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Morning 9: Scheffler wins Hero | Tiger in good spirits following comeback | Pros on expected ball rollback

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By Ben Alberstadt with Gianni Magliocco.

For comments: [email protected]

Good Monday morning, golf fans, as Scottie Scheffler captured the Hero World Challenge over the weekend.

1. Scheffler wins Hero

AP report…”Scottie Scheffler has made great gains in his putting. Add that to the rest of his top-ranked game, and he made it look easy Sunday. He closed with a 4-under 68 for a 3-shot victory in the Hero World Challenge.”

  • “Scheffler, a runner-up in the Bahamas the previous two years, played bogey-free at Albany and didn’t let anyone get closer than 2 shots on the back nine as he ended the year with his fifth victory worldwide.”
  • “The Hero World Challenge is an unofficial event, though its 20-man field receives world ranking points, and Scheffler only solidified his spot at No. 1.”
Full piece.

2. Tiger in good spirits following comeback

AP report…”The week wasn’t a total loss for Tiger Woods, the tournament host playing for the first time since surgery to fuse his right ankle a few weeks after the Masters in April.”

  • “Woods finished 72 holes for only the third time in the last two years. He has played six tournaments following the recovery from his February 2021 car crash in Los Angeles that badly injured his right leg.”
  • “Just like I said to you guys on Tuesday, I’m curious … what this is going to look like,” Woods said. “I haven’t done it in a while — I haven’t done it with my ankle the way it is now and I was excited each and every day to kind of get through it and kind of start piecing rounds together again. I haven’t done this in a long time so it was fun to feel that again.”
  • “Woods closed with a 72 and finished 18th.”
Full piece.

3. Niemann wins Aus. Open with playoff eagle

Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine…”Joaquin Niemann closed in 5-under 66 and then took down Rikuya Hoshino in a playoff with a clutch eagle to win the ISPS Handa Australian Open on Sunday in Sydney.”

  • “The victory marks the 25-year-old Niemann’s first worldwide title since he joined LIV Golf two summers ago. The Chilean star owned two PGA Tour wins and seven Chilean Tour victories prior to Sunday’s triumph at The Australian Golf Club. He now is the first South American winner of the Stonehaven Cup.”
Full piece.

4. Rollback cometh?

Golf Digest’s Mike Stachura…”The USGA and R&A are expected to announce early next week that they will be changing the rules to roll back distance in golf—and not just for elite players. The expected decision likely would make nearly every popular golf ball played both professionally and recreationally non-conforming. The news comes from multiple industry sources with direct knowledge of the plans of golf’s governing bodies, speaking on background.”

  • “The change involves a revision to the way golf balls are tested to see if they conform to the rules. Specifically, it is expected to be announced that the test for the Overall Distance Standard would increase the swing speed at which golf balls are tested from the current standard of 120 mph to 125 mph. While increasing the swing speed, the test would not change the distance limit of 317 yards.”
  • “In simple terms, if a golf ball is currently close to the Overall Distance Standard, as a high majority of golf balls used in elite competition (and popular in the marketplace) are, then raising the speed by 5 mph would make them fly 15 yards farther, or well past the current distance limit. Balls would then have to be made to stay within that 317-yard standard”
Full piece.

5. Players react…

Golf Digest’s Dave Shedloski…”One of the things Keegan Bradley has done during the offseason is test golf balls. Srixon made him a special set of balls. They were of the potential rollback variety.”

  • “So the six-time PGA Tour winner already has some practical experience with what the USGA and R&A might be getting ready to do…”
  • “It is expected that a new standard for testing the conformity of golf balls would be introduced for elite players and competitions in 2028 and then for recreational players in 2030.”
  • “Srixon made whatever the USGA was saying, and it was 40, 50 yards [shorter] with my driver,” Bradley, 37, said Saturday at the Hero World Challenge. “I was a club or two shorter. I think that the USGA … everything that they do is reactionary. They don’t think of a solution. They just think we’re going to affect a hundred percent of the population that plays golf. For the amateur world to hit the ball shorter is monstrous. I can’t think of anything more stupid than that. I don’t think it’s very smart at all, especially when golf’s growing in popularity literally coming out of COVID.”
Full Piece.

6. …McIlroy

Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine…“McIlroy argued on X, formerly Twitter, that the rollback would make “no difference” to the average golfer while heightening the importance of other skills in the game, likely long-iron play, which McIlroy has talked about in the past.”

Here’s McIlroy’s full response:

  • “I don’t understand the anger about the golf ball rollback,” McIlroy wrote. “It will make no difference whatsoever to the average golfer and puts golf back on a path of sustainability. It will also help bring back certain skills in the pro game that have been eradicated over the past two decades.
  • “The people who are upset about this decision shouldn’t be mad at the governing bodies, they should be mad at elite pros and club/ball manufacturers because they didn’t want bifurcation. The governing bodies presented us with that option earlier this year. Elite pros and ball manufacturers think bifurcation would negatively affect their bottom lines, when in reality, the game is already bifurcated. You think we play the same stuff you do? They put pressure on the governing bodies to roll it back to a lesser degree for everyone.
  • “Bifurcation was the logical answer for everyone, but yet again in this game, money talks.”
Full Piece.

7. …Tiger

Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard…”Tiger Woods has been an outspoken proponent of a rollback and has long been in favor of bifurcation — different rules for elite and recreational players. According to the Golf Digest report, there would be a period of bifurcation, starting in 2028, and by 2030 all golfers would be competing under the same ball rules.”

  • “We’ve been hammering, the ball needs to slow down, but it has kept speeding up my entire career and here we are,” Woods said following his third round at the Hero World Challenge. “I told you guys, I’ve always been for bifurcation. I’ve always said that. Just like wood bats and metal bats.”
Full Piece.

8. From vomiting to victorious

Golf Digest’s Ryan Herrington…”The South African native shot rounds of 65 and 68 at Blair Atholl Golf & Equestrian Estate to go from making the cut on the number at the South African Open to winning the title by three shots over Renato Paratore with an 11-under 277 total.”

  • “The performance comes on the heels of Burmester winning a week earlier at the Joburg Open. Winning back-to-back titles is a career first for the 34-year-old…”
  • “Making Burmester’s performance even more impressive was his physical state during Friday’s second round. Burmester says he woke up feeling sick.”
  • “I woke up Friday and some 24-hour tummy bug or virus or something [hit me],” Burmester said. “I was throwing up on the golf course.”
Full Piece.

9. Scheffler’s winning WITB

Driver: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus (8 degrees)

Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Black 7 X

3-wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 (15 degrees)

Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Black 8 X

Irons: Srixon ZU85 (3-4), TaylorMade P7TW (5-PW)

Shafts: Nippon N.S. Pro Modus 3 Hybrid Prototype 10 X (3), True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM8 (50-12F, 56-14F), Titleist Vokey Design WedgeWorks Proto (60-06K)

Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400

Putter: Logan Olson prototype

Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet

Ball: Titleist Pro V1

Full WITB.
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Masters 2024: Reduced-scale clubhouse trophy and green jacket to Scottie Scheffler

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In the world of golf, there is Scotty and there is Scottie. Scotty Cameron gave the world of golf a nickname for a prestigious putter line, and Scottie Scheffler has now given the golf world a blueprint for how to negotiate one of the toughest tournaments to win. Sunday, Scheffler won the Masters tournament for the second time in three years. He separated from the field around the turn, making a trio of birdies at holes eight through 10. On the long walk home, he added three more birdie at 13, 14, and 16, to secure a four-shot win over Masters and major-championship rookie Ludvig Åberg.

As the final group moved along the ninth hole, a quadrilateral stood at 7 under par, tied for the lead. Scheffler, playing partner Collin Morikawa, and penultimate pairing Max Homa and Åberg advanced equally toward Amen Corner, with the resolution of the competition well in doubt. Morikawa flinched first, getting too greedy (his words) at nine and 11. Double bogey at each dropped him farther back than he wished, and he ultimately made a 10-foot putt for bogey at the last, to tie for third position.

Ludvig Åberg made the next mistake. Whether he knew the Ben Hogan story about the approach into 11 or not, he bit off way more than he should have. His approach was never hopeful, and ended short and right in White Dogwood’s pond. Åberg finished the hole in six shots. To his credit, he played the remaining seven holes in two-under figures. Finally, Max Homa was the victim of the finicky winds over Golden Bell, the short, par-3 12th hole. His disbelief was evident, as his tee shot flew everything and landed in azaleas behind the putting surface. After two pitch shots and two putts, Homa also had a double bogey, losing shots that he could not surrender.

Why? At the ninth hole, Scottie Scheffler hit one of the finest approach shots of all time, into the final green of the first nine. Scheffler had six inches for birdie and he converted. At the 10th, he lasered another approach shot into a tricky hole location, then made another fine putt for birdie. Within the space of 30 minutes, Scheffler had seized complete control of the tournament, but Amen Corner still lurked.

At the 11th, Scheffler played safely right with his approach. His chip shot was a wee bit too brave and left him a seven-foot comeback putt for par. He missed on the right side and gave one shot back to the course and field. His tee ball on 12 was safely aboard, and he took two putts for par. On 13, the 2022 champion drove slightly through the fairway, then reached the green, with his first two shots. His seventy-foot-plus putt for eagle eased up, four feet past the hole. His second putt went down, and he was back in the birdie zone. As on nine, his approach to 14 green finished brilliantly within six inches. His final birdie came at the 16th, where he negotiated a nine-foot putt for a deuce.

Scheffler reached 11 under par and stood four shots clear of Ludvig Åberg when he reached the 18th tee. His drive found the lower fairway bunker on the left, and his approach settled in a vale, short and right of the green. With dexterous hands, Scheffler pitched to three feet and made the putt for par. With a big smile, he embraced caddie Ted Scott, who won for the fourth time at Augusta National, and the second with Scheffler. Ludvig Åberg finished alone in second spot, four back of the winner. Not a bad performance for the first-time major championship participant Åberg, and not a bad finish for the world No. 1 and second-time Masters champion, Scottie Scheffler.

 

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5 Things We Learned: Saturday at the Masters

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Just as the honorary starters broke our hearts with the reality of ageing, so too, did Saturday, with the revelation that third-round Tiger Woods is not yet (if ever) what he once was. The great champion struggled mightily to an 82, tied with three others for high round of the day. Among the top ten, the worst score posted was DeChambeau’s 75, but the large Californian remains in the hunt. Day four will see 2022 champion Scottie Scheffler pair with Collin Morikawa in the final game. In front of them will be Max Homa and Ludwig Åberg. The antipenultimate pairing will feature DeChambeau and Xander Schauffele.

If you look at the one-off major winners, most took advantage of their only chance at grand slam glory. For golfers like Homa, Schauffele, and others, Sunday the 14th might represent their best and only chance at claiming a major title. For Scheffler, Morikawa, and DeChambeau, the ability to join the two-time and three-time, major winners club holds great appeal. Finally, a young’un like Åberg seeks to jump-start a more-than-tour-winner career with a major title. Many of the greats won them early, and the Swede from Texas Tech would love nothing more than a chance to join that company.

Sunday at Augusta, as always, will be riveting. It will provide hope throughout the first nine holes, then gut many a competitor’s heart coming home, rewarding just one with a new item for the wardrobe. Plan your menu and choose your outfit. Masters 2024 is about to conclude. Until then, let’s reveal five things that we learned on day three of the year’s first men’s major.

1. The three most critical holes on the first nine are …

numbers four through six. You might make some birdies at the first and last trios of holes, but the middle triumvirate of fairways and greens determines your day. Play them even par or better, and you’ll lose zero shots to the field. Get on a downward spiral of slightly-wayward shots, and recovery will be nigh impossible. Anyone who makes three at the fifth, as Tiger Woods did on Saturday, will get giddy.

2. The three most important holes on the second nine are …

ten through twelve. We realize that we commit heresy by omitting one of Herbert Warren Wind’s Amen Corner traces, but par or better is critical at 10. Dry landings at 11 and 12 set the competitor up for two par fives in three holes, sandwiched around a straightforward, par-four hole. Remember when Ben Crenshaw began his march to glory in 1995? It all started with birdie at the 10th.

3. The most interesting and efficient round of day three came from …

Collin Morikawa. Birdies at the first three holes, followed by bogey-birdie at six and eight, then ten consecutive pars to finish off the second-low round of the day. Morikawa has improved each day, from 71 to 70 to 69. He has won majors in England and California. He has the temperment for this sort of day, but will certainly be in the hottest of all cauldrons around 3 pm on Sunday.

4. The guy who lost the most ground on day three was …

Nikolai Hojgaard. The dude failed to make par from the seventh green to the 16th. After three consecutive birdies around the turn (8 through 10), the Great Dane tumbled to earth with five consecutive bogeys. 11 and 12, we understand, but 13 and 15 are par-five holes, for goodness sake! No matter where he finds himself on day four’s back nine, it will be hard to put that stretch of golf out of his mind.

5. Our pick for the green jacket is …

impossible to nail. We suspect that certain players should and could perform on Sunday. We remember when Retief Goosen, a great US Open winner until round four of 2005, lost his mojo. We recall days when Rich Beam and Y.E. Yang pulled major titles away from Tiger Woods. Things go wrong on Sunday, and they go wrong super-quick at Augusta.

We’ve decided to ascend Mount Olympus for our Sunday selection. Who better than the 2021 Olympic champion to add a long-awaited, first major title. It’s Professor X for us: Xander Schauffele.

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5 Things We Learned: Friday at the Masters

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You don’t see leaves on the ground at Augusta National. The grounds crew and superintendent’s staff take care of those sorts of things, so that both course appearance and consistency of play are preserved at the top tier. We saw leaves on the ground today and, given the force and perseverance of the wind, we’re lucky that we didn’t see tree trunks along the fairways. We did see higher scores than secured in round one, and some of the three- and four-hole stretches were downright inconceivable. The cut after 36 holes came at six over par, and five dozen golfers reached the weekend of play. Numbers always define the story of a tournament, and we’ll let them define the five things we learned on day two of the 2024 Masters tournament.

One: 60 + 10

Sixty golfers posted scores of 148 or better through 36 holes, to reach weekend play. Ten more golfers posted 149 and missed the cut by a single stroke. The ones who missed the cut by a stroke included former champions Mike Weir, Zach Johnson, and Sergio Garcia. Also among the brood were current US Open champion Wyndham Clark, and Nick Dunlap, who won on the PGA Tour as an amateur in January, and subsequently turned professional. Of the ones who survived by the slimmest of margins, surviving to the weekend were former champions Jose Maria Olazabal, Hideki Matsuyama, and Adam Scott, along with Rickie Fowler and Tom Kim. Golf’s cut is a cruel and unconcerned blade, and each Masters tournament reminds us of this fact.

Two: One

The number of amateurs to make the cut in the 2024 Masters is solitary. His name is Neil Shipley, and most folks love him. He wears his hair to the shoulder, and appears to have the proper balance of intensity and chill. Shipley opened with 71, then held on for 76 on day two. He made the cut by three shots, and will collect his share of hardware on Sunday. It’s safe to say that Shipley will turn his attention to learning the course, as well as his own self under pressure.

Three: 23

For most sorts fans, 23 recalls the greatest NBA player of all time, Michael Jordan. For Justin Thomas, it’s a number that will haunt him for a long time. Thomas reached tee number fifteen on Friday at even par. The two-time PGA Champion played the subsequent, four-hole stretch in 23 shots, missing the cut by a shot. On fifteen, he went for the green in two, in some sort of halfhearted manner. He got wet with shot number two, went long with his pitch, and three-putted from the fringe. On sixteen, he played away from safety and found elevated sand. His blast went down the hill, and he missed his approach putt in the wrong place. On seventeen, he missed his drive right and his approach long, and lost another shot to par. The coup de grace took place on the home hole: drive so horribly left that he had to pitch out to the fairway and hit three metal into the green. His third double bogey in four holes dropped him all the way to 151 and plus seven. Among the many questions, the foremost one was why he dropped his longtime caddy on the eve of a major championship. Surely Bones would have saved him one of those shots, and perhaps more.

Four: Forty-Nine divided by five or six

Tiger Woods cannot possibly win title number six at Augusta in his 49th year, can he? Not on this broken body, and not from seven strokes behind, right? Not with so few competitive rounds over the most recent months, and not one year removed from a third-round withdrawal from this very tournament. Well, if he cannnot possibly win, allow us to dream and hope a bit, and hold on to a fantasy.

Five: 3 that we like

We like Scottie Scheffler, of course. He seems to have a sense of Augusta National, and he was able to hold on in 2023 for the championship. We like Nikolai Hojgaard, because he might have just the proper combination of naivete and experience for a first-time winner. Finally, we like Collin Morikawa, a winner of two separate major titles. Winning at Augusta National requires a certain amount of length, unless you putt lights out. Morikawa might be embedded in one of those putting weeks.

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