Tour Confidential: Tiger’s Masters chances, Bryson gets longer (again) and the Match is back
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss Tiger Woods’ chances at the upcoming Masters, Bryson DeChambeau, the Match III and more.
1. Tiger Woods finished tied for 72nd at the Zozo Championship, his first start since the U.S. Open last month, and perhaps his last event until the Masters in three weeks. After a rough opening four-over 76, Woods bounced back with a 66 and a 71 before finishing with a 74. Did this week make you more or less bullish about Tiger’s chances of defending his title at Augusta National?
Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): I think we’ve all learned not to put anything past Tiger. But defending his title was never going to be easy. But I don’t see how this week’s scruffy play could make anyone more bullish on him.
Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): Tiger will be ready to shoot 70 in the first round at ANGC, and that will be a great start to defending his title.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: It didn’t change them. He can win at Augusta if every last thing falls into place, as it did last year. That’s unlikely to happen. But, of course, it can.
Nick Piastowski, senior editor (@nickpia): Yes. After Sunday’s final round, he said: “The only thing I can take out of this week that I did positively I feel like each and every day and pretty much every hole is I putted well. I feel like I rolled it great.” Outside of his back – which he said also held up well this week – the flatstick has recently been his biggest foe. And if Tiger said he was bullish over his putting, then I’m bullish over his chances.
2. Bryson DeChambeau sat out the Zozo, giving him more time to tinker with his swing at home in Texas. On Friday, DeChambeau said he reached another personal milestone, carrying a drive over 400 yards — and that was without his proposed 48-inch driver, which could add even more length. After averaging a Tour-best 322.1 yards in driving distance in 2019-20, DeChambeau is now averaging a staggering 344.4 yards early in the 2020-21 season. Is there a ceiling for DeChambeau’s length? If so, is he nearing it?
Sens: Bryson’s distance gains have been insane, but even he is governed by the laws of physics. So yeah. He’s got to be close to maxing out. Unless he pulls a Superman and moves to a planet with a different colored sun. And anyway, do we really want him to get much longer? I know everyone digs the long ball, but it would be nice to watch him have to hit something more than wedge into every par-4.
Zak: There is a ceiling. He’s approaching it. But there’s still plenty of room. He’s been at this level for only half a Tour season. It’s not going away until someone else does something about it.
Bamberger: Well, basic physics would say there’s a limit, for Dr. DeChambeau or anybody else. But 400-yard carries are not the limit, with the ongoing combination of tee height, clubhead size, face thinness and material, and shaft length and material, to say nothing of bodily maximization and various swing-analysis tools.
Piastowski: Full disclosure. I geek out over these types of physics questions. I mean, we’ve all daydreamed once in a while how far our bodies could take us if we focused only on them, right? If I lifted just the right way, and ate just the right way, maybe I, too, could hit it 400. Or more! Or maybe that’s just me. Back to the question. I’m not a scientist. But Bryson’s team more or less is. And, at this point, they seem bound and determined to take this as far as it can go. And yeah, I don’t think they’re done.
3. A couple of weeks ago on Subpar, Jordan Spieth said of DeChambeau, “This guy has to lose the Masters to not win the Masters.” Do you agree? With just two more tournaments between now and the long-awaited 2020 Masters, is DeChambeau the runaway favorite?
Sens: That’s hyperbole. There’s more to winning at Augusta than just bombing it, though of course it helps. Spieth was dealing out some worthy praise. But possibly playing a bit of mind games with Bryson as well.
Zak: I think Jordan meant Bryson is set up to win, and he’ll lose only by making mistakes. The thing is, you can say that of Rory. And DJ. And Koepka. He’s one of the favorites, along with those guys, Rahm, JT, Xander.
Bamberger: I think Jordan is having fun. I like Phil’s chances as much as Bryson’s. I like Justin Thomas’ better.
Piastowski: One of the favorites, I’ll say. He still has to pitch. He still has to putt. But it is rare that you see a fellow player go out of his way to say something like that. And I think that a lot of this experiment has been concocted for Augusta. Bryson himself can recite on cue how his game will play on each hole. He’s been thinking of this for a while. It’s close.
4. Because it’s never too early to speculate about the Masters, prop bet time! Of the past 10 Masters champions (Tiger, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson (twice), Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Phil Mickelson), who has the best chance to win another green jacket this year?
Sens: Interesting that no one in that bunch is even among the top 5 favorites right now. Reed is the choice in Vegas at the moment who makes sense to me. He’s been the most consistent of that group this year.
Zak: In February, before the pandemic took hold in America, the answer was Adam Scott. Guy was playing some of the best golf of his life. But that feels FOREVER ago. Of that group, put me down for Bubba, who has played pretty decently this summer.
Bamberger: Of that group, put me down for Bubba, who plays Augusta National more than decently.
Piastowski: I’m with Bubba, too. Ever since a small visit to swing coach Claude Harmon III a few weeks ago, his game has taken a turn for the better. He tied for 4th at the Zozo. Sometimes, just that little tweak is all you need.
5. The third Match has been confirmed. Phil Mickelson will team up with Charles Barkley, while Peyton Manning will be paired with Steph Curry on the day after Thanksgiving at Stone Canyon Golf Club in Arizona. One notable omission: Tiger Woods. How much does Woods’ absence hurt the event, and what new wrinkle(s) would you suggest to liven up the proceedings?
Sens: Any event is better with Tiger in it, but Barkley and Curry set this up for high entertainment value, and some epic shanks (by Charles). How many strokes does he get? Let’s see a free-throw contest or some kind of hoop skills test. Phil did some of that when he played with Curry last year in the Safeway pro-am. His set shot did not look especially good. I’d say he’s about a 13 index in hoop. … But maybe he’s been working on it?
Zak: No Tiger will hurt, for sure, but that’s only because we get so little of Tiger, it’s genuinely fun to watch him hit every shot on an unknown course. The good thing is they already found the wrinkle they need: Chuck. Barkley is so damn entertaining, and even doubly so with a golf club in his hands. Mickelson coaching him up will be far more relatable for golf fans than anything you see at Tour events.
Bamberger: These things are not for Tiger. He won’t be missed.
Piastowski: The first one needed Tiger. It was always that fantasy golf kind of thing – heads up, Tiger or Phil, who do ya got? But with more players and a team aspect, that kind of went away. Which was fine. The second one was very entertaining. Which I’m sure this one will be. Especially, of course, with Sir Charles. As for a way to liven it up, betting, betting and more betting. Let’s see some heat. Let’s have Brooks call in and bet against Barkley again.
6. It’s Best-Of Week on GOLF.com, our celebration of the game’s standout gear, apparel and gadgets. What’s one golfy item you picked up this year that you’d recommend to your golf pals?
Zak: I snagged a Jones golf carry bag this summer and am in love. It’s as sturdy as you need it to be and so, so light. I’ve walked more rounds this summer than ever before. So much that it feels odd to ride in a cart now. A carry bag sort of inspires the walk.
Sens: I’ve been out with a shoulder injury for eons so I haven’t played much this year, but I got a gander of the FlagBag a few months back — a carry bag made from various golf course flags. That’s an acquisition I’ll be eyeing when I get back to playing.
Bamberger: Ping 1-A putter. The club that launched a trademarked name.
Piastowski: Shoes! I picked up a pair of black Nike Air Maxes. It’s the first time in my golfing life where I’ve actually not looked forward to taking off a pair of golf shoes after a round. I know that sounds like a low bar, but I imagine a few of you know that feeling. Not if I can just work on everything above my feet in my game, I’ll be good!