“A Tradition Unlike Any Other”
As I sit here on Saturday night pre-gaming the bar like the college student I wish I still was, I can’t help but reflect on the Saturday at Augusta that occurred and the Sunday that is right around the corner.
There is no doubt that Saturday was set up to be one of the best Saturday’s of the golf season. Why? Because the final pairing is what a lot of people were wishing the Sunday final pairing was, Spieth and McIlroy. First, let me say this, if you listened to the podcast from this week, you know that the main topic Jon and I covered was the state of golf. With the imminent end of the great careers of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the PGA no doubt needs new stars, young stars. The last thing the PGA needs is an in-between star, aka one that is already passed their prime and probably only has a couple of good years left in their career. But no, we are getting young stars. How young? The combined ages of the final paring today is 48. That’s younger than a man in contention on Sunday. With these guys, and the ones just on the outside looking in, Day, Scott, Fowler, Koepka and company, the PGA is in a great place. They have bonafide stars, and most of them are under the age of 30.
Back to Saturday.
Coming in, Spieth was in a familiar spot, leading after yet another round at Augusta. Coming into today, that makes 6 straight rounds. Impressive. However, right on his heels, his playing partner was just a few shots back. This is the marquee pairing that CBS was praying for. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was not as enthused, safe to say, she was being a huge bitch today. Swirling winds, dropping temperature paired with the folks at Augusta not wanting their course torn up for another -18 under par performance they got last year, the course was set up for failure. The greens were rock solid, driving was going to be a chore with the wins, and with the already built-in slopes of the greens, there was no easy approach shot.
Out of the gate, McIlroy struggled, and that was the theme of his day. Hitting balls all over the place, he really struggled off the tee and he was left scrambling all afternoon. At Augusta, if you aren’t going from tee box to fairway, it makes it very difficult to attack the weekend pin positions. Couple that with his recent struggles in putting, and thats a recipe for a birdie-less afternoon, and that’s what Rory experienced.
His playing partner Spieth was not exactly tearing up the course either and you could tell he was visibly frustrated. Fortunately for Jordan, he had a larger buffer. Since it was a tough day on the course for everyone, his up and down performance never put him in a desperate situation. He came out strong with a couple of birdies on the front nine, but pair that with a bogey and he was only able to go 1-under on the front. The back was as big if not a bigger struggle. He seemed to alternate good holes and bad ones, finishing the afternoon at +1 on the day.
The day wasn’t too bad for everyone however, there were a couple of nice surprises out there, the two big ones being Bernhard Langer and Smylie Kaufman. Langer, the oldest player to make the cut and two-time Masters champ knows what it takes to win at Augusta and was able to scratch his was to a 2-under par day. He can’t hang with the field with length off the tee, but his intelligence of what pins to attack and which greens to play it safe on allowed him to have a stellar day. The other surprise, and maybe the bigger one is Smylie Kaufman. Aside from having a fantastic name, he has a fantastic golf game, shooting a stellar 3-under par and is being awarded* the chance to be paired with reigning champion Jordan Spieth tomorrow afternoon.
On to Sunday.
It is pretty clear that Spieth is in control of his own destiny. Going out on a limb here, the 24 year old Kaufman is probably going to be a bit shell-shocked being in the final pairing on Sunday at Augusta, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes out struggling, and on that course, its very difficult to come back from a bad front nine. However, if he does not, we could be in for a dog fight of 2o-somethings on Sunday afternoon. Also in contention is the “old man” Langer. Look, I’ll never count out a wise veteran, especially someone who has won the Masters before, and someone playing with nothing to lose. Obviously, any competitor wants to win, but he is essentially on a victory tour, so he can take all of the chances he wants and be aggressive because he has no pressure.
A few other people I am really going to be keeping my eye on tomorrow will be Hideki Matsuyama and Jason Day. Matsuyama, a 24 year old from Japan, and in his 5th Masters is not out of contention at 1-under. He beat Fowler in a playoff earlier this year in Phoenix, and knows what it takes to win. the pride of Japan, and would most likely be a national hero if he came home with the Green Jacket, has one of the best swings on tour and is no rookie. He doesn’t have as much pressure on him now since he isn’t in the last pairing so I think he is in great shape for a late afternoon run at the title. Along with him, Jason Day is never one to be counted out. He is the number one player in the world right now, and it is a title he deserves. He and Langer really fed off of each other today and when Day gets on a roll, I would not be surprised to see a multiple hole stretch where he strings together a few birdies.
Going into the final day, there is no question that Spieth has a ton of pressure on his shoulders. Last year he ran away with the tournament and Sunday was nothing but an impressive victory lap for him. Tomorrow will be different. The thing I love about Jordan however, he has ice in his veins with the flat sick in his hand. In my preview blog, I picked Spieth to win for one reason: he is the best putter in the field. You don’t have to be able to bomb the ball at Augusta, although it helps, you have to be able to putt and that is something Jordan does very well. I have never seen a guy able to make the knee-buckling 5-foot par putts like he can since a guy named Tiger Woods, who was a pretty good golfer. I thin that if Jordan can keep his head and not get too frustrated when things go wrong or too confident when things go right, he is the one to beat and he’ll retain his title.
My prediction: Jordan Spieth becomes the first person to win back to back Green Jackets while also being a wire-to-wire winner since the ’70s.
Coverage beings at 2:00 pm on CBS.
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