Masters notebook: Spieth sets high expectations
April 09, 2019
By Staff, PGATOUR.COM
- April 09, 2019
- Jordan Spieth hasn't recorded a top-five finish since last year's Masters. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. – News and notes from Tuesday at the Masters. We’ll update this file throughout the day, so check back often.
WILL AUGUSTA CURE SPIETH?
On one hand, Jordan Spieth’s track record at the Masters would lead you to believe he’ll be a factor this week. In his five starts, he has one win (2015), a couple of T-2s, and the thrill ride of last year’s solo third when he shot 64 on Sunday and nearly rallied from nine strokes down.
On the other hand, Spieth’s recent results are not encouraging. Last year’s Masters is his most recent top-5 finish. In his 22 starts since then, he has one top-10 (T-9 at The Open Championship) and five missed cuts. His winless streak is now 40 consecutive starts, and of his last 10 weekend rounds on TOUR, just one is in the 60s.
So, will his affinity for Augusta National and the good vibes whenever he steps on the course overcome his recent struggles to contend?
“My expectations are high this week,” Spieth said. “I feel great about the state of my game right now. I feel like my recent results aren’t a tell of where my game is actually at.”
Spieth said he’s made some strides the last couple of days with his long game, which he considers to be the primary area holding him back. He currently ranks 203rd on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee.
Spieth is banking on the usual uplift he gets at Augusta National. The first time he played here, in 2014, he was coming off a missed cut the previous week but tied for second. It was a similar situation in 2017 when he missed the cut the previous week and still managed a tie for 11th – his worst result in his five Masters starts.
“Certainly form is important, especially on and around the greens, feeling like you’re in control of your speed control, distance control, your spin control, having all the shots around here. That’s more important, I think, than like overall how you played prior.”
Overall, Spieth recognizes that others are considered heavier favorites. He’s fine with that. He doesn’t mind starting this week flying under the radar, although he knows one thing.
“That changes day-to-day out here,” he said. – Mike McAllister
SOUND SLEEP FOR REED
A year ago on a Saturday, Patrick Reed slept like a baby. He had just shot three rounds in the 60s at Augusta National, held a three-shot lead going into Sunday, and was on the verge of his first major. So yeah, nothing much to dwell on, right?
“I thought I wasn’t going to sleep very well,” Reed recalled. “I’ve heard from the past from other champions and other golfers that have always told me that whenever you have an opportunity to sleep on a lead going into Sunday at a major, you’re going to have a rough night. …
“Honestly, I was completely surprised. I slept so well.”
Reed shot 71 in that final round to win by a stroke. He’d like nothing more than to hold onto the Green Jacket for another year. While his results are not encouraging – no top-10s in his last nine PGA TOUR starts – he likes where his game is right now. Plus, he knows what it takes to succeed at Augusta National.
“Even if you have a perfect game plan, and you know what you’re trying to do around the golf course, you still always are wondering, OK, well is this the right game plan or am I doing the right things, since you haven’t won here. But now, actually having the win, I know what I need to do in order to compete and have a chance on Sunday.
“Knowing that I have to get the jacket back at the end of the week, it makes me more hungry and more motivated to keep the jacket.” – Mike McAllister
ONCE A CADDIE, NOW A CONTENDER
The first time Francesco Molinari walked Augusta National in a competitive environment was in 2006. He was the caddie for his brother Edoardo, who qualified for the Masters by virtue of his U.S. Amateur win the previous year.
“I carried the clubs and prayed that he was going to hit good shots,” Francesco recalled. “… It was great to be here. It wasn’t fun trying to pick club for him. It’s a tough course to caddie around.”
It took four more years before Francesco, the younger of the two Molinari brothers, qualified to play the Masters. He’s made seven previous starts but has never made much noise on the weekend. Of course, he’s never arrived at Augusta National with the kind of credentials he currently owns, as the reigning Open Championship winner and Europe’s leading point producer at the Ryder Cup.
With a PGA TOUR win this season (the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard), and a solid effort in his most recent start (semifinalist at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play), Molinari enters with a raised level of confidence.
“Clearly, I’m in a much different position to where I was coming in the last few years,” he said. “… I can’t deny that. I feel good about my game. … Confidence comes with success, and I’ve had a lot of success in the last few months. I think that the important thing is that I don’t have to let my guard down.” – Mike McAllister
KOEPKA HAPPY TO BE BACK AT AUGUSTA
Brooks Koepka didn’t own a major title the last time he played Augusta National. He finished T11 at the Masters two years ago, but missed last year’s tournament because of the wrist injury that hampered him in early 2018.
How has he changed in the two years since his last Masters appearance?
“I've never been a major champion when I played here,” Koepka said. “Completely different player probably. Understand how to handle pressure a lot better. Understand this golf course a lot better.”
Koepka was still in a soft cast at this time year. It was painful just to get shampoo out of the bottle, he said. He watched last year’s Masters on television, then went on to win two of 2018’s final three majors.
“I think that was something I needed, to really kind of find my love for the game again, something that was important to me, to sit down and watch, I think, and really realize how much I do miss this game, assess kind of where I was at,” Koepka said.
He’s happy to be back at Augusta National, but he also isn’t 100 percent. It has nothing to do with the wrist. That is fully healed. The famously fit golfer has refrained from lifting weights since THE PLAYERS Championship while dealing with fatigue.
A recent diet may have been one reason he’s been feeling sluggish. Koepka limited himself to 1,800 calories per day in an attempt to lose weight.
“You look at somebody like Michael Phelps or somebody like that eating 6,000 or 7,000 calories by lunch time,” Koepka said. “But I wanted to do it and try to lose some weight, and maybe went about it a little too aggressively for just a long period of time and the intensity of what I was doing.”
Koepka has finished MC-T56-T56 in his last three starts. He still ranks 11th in the FedExCup after winning THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES in October and finishing runner-up in The Honda Classic last month. -- Sean Martin
RAHM'S REMINDER: YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE PERFECT
Other than his surprising final-round 76 at THE PLAYERS Championship, which dropped him into a T12 finish after sleeping on the lead, Jon Rahm hasn’t made many mistakes this season.
Still, he found himself apologizing for an off-course bogey at Augusta National on Tuesday.
“I did not account for the traffic to be as strong as it was on a rainy day like today,” said Rahm, who was late for his press conference. “I’m sorry, and thanks for waiting for me.”
As for the golf, Rahm has been full-speed ahead. With six top-10 finishes in 10 PGA TOUR starts, he is 25th in the FedExCup, 8th in the world, and seemingly trending in the right direction. His strength, he said, has been his approach shots; Augusta National has often been called a second-shot golf course, and Rahm believes his iron play has never been sharper.
He still battles his temper, and was asked about it again Tuesday.
“I’m going to try to think of a different way to answer that question for the 10,000th time,” he said. “I really, really don’t know what to say. It’s just the way I am. I’m a very passionate person in everything I do, for the good and the bad.”
His passion got the better of him in his first attempt here, in 2017. Overwhelmed to be in his first Masters, he ran out of gas on Sunday and made two late bogeys and a triple-bogey for a T27 finish. He began to settle in with a solo fourth, including a third-round 65, last year. This week he’ll try again to become the fourth Spanish player to win the Masters after Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, and, most recently, Sergio Garcia (2017).
Rahm mentioned not his countrymen but his friend Phil Mickelson, though, when speaking of the most important lessons he’s learned about playing Augusta National.
“He repeatedly said, ‘You don’t have to play perfect at Augusta National to win,’” said Rahm, whose college coach and former agent, Tim Mickelson, is Phil’s little brother and caddie.
Such self-forgiveness could help Rahm forget his rare bad shots this week, which could steady him through all four rounds this time, perhaps even carrying him all the way to the Green Jacket ceremony at Butler Cabin. --Cameron Morfit
TIGER BRINGS BACK THE MOCK
The last time Tiger Woods won the Masters, he wore a mock turtleneck in his tradition Sunday red in 2005.
He’s bringing back the look this week, with a four-day apparel script that includes Nike’s Dri-Fit TW Vapor mock neck shirt.
“I thought it was a pretty neat look back in the day,” Woods said. “I was probably in a little better shape back in those days, but I had won events wearing the mock. …
“I've always enjoyed wearing them, and you'll see it on Thursday.”
Another player who used to wear mock turtlenecks was Justin Thomas. Of course, he was still in elementary school at the time, with Tiger as one of his golfing heroes.
“I definitely didn't fill it out very well,” Thomas said. “I think two of me could have fit in that mock turtleneck. When I was that age, I wanted to do anything that he did, so it's no coincidence I wore something like that.”
Thomas won’t wear a mock turtleneck this week, especially since he’s an ambassador for Ralph Lauren Polo Golf.
“It's cool what Nike is doing in throwing it back,” Thomas said, “but every company in every team has their own thing. But to be honest, I couldn't care less what he's wearing or doing.” – Mike McAllister
2019 DJ VS. 2017 DJ
Two years ago, Dustin Johnson arrived at Augusta National in ridiculously good form – three consecutive wins, including back-to-back World Golf Championships events.
Then he slipped on a flight of stairs at his rental home, injured his back and had to withdraw from the Masters.
Johnson enters this year again as one of the favorites, albeit maybe not THE favorite. He has a win and four other top 10s in his last seven PGA TOUR starts, but he failed to make it out of the Group stage at the recent WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play as the No. 1 overall seed.
The what-ifs of 2017 still remain.
“I definitely look back at it a lot,” he said. “I’ve got videos of my swing from when I was here in 2017, and so I watch those a lot to try to just get some of those same feels.
“I feel like the game, it’s close. It’s not as good as it was then, but I feel like it’s going in the right direction.” – Mike McAllister
CONNERS’ 48 HOURS
So what has Corey Conners’ life been like since winning the Valero Texas Open on Sunday night for his first PGA TOUR win, one that qualified him for the final spot at the Masters?
He fulfilled all his winner’s post-tournament obligations at San Antonio. Valero, the tournament sponsor, then flew Conners and his team to Augusta late Sunday night. His manager had already arranged for a place to stay.
While Conners mostly rested on Monday, his team remained busy. Family members were planning to come to town to lend their support, so housing was found for them. His clothing sponsor, Levelwear, then shipped some fresh golf apparel to Augusta. Meanwhile, Conners went shopping on Monday night, buying “a couple T-shirts and a pair of pants to go to dinner in.”
Then on Tuesday, Conners practiced at Augusta National; the only other time he’s played the Masters was as an amateur in 2015, when he shot 80-69 and missed the cut.
It’s been a “roller coaster” 48 hours, Connors acknowledged.
“Tried to soak it in and realize that I’m in Augusta right now,” he said. “I’m going to be teeing it up in the Masters. Pretty amazing.” – Mike McAllisterTiger Woods celebrating his win at the 2005 Masters. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
JT TO PLAY MORE AGGRESSIVE
Justin Thomas may own a major title, the 2017 PGA Championship, but he feels like he has underachieved in golf’s Grand Slam events. He wants to figure out why.
“I’ve had a couple good majors, but as a whole I would say I have very, very highly underperformed versus what I feel like I should have done and that’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Thomas said. “If it’s me, if it’s someone else, if I’m putting too much work in, if my mental game is off, if I’m pressing too hard, if I’m being too aggressive or whatever it is.”
Thomas has just two other top-10s in 13 majors as a pro (T9, 2017 U.S. Open; T6, 2018 PGA Championship). When it comes to the Masters, the 2017 FedExCup champion feels like he’s played too cautiously on Augusta National’s venerated grounds.
His best finish in three Masters appearances is T17. He’s been over par in seven of his 12 rounds at Augusta National.
“We feel I’m over-cautious,” Thomas said Tuesday. “I’m playing too conservatively. … If I have an 8-iron in my hand, … if it's the Sony Open, I would be going at the pin. Why all of a sudden since it's the Masters am I going to be aiming trying to make par?”