Monday Finish: Spieth’s support system and a useless Masters prediction
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Welcome to the Monday Finish! This is where we’ll tally the scores for the week that was and tee you up for the week to come. This week that means breaking down Jordan Spieth’s inspiring victory, dishing on all things Augusta National and appreciating Lydia Ko’s magical Sunday — among other things. Let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
A useless prediction.
The first time I attended the Masters I was informed of a semi-official bit of company policy. When attending a major, I was told, I should place a wager — real or imaginary — on the first player I saw “in the wild.”
It’s a relatively small community around Augusta National, so these run-ins happen more often than you might think. In 2018 I remember seeing Rafa Cabrera-Bello in the aisles of Fresh Market. He finished T38. In 2019 we saw Ian Poulter out to dinner. A solid T12. In 2020 we encountered Billy Horschel in line at Jersey Mike’s. Another T38.
In other words, it’s hardly a foolproof system — but through blind luck this year I think it may have picked a winner. As coworker James Colgan and I were in the check-out line at Sprouts, who pulled up behind us but slender, sweet-swinging, ascendant star-to-be Will Zalatoris?
Not only was it encouraging to see golf’s perpetual rising star loading up on healthy snacks for the week, Zalatoris has the game to ball out at Augusta. This week’s course and conditions will demand precise ball-striking, and he’s quite simply one of the best tee-to-green golfers in the world. No, he doesn’t have any Augusta National experience, which is traditionally important for winners. But I like him to show.
If not, it might be time to abandon this particular betting model for something less scientific.
Who won what?
–Patty Tavatanakit took a five-stroke lead into Sunday’s final round at the ANA Inspiration and then positively suffocated the field with a bogey-free, 15-par final-round 68 to win the first major of the year by two shots. Calling her performance “clinical” might be giving too much credit to clinics. Tavatanakit’s victory was perhaps most notable for her game off the tee, which was a ridiculous combination of long and straight. She hit 21 of 28 fairways on the weekend, missed just 11 greens all week and averaged a wild 323 yards off the tee. Well played, Patty.
–Jordan Spieth completed his comeback with a dominant final-round six-under 66 in which he married high-level ball-striking with just enough scrap to earn a two-stroke win over Charley Hoffman.
Perhaps it would have been more fitting for Spieth to get his first win in four years by playing a rollercoaster Sunday fiesta. Instead, he uncharacteristically made just a single bogey against 12 birdies in his final 32 holes of golf. He was emotional and introspective after the round; it was instantly clear just how much this meant to him. It meant a lot to golf fans around the world, too, who have watched Spieth grow up, flourish, struggle and continue to battle. It had been close to four years since his last victory — now what?
–Tsubasa Kajitani, the youngest player in the final 30 at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, outlasted the competition and emerged from a tight pack to beat Emilia Migliaccio with a par on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff. The number of players under par slowly dwindled until at last there were none — including Kajitani, who made double at 17 to slip to one over par. That’s where she finished, too, after a particularly brilliant up-and-down for par at 18 in regulation and navigating a two-putt par to win in extra time.
Suffice it to say the 17-year-old from Ikayama, Japan has a bright future. At the moment she has an awfully bright present, too.
Who came up just short?
–Lydia Ko shot a preposterous final-round score of 10-under 62, which my colleague Zephyr Melton detailed here. But one quote of hers stuck with me, and I’d like for you to read it too:
“I was actually thinking in my head, I wonder if like on the coverage they’re going to be like, ‘Oh, Lydia Ko is back,'” Ko said, emphasizing the last word. “I hope it’s not the sense that I’m back to a position where I was or where I could be. To be honest, I just want to be the best version of myself right now.”
It almost sounds like a cliche until you realize just how healthy an attitude that really is. Even though she’s been in the professional golf sphere for the better part of a decade, Ko remains just 23 years old. She’s lived an athletic lifetime since her golfing peak. It’s smart that she’s working towards a second peak. Ko 2.0.
“I’ve had so many different experiences, ups and downs, since I was world No. 1 to this point, and I think at the end of the day I’m not going to be the same person anymore,” Ko said. But different doesn’t have to mean anything bad. It’s great to have her in the mix.
-On the men’s side, Charley Hoffman played a rock-solid final round 66 to finish two shots back of Spieth. Hoffman put together an aspirational front-nine ball-striking display to get within one. As he made the turn, he missed the green at 10, 11, 12 and 13 — and played those holes in one under par. That’s versatility.
It would have been a blast to see Hoffman play his way into the Masters field, where he’d have inevitably opened with a Thursday 66. Instead we’ll have to hope he makes it back next year.
(Skip to 0:50 for the relevant Charley Hoffman bit:)
-And Emilia Migliaccio would have made history by winning with her mother on the bag at the ANWA. Still, her consolation prize — runner-up thanks to a clutch final-round 70 that was among the best of the day — is work of which she should be mighty proud.
You’ve heard of this course.
I’ve not yet been onto the grounds of Augusta National (negative Covid test pending) but by all accounts things are firm, fast and decidedly different from November’s playing. My immediate instinct is that this benefits ball-strikers, great irons players, guys with complete control over their yardages and their spin. Someone like Tiger Woods, had he been healthy, would have thrived under these conditions. Instead it’s good news for Collin Morikawa fans, and Will Zalatoris fans, and Justin Thomas fans, too. But we spoke with Bryson DeChambeau on Sunday night, too, and he likes the course in these conditions. He also had a different takeaway:
“You’re going to see a lot of really long drives,” he said.
Life ain’t all about hitting the long ball, but it certainly helps, and I’d be surprised if DeChambeau isn’t in the mix come Sunday. But that’s all assuming this pre-tournament prognosticating proves correct. It often doesn’t. But I hope we get a fiery golf course providing a fair, severe test.
WHAT WE’RE SEEING
Spieth’s support system.
Jordan Spieth held it together — barely — during an emotional post-win interview with Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis. But when cameras cut to his wife Annie, it was clear just how much the win meant to both of them.
Spieth seemed most excited in his post-round press conference when he talked about being able to thank the people who had helped get him back to this position. That’s a pretty cool instinct. He highlighted Annie’s support in particular, and how this marks the culmination of a process that has tested them both.
“I just feel a lot of gratitude to those who have helped me get back here,” he said. “My wife has been just a rock to me. This is my first win since we’ve been married [in 2018], so — it’s been progressing this way since maybe December. But before that, there was a lot of tough times.
Spieth added that he’d tried not to bring struggles at work into his home life, but allowed that it’s inevitable for there to be some spillover. The relief was clear from Annie’s face as the winning putt dropped.
“She got me emotional there on 18 seeing her emotional, running up,” he said. “I mean, I can pinpoint a number of different moments where I’ve been in a bad place and then I can picture some moments where I’ve been just talking so positively to her coming home and having her just help progress that forward. She’s just given me a lot of space.
“I’ve asked, I’ve said, ‘Look, I’m going to have to put some long hours in, even longer than when you’ve known me before. This is what I want right now. We don’t have a family yet and I really want to get back to playing consistent golf and just being me and playing with freedom.'”
She’s just been that person that said, ‘Whatever you need to do, I’m here to support you, let me know how I can help, let me know when too much is too much, let me know when it’s not enough.’ She’s been really unbelievable.”
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
I can officially report that it is warmer in Augusta, Ga. than it is in Seattle, Washington. Although I can also report that our battle against limited daylight is going so well that fellow Seattleites can wage war against the dying light until something like 8:30 p.m. at the moment, and it’s only barely April. This is my first spring in the Pacific Northwest and that particular piece is a delightful revelation.
SOME SUSPECT PREDICTIONS
Don’t quote me on this, unless I’m right.
Xander Schauffele will win the Masters. At least, if you’re a betting person, he’s a smart play at 25-1. Bryson DeChambeau is the surest bet among the “favorites” to be in contention at the end. And Mackenzie Hughes is my favorite of the deep, deep sleepers.
Three things to watch this week.
1. Brooks Koepka’s knee.
He’s here. He played four holes on Sunday. Is Brooks Koepka ready to use doubt as fuel and power himself to a shocking Masters win? Time will tell. At the very least, he’s gotten some solid social posts out of the week already.
2. Dustin Johnson’s driver.
He had a tough time working in the driver at WGC-Concession and hasn’t been in a groove off the tee since 2021 began. But at the 2020 Masters, D.J. drove it like a stallion. This week, what gives?
3. Rory McIlroy’s wedges.
The last few years we’ve entered the Masters with various stars in top form, coming off wins of all shapes and sizes. This year it feels like most of the biggest names are coming in licking their wounds. That’s doubly true of Rory McIlroy, who has expressed frustration in recent starts and sounds lost with his golf swing. Now he’s entering the tournament he wants to win the most with a new coach on staff and the lowest expectations I can remember. Maybe it’s just the right combination of ingredients for him to show — provided he can dial in that wedge game.
It’s hardly the only “if” that will be tested this week. But it’s among the most intriguing.
We’ll see you next week to wrap up the rest of ’em!