From Rory’s struggles to Koepka’s resurgence, here’s what we learned at the Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The 87th version of the Masters delivered all the storylines we needed to see at Augusta Nationwide Golf Membership this previous week.

An ageing previous champion soared up the leaderboard on Sunday — simply not the one many golf followers had hoped. One of many PGA Tour’s greatest stars and a LIV Golf captain battled for a inexperienced jacket over the ultimate 18 holes. Little-known Texas A&M senior Sam Bennett, hoping to develop into the primary beginner to ever win the Masters, was in rivalry for 54 holes.

The primary main championship of the 2023 season is within the books. Spain’s Jon Rahm gained his second main and have become the fourth man from Spain to win the Masters. Phil Mickelson, who turned the face of the upstart LIV Golf League’s battle with the PGA Tour, was again within the highlight in his return to Augusta Nationwide.

Our consultants check out what comes subsequent in males’s skilled golf:

What’s subsequent for Tiger Woods?

Mark Schlabach: It was the proper storm of detrimental elements that made Tiger’s return to Augusta Nationwide Golf Membership one to overlook. For the second 12 months in a row, Woods struggled on the weekend in chilly climate. Making issues worse, the course took on greater than 2 inches of rain on Saturday, which made a treacherous stroll much more tough.

After pulling out of the Masters on Sunday morning, Tiger mentioned he aggravated the plantar fasciitis in his proper foot. He had issues strolling even a couple of steps from underneath an umbrella to his ball within the fairway. It was painful to look at. There was no manner he may stroll 28 holes on Sunday after play had suspended the day earlier than.

I would be shocked if we see the 15-time main champion on the PGA Championship, the subsequent main, which is about for Might 18-21 at Oak Hill Nation Membership in Rochester, New York. The climate in upstate New York goes to be unpredictable, so it could possibly be one other event performed in chilly and moist climate. Given Woods’ present bodily situation, I would not be shocked to see him skip the PGA Championship and get well. He may return on the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Nation Membership on June 15-18.

Paolo Uggetti: It is onerous to think about a harder conclusion to Tiger’s first main look this 12 months than this one. He barely made the lower, struggled within the chilly and wet circumstances Saturday and re-injured his plantar fasciitis that brought on him to withdraw on Sunday.

Is it a setback or a actuality examine? Perhaps somewhat little bit of each. Woods has remained adamant he is more likely to solely play the majors and possibly an additional occasion or two at this stage of his profession. However with simply over a month left till the PGA Championship, it is unclear whether or not Woods will likely be bodily able to play in that occasion after a untimely exit at Augusta because of well being points.

It might not be such a foul factor, although. Woods skipping the PGA could possibly be fortuitous. Not solely would he keep away from enjoying in possible extra moist and chilly climate in Rochester in Might, however he’ll have extra time to get well with a view to try to play properly within the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Nation Membership — a course that matches his recreation a lot better — as properly Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, the place he is gained earlier than. The issue, after all, is that if Woods desires to win once more he does not simply want good well being. He wants extra reps too.

What does this Masters imply for LIV Golf?

Schlabach: I do not know if we discovered as a lot about LIV Golf as we did about Brooks Koepka and Mickelson. Twelve of the 18 LIV Golf League gamers who have been invited to the Masters made the 36-hole lower. 4 of them missed the lower and two withdrew due to accidents or sickness. There is no doubt that is fairly good, and I am certain it’ll be a speaking level for LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman.

Mickelson and Koepka got here out of nowhere to tie for second, 4 strokes behind Rahm. Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, tied for fourth. Chile’s Joaquin Niemann tied for sixteenth.

“We’re nonetheless the identical folks,” Koepka mentioned. “So I imply, I do know if I am wholesome, I do know I can compete. I do not suppose any of the blokes that performed this occasion thought in any other case, both. When Phil performs good, we all know he’ll compete. Reed, the identical factor. I feel that is simply manufactured by the media that we won’t compete anymore; that we’re washed up.”

It wasn’t all excellent news for LIV Golf on the Masters. Cameron Smith, the reigning Open Championship winner and the most effective gamers on the planet, tied for thirty fourth. Dustin Johnson, who gained greater than $35 million and was LIV Golf’s inaugural particular person champion in 2022, tied for forty eighth. Previous Masters winners Sergio Garcia and Bubba Watson and 2020 U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau missed the lower.

When Koepka is wholesome there are few gamers higher than him in majors. Mickelson caught lightning in a bottle at a course he is aware of higher than most. Ditto for Reed, who attended his ultimate 12 months of school in Augusta and has a inexperienced jacket in his wardrobe. None of them had performed significantly properly in LIV Golf occasions this 12 months. Whereas I commend them for performing properly within the first main of the season, I additionally marvel if there’s sufficient rigidity and drama in LIV Golf tournaments to garner their consideration.

Uggetti: Whereas Greg Norman and LIV Golf as a complete could have needed to show Masters week into a press release, the week felt extra like a reminder of simply what LIV has robbed the golf world of.

Mickelson, Koepka and Reed all completed contained in the top-10, however the statements they made felt extra particular person than collective. For Koepka, it reminded the golf world how a lot of a risk he may be at majors. Reed all the time appears to play properly sufficient on this course and Mickelson, properly, he’s a 6-time main winner and three-time winner at Augusta in spite of everything.

It is onerous for LIV, in my thoughts, to make the most of as proof to help their quest, not to mention have this end result flip into extra viewers and a spotlight for the shotgun begin, 54-hole event. If something, it is an indictment to the caliber of LIV occasions, the programs and the fields, that their greatest gamers aren’t precisely thriving on their tour or significantly care about profitable until it is in service of making ready for what actually issues: the majors. Cam Smith mentioned as a lot this week when he acknowledged LIV fields aren’t as deep or sturdy because the PGA Tour’s.

Zoom out and I feel the takeaway is evident: LIV gamers can nonetheless thrive and win at main championships and they’ll now not be ignored. However the LIV Tour? I can not see this enhancing the standard of the product nor the probability that Mickelson’s rise to the highest of the leaderboard, or Koepka’s close to victory, get anybody to activate the CW. Not when you will have Jim Nantz getting jokes off at your expense.

Who was the largest shock of Masters week?

Schlabach: Thumbs as much as Mickelson, who picked up his fifth top-three end and twelfth top-five at Augusta Nationwide. I did not suppose he had something left within the tank. Like Woods did within the 2019 Masters, Mickelson turned again the clock and rekindled the magic that helped him win a inexperienced jacket 3 times.

Mickelson, 52, began the ultimate spherical at 1-under, 10 photographs behind Koepka. When he sank an 11-foot birdie on the 72nd gap, his fifth birdie within the ultimate seven holes, he was 7-under, simply 3 photographs behind Rahm. It was the perfect ultimate spherical by a participant over 50 in Masters historical past. He’s the oldest participant to complete within the high 5. It was Mickelson’s greatest ultimate spherical in a storied profession at Augusta Nationwide.

It is onerous to decipher whether or not this was the beginning of one more act for Mickelson or the ultimate chapter. After carding a 3-under 69 within the second spherical, Mickelson mentioned he was “near occurring a tear.” There was little motive to imagine him. Since defecting to the LIV Golf League, he had one top-10 end in 10 stroke-play occasions. This season, he is completed twenty seventh, thirty second and forty first, with solely three of 9 rounds within the 60s.

Mickelson now not acts or appears just like the participant who was merely often known as “Lefty” throughout his Corridor of Fame profession. As a substitute of joking about hitting “bombs,” he talks about consuming espresso, which he says has led to his appreciable weight reduction. For 4 days in Augusta, nevertheless, Mickelson performed like the person that was as soon as adored.

“I am hopeful that this sort of catapults me into enjoying the remainder of the 12 months the best way I imagine I am enjoying,” Mickelson mentioned. “I actually labored onerous within the offseason to prepare. I have been capturing some actually low scores at residence, and in the present day I form of let it occur quite than attempting to power it, and I had a very good day and made some noise.

“Sadly it wasn’t sufficient, nevertheless it was actually a number of enjoyable for me to play at this degree once more, and it is encouraging for me going ahead the remainder of the 12 months.”

We’ll have to attend till the subsequent LIV Golf event on April 21-23 on the Grange Golf Membership in Australia to search out out.

Uggetti: Koepka. Maybe there is a mea culpa available by all in terms of him. The four-time main winner dominated the golf world not too way back and, after listening to about his journey again to good well being, his means to compete at Augusta and almost outlast the No. 1 participant on the planet makes full sense and provides context to his win drought even earlier than he bolted to LIV Golf.

“I am wholesome so it is utterly totally different,” Koepka mentioned. “If anyone’s not wholesome, they can not compete. I simply wash these two years in my head.”

Although he did not finally don the inexperienced jacket Sunday, it is protected to say Koepka emerged as a little bit of a winner in different methods after Augusta. Not solely did he present his recreation is again to main championship type, however he opened up throughout his press convention about his ugly knee damage whereas additionally refusing to lean into the rah-rah mentality that some LIV gamers (and Norman) have been touting.

In reality, Koepka himself mentioned this week his choice to change excursions could have been totally different had he remained wholesome. His actuality stays enjoying in lackluster LIV occasions, however in terms of majors Koepka will now not be a shock ought to he carry out properly. Perhaps that is the best way it ought to have been all alongside.

Who was the largest disappointment?

Schlabach: Of all the previous PGA Tour members who left for LIV Golf, Smith was most likely essentially the most shocking to me. He had simply gained the one hundred and fiftieth Open Championship at St. Andrews and was the No. 2-ranked participant on the planet. The Australian is 29 years previous and on the top of his profession.

Smith gained the second LIV Golf event he performed and captured the Australian PGA Championship in November. He hasn’t completed a lot of something since. He missed the lower on the Saudi Worldwide and completed sixth, twenty sixth and twenty ninth within the first three LIV Golf occasions this 12 months.

Smith, now ranked fifth on the planet, tied for thirty fourth on the Masters this week, after ending within the high 10 in every of his previous three begins at Augusta Nationwide. At the very least he did flip within the shot of the event on Friday. After hitting his 292-yard drive right into a fairway bunker on the 570-yard fifth gap, Smith had 257 yards left and hit a fairway bunker out of the sand. The ball was properly under his toes, however he in some way managed to knock it on the inexperienced. He sank a 17-footer for eagle.

Uggetti: Rory McIlroy There was an abundance of expectations surrounding McIlroy heading into this week on the Masters. Even Tiger Woods himself mentioned it is solely a matter of time earlier than McIlroy wins the Masters.

McIlroy himself did not precisely shrink back from these expectations, even going so far as to say he felt like he had shed among the scar tissue at Augusta after backdooring his manner right into a second-place end final 12 months. However as an alternative, McIlroy performed “untidy” golf by his personal admission and did not appear to have something resembling his greatest stuff all week. He missed almost 50 p.c of greens in regulation and had a very poor placing day on Friday on his option to lacking the lower.

It is the furthest factor from what was anticipated of McIlroy, who, within the face of the primary main (the one one he wants for the grand slam) and the primary assembly of each LIV gamers and PGA Tour gamers, merely didn’t present up.

“I really feel like I’m nearly as good, if not higher a participant, as I used to be the final time I gained a significant championship,” McIlroy mentioned coming into the week. “I have been knocking on the door for that fifth one for some time.”

The PGA Championship is the subsequent main on the schedule. Who’s going to win?

Schlabach: Oak Hill Nation Membership’s East Course final hosted a PGA Championship in 2013, when Jason Dufner defeated Jim Furyk by 2 strokes. Jack Nicklaus (1980) and Shaun Micheel (2003) gained the opposite PGA s that have been performed there. The course underwent a restoration in 2013. The undertaking concerned the elimination of many timber and even a pond. There’s additionally a completely new par-3 fifth gap.

I picked Cameron Younger to win the PGA Championship in my way-too-early majors predictions in July. I will follow the New York native. Younger hasn’t but gained on the PGA Tour however he is probably the most gifted gamers on the planet. He already has three top-10s in majors, tying for third on the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills, ending solo second at St. Andrews and tying for seventh on the Masters.

Uggetti: Maybe towards my very own higher judgment, I am nonetheless betting on Rory to play properly in robust circumstances at a spot the place he is a member. Regardless of his disappointing week in Augusta, his recreation remains to be ok to win. He cannot, nevertheless, get off to a different gradual begin. McIlroy has put himself behind the 8-ball manner too usually at majors or throughout particular rounds (see final 12 months’s Open ultimate spherical) and has hoped his recreation would bail him out. To this point that hasn’t labored at majors, however Oak Hill ought to give Rory some benefit within the type of familiarity come Might. He is been enjoying too properly these days (Augusta however) to not get near profitable one other main this 12 months.

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