed down since.

“The 20 years since his death, to see the way golf has moved, what the tour looks like now,” Robins said.  “There was an evolution that was taking place in 1999 and we didn’t know how it would manifest itself. But now we do. So when you see Brooks Koepka hit a 3-wood in the US Open 370 yards, well that all really had its beginnings in 1998 and 1999. The Pro-V1 ball was being tested in 1999 and being rolled out in 2000. Fitness and equipment, sports psychology, nutrition. All of those things that a guy like Payne Stewart really didn’t have to pay attention to.”

But that change that occurred in Payne, culminating in his final year of life, is something worth learning. It’s a lesson for all of us. A guy on top of the world with still so much to fix. And he was fixing it, little by little.

“He was authentic,” Haynes said. “And he learned a lot later in life from his children. With their Bible studies. You saw a change in him. Very much. He had a peace with himself but he still would revert to his DNA. The fun-loving Payne. Raising children and being a father helped him tremendously.”

Payne was passionate about so many things in life but his children became a primary focus. According to Haynes, he would be so loud at his daughter’s volleyball games…yelling intensely at the referees…that they gave him an option: Either he wouldn’t be allowed to watch the games anymore or he needed to become a line judge and help out with the games. So, Payne Stewart became a volleyball line judge.

Lamar brought the head of an old Ram 7-iron along with him to show me. Damaged and bent from the crash, the club was with Payne on his final flight. He had it with him to show his guys at Mizuno as a model for a new set of irons. That Ram 7-iron belonged to Haynes and Payne had always adored the way it looked at address.

“Payne also used my old Mizunos the last year of his life,” Haynes said.  I had received the MS-4s 10 years earlier from Payne in 1989. They were like playing with a shaft on a knife. The sweet spot was so tiny on the MS-4. They made the MP29 and 14s look like game improvement irons. Payne used those. Then Harry Taylor at Mizuno designed him an iron, which later became the MP33. The 29 and 14s were very sharp and flat-soled. Well, Payne loved this old Ram iron set that I had.. He asked for my Ram 7-iron for Harry Taylor to model his new set. He liked the way it went through the turf. He had it with him on the plane. This is the club that started the MP33.”

It was Lamar Haynes, the man who seems to know just about everyone in the golf community, that set Robbins on this writing journey. Robbins had written one book previously: The story of the life of legendary golf coach Harvey Penick. But this book came a bit easier for Robbins, partly due to his experience, partly due to the subject matter, and partly because of Lamar.

“There’s a story here,” Robbins said. “With any book, you hope to encounter surprises along the way, big and little. And I did. I got great cooperation a long the way. Anybody I wanted to talk to, talked to me thanks to this guy Lamar Haynes.”

“Lamar said the first guy you need to talk to is Peter Jacobsen,” Robins said. “And I said ‘great can you put me in touch with him’ which became a common question to Lamar throughout the process.” Robbins chuckled.  “Literally 2 minutes later my phone rings. ‘Kevin, this is Peter Jacobsen here.'”

“Peter told me the story about the ’89 PGA championship in our first conversation. So literally in the first 10 minutes of my reporting effort, I had the first set piece of the book. I had something. Lamar made a lot happen.”

Lamar Haynes and Kevin Robbins

The book is not a biography, though it certainly has biographical elements to it. It is simply the story of Payne’s final year, with a look back at Payne’s not so simple career mixed in. The author’s real talent lives in the research and honesty. The story reads like you’re back in 1999 again, with quotes pulled from media articles or press conferences. Anecdotes are sprinkled here and there from all of Payne’s contemporaries. The storytelling is seamless and captivating.

“I was pleasantly surprised how much Colin Montgomerie remembered about the concession at the 1999 Ryder Cup,” Robbins said. “Colin can be a tough interview. He is generally mistrustful of the media. His agent gave me 15 minutes during the Pro-Am in Houston. This was in the spring of 2018. I met Colin on the 17th hole and he had started his round on 10. Just organically the conversation carried us to the fifth green. Just because he kept remembering things. He kept talking, you know. It was incredible. Tom Lehman was the same way. He said “I’ll give you 20 minutes” and it ended up being an hour and a half at Starbucks.”

The research took Robbins to Massachusetts, Florida, and Missouri—and of course, to Pinehurst. He met with Mike Hicks, Payne’s former caddie, there to discuss that final round. The two ended up out on Pinehurst No. 2, walking the last three holes and reliving the victory. It gives life to the story and fills it with detail.

“Part of what I hoped for this book is that it would be more than just a sports story,” Robbins said.  “More than just a golf story. The more I started thinking about where Payne began and where he ended, it seemed to me…and I’m not going to call it a redemption story although I bet some people do. People when they are younger, they have regrets and they make mistakes. They do things they wish they could take back but they can’t. So, what can they do? Well, they can improve. They can get better. That’s what Payne was doing with his life. He was improving himself. It was too late to change what he had done already. So what could he do with the future? He could be different.”

“It was accurate,” Haynes said.  “I had a tear when I finished it. I texted Kevin right afterward. I told him I couldn’t call him because I’m choked up so I texted him.”

So here’s two men who knew Payne Stewart, albeit in very different ways. They knew he was flawed in life but he got better. Was Payne Stewart that hero at Pinehurst, grabbing Phil Mickelson’s face and telling him the important thing is he’s going to be a father? Yes. But he was so much more than that. He was so much more than I knew before I read this book. Most importantly, Payne Stewart was always improving. A lesson for all of us, indeed.

If you want to hear more about my experience, tweet at me here @FWTXGolfer or message me on Instagram here! I look forward to hearing from you!

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