Saturday, June 25, 2022

Spieth, Fowler fade on Sunday and 18 final thoughts about the 2017 Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. — As always, we wound up with an incredible Masters. The event always delivers even when it seems like it may not. The final seven holes between Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia on Sunday were outrageously good, and it felt like a Ryder Cup practice session had broken out on the second nine at Augusta National. 

But for two men chasing the leaders, things did not go as swimmingly. Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler played in the penultimate pairing, shot a combined 7 over and both finished outside the top 10. Spieth went out in 38. Fowler came home in 40. Spieth hit it in the water on No. 12 (again), and Fowler bogeyed the final three holes.

Fowler’s ball-striking, which was poor all week, finally caught up to him. Spieth just ran out of gas after rising from the dead following a 75 on Thursday. He bookended that 75 with another one on Sunday; Rose and Garcia had no chasers.

“I feel bad I went so downhill while Rickie was still in it there, because it is tough when you don’t see a ball go in the hole,” said Spieth. “When I was out of it, I was his biggest cheerleader, just being really good friends with Rickie, and it was tough. 

“I don’t think I helped him whatsoever on the round. And I felt like if I was able to hang in there and we were able to feed off each other, then we would have been able to push through like you saw Sergio and Justin able to do today. We could have definitely done that today. We’re both capable of it; the stage wasn’t too big, it just didn’t quite happen.”

Fowler, who finished the week ranked No. 1 in strokes gained putting, was 50th of 53 on Sunday.

“Chipping and putting kind of went sideways on me,” said Fowler. “Every time I chipped it close, I missed the putt or I didn’t chip it close enough and I’d still miss the putt.”

That’s not a good combination, but those two still have plenty of positives to take away from the week. They will both contend here again in the near future and will likely win major championships. Sunday wasn’t their day, but they both thrilled for most of the tournament.

I loved watching them battle. I loved watching Spieth rebound and get in the mix for the fourth straight year. I loved seeing Fowler fight through some poor ball-striking to get into one of the final two pairings.

Here are 18 other thoughts on this year’s edition of the Masters.

1. Putting vs. ball-striking: For those of you insistent on the best putter winning the Masters, here is a stat. The top three putters this week finished T11, T11 and third. The top three in greens in regulation finished sixth, first and second. 

2. Adam Scott from 5-10 feet: Speaking of putting, Scott is the poster boy for the “you don’t have to putt to win a major or a Masters” crowd. He missed half of his putts from 5-10 feet on the week and finished T9.

3. Rory McIlroy’s struggle: He hit 780 yards worth of drives on the second hole alone on the weekend, and he never could get it going. His mildly leaky iron play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational turned out to be a harbinger this week where he never really gave himself a chance to make anything worthwhile until it was too late. And yet he can’t stop finishing top 10 at this tournament.

“I feel comfortable on the golf course,” said McIlroy. “I feel every time I tee it up here I’ve got a real good chance to win. I’ve had four top‑10s in a row here, and top‑10 is what I’m looking for. But at the same time, the ups and downs that I’ve had here in the past don’t seem to be quite as up or quite as down. It seems a little more steady and that can lead to a lot in the future, I hope.”

He’s right about becoming more consistent. For just the second time in the last eight years, though, McIlroy did not shoot a round of 77 or worse. In fact, he did not shoot a round worst than 73. Now he just needs a win. He’ll take his fourth swing at the grand slam next year.

4. Matt Kuchar’s ace was incredible: Kuchar shot a 31 on the second nine on Sunday, and he did so with a par at 15. That’s nearly impossible to do … unless you ace No. 16.

5. Thomas Pieters is a bad, bad man: The Belgian nearly ran down Garcia and Rose with a 33 on the second nine that included four straight birdies. He finished bogey-par-par and tied for fourth, but his current career trajectory is long and outrageously good.

6. It took so long: Only three golfers had won their first Masters in more than 12 attempts: Ben Crenshaw (13 tries), Billy Casper (14) and Mark O’Meara (15). It took Sergio 19!

7. Paul Casey is crazy tough: Casey has finished inside the top six in each of the last three years and looked like he might be able to steal one for a bit on Sunday. He has become a name to be feared at this event.

8. The weather delivered: The way the weather broke this week was pretty outstanding. The first two days were an outright war, and then we got the goods on the weekend. It’s out of everyone’s control, but it seems like this is a pretty great formula for producing a great champion.

9. Sergio joins a cool list: I’m into the amateur thing at Augusta (and generally), and this is a terrific list of low ams and Masters champs.

 10. Ernie Els’ last ride: Els shot 83-78 on the weekend during what will probably be his last lap around Augusta National. He said there were no time for emotions. 

11. Martin Kaymer’s best Masters: The German is not traditionally a good Masters golfer, and his opening 18 proved that, I thought. He made six straight bogeys to open the second nine on Thursday for an opening 78 and looked destined to make the cut. Then he flipped it and made five straight birdies on Sunday to shoot a final round 68 and finish T16 which is by far his best-ever showing. 

12. Fred Couples again: The man is unbelievable. Contending at the Open Championship in your late 50s is one thing, but contending at a course where you have to be forever off the tee to have the proper angles into holes is entirely different. He finished T18, which was better than Jason Day, Justin Thomas and Phil Mickelson.

13. Jon Rahm is going to win majors: That’s plural, with a “s.” That dude has every shot and is more confident than Lavar Ball’s father. I am buying all of the Jon Rahm stock that is still available (which is not much).

14. Stewart Hagestad had himself a week: Not only did Hagestad become the first Mid-Am winner to make the cut, he also finished as low amateur and took home the silver medal. We bumped into him on the way to his tee time on Sunday and my pal Shane Bacon asked him how he was doing. His response?

15. Dustin Johnson’s big miss? I can’t help but think about how D.J. would have factored into this year’s event. It doesn’t take away from what Rose and Garcia did on Sunday, but he would have been at least 8 under at some point on Sunday, right?

16. Can Lefty win the Masters again? I’ve always though Phil Mickelson would win one final Masters at an age around 50, but that idea is waning in my mind. He runs out of gas so easily after a tough week, and I’m not sure he can roll for 72 straight holes with some of the young thoroughbreds on the PGA Tour.

17. Peach ice cream sandwiches: I had too many of them.

18. It always delivers: Every year the Masters offers up the goods. Sometimes it takes longer than usual (2013 comes to mind), but every single time, you get a memory that lasts forever. Mine this year is Sergio’s putt in the playoff. The sound emitted by the patrons coupled with Garcia’s reaction was truly chill-inducing. It was one of the most freeing, overwhelming responses by a player and his gallery I have ever seen. An all-time Masters moment.

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