Pros Dish on Who Can Win and Who Can’t

Can­did and catty com­ments about the field at Au­gusta.

Golf Digest (Malaysia) - - Contents - BY JOHN HUGGAN AND DAVE SHEDLOSKI

Oonly 50 play­ers have won the pre­vi­ous 80 Masters tour­na­ments. Only 32 of them are still with us. And only 19, some of them play­ing cer­e­mo­ni­ally, are ex­pected to tee it up April 6-9 at Au­gusta Na­tional. Which means a lot of play­ers—in­clud­ing Jason Day, Rory McIl­roy, Dustin John­son, Hen­rik Sten­son, Rickie Fowler, Ser­gio Gar­cia, Justin Rose and many more—are still try­ing to fig­ure out how to earn a green jacket. Then there’s Tiger Woods, who is try­ing to fig­ure out how to win his fifth (but his first in a dozen years).

Who’s got what it takes, and who doesn’t? What are their strengths, and what’s hold­ing them back? To get the an­swers, Golf Digest in­ter­viewed dozens of play­ers, cad­dies, coaches and other keen ob­servers for can­did ob­ser­va­tions on past cham­pi­ons and those who are still try­ing to break through. Our in­ter­vie­wees didn’t hold back.

man­ag­ing flaws

“Ilook at all the top play­ers, and ev­ery one of them has a flaw. The ques­tion is, how big is the flaw, and how do they make it less of one for that week? Ev­ery guy is clearly tal­ented enough to win. Are you go­ing to tell me Jason Day or Rory McIl­roy or Justin Rose aren’t go­ing to win the Masters? Rickie Fowler? Jon Rahm, even­tu­ally? Pa­trick Reed? Dustin John­son could still win two or three. But they all have their is­sues. Or maybe it’s just that they don’t play to their strengths as well to make up for the weak­nesses. Adam Scott won a Masters, and he’s a ter­ri­ble put­ter—well, he’s be­low av­er­age. But his ball-strik­ing is so good, and those weeks he’s re­ally on hit­ting the ball, he only has to be a be­low-av­er­age put­ter to win.” . . . “Peo­ple th­ese days learn golf on the range, not on the course, and we’re see­ing the re­sults of that at the top level. Ev­ery­one learns how to hit it rather than how to play, which is not how to play Au­gusta. Seve learned how to play with one club, and not many played the Masters bet­ter than he did. To me, only Phil, Bubba and Ser­gio learned how to play golf the right way. They play golf, not swing, which is the way to play Au­gusta. But it goes the other way, too. Tiger was a real golfer when he came on tour, but he ended up a sci­en­tist. Padraig Harrington, the same. Justin Rose, too. And Adam is a sci­en­tist with his short game. None of which helps them at Au­gusta. It isn’t a sci­ence course.”

bombers vs. short hit­ters

“In this day and age, the guys who don’t hit it very far—Jim Furyk, for ex­am­ple—have no chance to win the Masters. Matt Kuchar is an­other. You can’t win there if all you have is guile and strat­egy. Dufner won’t win there.” . . . “You have to go with guys who hit the ball a long way and high. For Jason, Dustin, Adam, Rory, Bubba, the par of the course is closer to 68.” . . . “It’s the eas­i­est event to pre­dict be­cause you can break it down. Who can putt, and who can’t? Who can reach the par 5s in two? And so on. Jor­dan Spi­eth’s par is 70. He can reach the par 5s on the back nine. But he’s also the best put­ter. So that brings him down to, say, 69. Rory’s ball-strik­ing starts him at 68. But his putting takes him up to 72. Any time a player wins with­out that for­mula, it has to be be­cause weather takes away that in­her­ent edge—say, when no one can reach some of the par 5s. Then you get Zach John­son or Mike Weir win­ning.” . . . “Pure yardage is way more im­por­tant than cre­at­ing the right an­gle into the flag. Hit­ting a 9-iron in­stead of a 6-iron makes up for a bad an­gle. You can ar­gue that it shouldn’t be that way, but it is.” . . . “Lee Trevino al­ways said he didn’t like Au­gusta be­cause he hit the ball left to right. But the truth is that he knew he wasn’t long enough off the tee. He couldn’t get to the tops of some of the hills. Well, to­day’s shorter hit­ters have pretty much the same is­sues.” . . . “It’s just too hard over four days to hit hy­brids and long irons to holes where the long guys are hit­ting 7-irons. You can’t com­pete with that.” . . . “If I have, say, two more short irons than you do into those greens, that’s eight more scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in the tour­na­ment. Odds say I’m go­ing to whip your ass.” . . . “Phil, Bubba, Adam, [Charl] Schwartzel—they have proven that long and crooked can work there.” . . . “Be­tween the 5,000 trees they planted and the sec­ond cut, you don’t have the lux­ury of a bit of lee­way off the tee. I know Phil says he doesn’t care where his tee shots go, that he can re­cover, but be­lieve me, he cares.” . . . “The way Tiger played it in 1997, bomb­ing it all around, you can’t do that any­more. You might get away with it on a hole or two, but that’s not a strat­egy that’s go­ing to work for 72 holes. They make you play Au­gusta the way they want you to play Au­gusta.”

pa­tience, pa­tience

“Ten times in ev­ery round you’re go­ing to have a shot where, if you get too ag­gres­sive and miss, you’re go­ing to make a bo­gey at best. Ser­gio is im­pa­tient. So is Rory. And Bubba. And Dustin. Jason can get too ag­gres­sive be­cause he likes to take shots on. Jor­dan is the most pa­tient of the elite guys. As much as he car­ries on be­tween shots, he knows his lim­i­ta­tions. And he’s the best scorer of that bunch. Phil is im­pa­tient. So is Pa­trick Reed. And Louis Oosthuizen—he switches off if things aren’t go­ing well.” . . . “The big­gest thing ev­ery player has to get his head around is the Mickey Mouse pin po­si­tions. So much of Au­gusta is un­fair. You can hit a shot to eight feet, and you can hit an­other shot that lands three inches from the first ball, then fin­ishes 60 yards down a hill. If that’s f------ right, I know noth­ing about golf. It’s dra­matic, but it’s not right. And that sort of stuff gets to play­ers.” . . . “Ex­pe­ri­ence is every­thing. I know cad­dies who have been go­ing there for years and have books on the place. Yet they add to those books ev­ery year. Some­thing changes ev­ery year, even if it’s just a lit­tle thing.” . . .

‘there isn’t a pin [jason day] doesn’t think he can get at, but you have to have the dis­ci­pline to not go right at some of them.’

Pho­to­graphs by Nick La­ham

“the only thing that hurts jason is that he doesn’t seem to have a half-shot. every­thing is full tilt.”

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