Because it seems as if everything in golf is being filtered through the Masters prism – and why not? – let’s answer a few questions.
We’ll start with Bryson DeChambeau because anyone who has the audacity to post launch monitor stats showing he carried a driver more than 400 yards (it’s not bragging if you can do it) is an obvious starting point.
First question: Was Jordan Spieth trolling DeChambeau recently when he said on a podcast that Captain Protein Shake would have to lose the Masters not to win it in two weeks, or was he serious?
The truth, as we like to say, probably lies somewhere in the middle.
DeChambeau is infatuated with his new golf game and why not? When you can hit it halfway across Texas and find it, what’s not to like?
Every course rewards power if it’s managed correctly and Augusta National is no different. If DeChambeau can routinely drive it 350 yards (he’s averaging 344.4 yards in his two starts in the new season), he does start with an advantage.
It’s critical at Augusta to putt from the proper spots on the famously contoured greens and if DeChambeau can consistently give himself short shots in, his chances go up. He’s not a great wedge player but DeChambeau won the U.S. Open with his play into Winged Foot’s greens as much as he did with his power.
DeChambeau should be the favorite next month. Will he be the emotional favorite?
That’s a different question for another time.
Second question: What’s up with Rory McIlroy’s game?
Hidden in the shadows of what happened in the Zozo Championship is the fact that Rory McIlroy finished T17 – despite making 30 birdies in 72 holes.
That’s right, 30 birdies in 72 holes.
So how did McIlroy turn all those birdies into a 15-under par total and what does it mean for him at the Masters in two weeks?
Let’s first give McIlroy credit for finding some dark humor in there.
“I made 15 birdies after two days and was not in the top 10 so I was pretty proud of that,” said the man who was so proud of it that he snapped his wedge in half on his final hole on Friday.
Sometimes a man has to do what a man has to do.
On the weekend, each time McIlroy made a birdie, he would call out the total number to his caddie, Harry Diamond, as in, “23, 24, 25 … ”
From the good-news department, McIlroy said the 30 birdies proves there’s plenty of good stuff in his game right now. The trick is minimizing the not-so-good, which he believes is easier than trying to find birdies when they aren’t happening.
“Sooner or later I’m going to get rid of the bad stuff and I’m going to be right there,” said McIlroy, who plans to make one or two trips to Augusta National prior to the Masters.
Third question: Can Phil and Tiger turn it around fast enough?
Because Augusta National is like no place else, it’s understandable if the faithful are quick to dismiss the lousy performances by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson last weekend at Sherwood Country Club. But the results weren’t encouraging.
Consider Mickelson: He ranked 76th (out of 77) in strokes gained off the tee and 77th in strokes gained tee to green. That means he could barely keep it on the property at Sherwood.
As for putting, Mickelson ranked 75th of 77 and he saved par just 11 of the 29 times he missed a green.
Mr. Rogers would have trouble finding a bright spot in those numbers, especially after Mickelson seemed so comfortable playing Champions events where the set-ups are noticeably more forgiving.
“I think it’s still in there, I just think it’s harder to get four solid rounds without the mistakes, and at this level the quality guys are so good that you just can’t make the mistakes that I’m making and recover from it the way I can say on the Champions Tour where the courses are just a touch more forgiving,” said Mickelson, who is deciding whether to play the PGA Tour event in Houston or a Champions event in Phoenix as his final tune-up.
Woods wasn’t much better, ranking 71st in strokes gained tee to green and T65 in scrambling. In his six starts since the PGA Tour resumed in June, Woods has finished a combined 102 strokes behind the winners (including one missed cut when he was 14 off the lead when he was excused for the weekend).
With eight green jackets between them, did Phil and Tiger talk about the November Masters during their Sunday grouping?
“We touched on it here and there about our prep, what is it going to be like, is it going to be like when Zach (Johnson) won when you can’t go for any of the par-5s in two? Is it going to be like that? That long? That soft? That hard, that windy? You just never know. It could be in the 70s, it could be in the 30s, you just never know,” Woods said.
Is it as easy for Woods and Mickelson as driving down Magnolia Lane?
No, but they’re looking for whatever they can find at the moment.
Top: The big oak tree near the clubhouse at Augusta National. Photo: Andrew Redington, Getty Images
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