Happy Masters Eve, ladies and gentlemen. With so much to discuss before tomorrow’s starting times, we’ve decided to try and cover everything we can with a TFE Roundtable.
Within reason, what would be your ideal scenario for the week? Your answer can be about a winner, something related to the course, the coverage, whatever…
Meg Adkins: Let’s just get this out of the way: it’s Rory completing the career grand slam. A close second would be getting a Sunday final pairing of Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler. Those two have played better golf than anybody else this year—seeing them battle down the stretch would be a fitting way to wrap up the year’s first major.
Joseph LaMagna: As a fan of the sport, I’d enjoy a Rory McIlroy victory and its ramifications.
As an agent of chaos, I know deep down that the most entertaining outcome is Bryson DeChambeau opening the golf tournament with a 64. You cannot convince me that any outcome would be as entertaining as watching DeChambeau take a commanding lead after the first round. Imagine the post-round commentary!
Unpredictability is central to the experience of enjoying competition. DeChambeau is incredibly talented, and his range of outcomes this week is incredibly wide. I fully expect a bad performance from Bryson in the same way I expected a bad performance from Mickelson in the 2021 PGA Championship. But I’m still rooting for Bryson to start the tournament with a bang. So I guess that’s all to say that my dream scenario is DeChambeau shooting 64-86 and McIlroy putting on the green jacket.
Brendan Porath: Rory winning the career slam after making the momentous decision to go for it at 13 (and 15, too!) and narrowly clearing the “tributary” with a mid-iron for the ages. That’s it.
Shane Bacon: Outside of Rory, I’ll go with Justin Thomas. It would be his third major title, which would place him behind Rory and Brooks in terms of this current generation with the most majors and tie him with a fella I’ve heard he knows well in Jordan Spieth.
JT needs a jumpstart to the 2023 season. He’s started off slow once again and his stats aren’t great. Thomas is a player with deft touch around the greens and incredible iron precision. He should dominate a course like Augusta National. We’ve been waiting for JT to have his Augusta moment, and I think a win here would dramatically readjust his career trajectory. It feels like Thomas is currently a tier below Rory, Spieth, Koepka, and even Dustin Johnson. A green jacket would put him in that top tier.
Will Knights: Has anyone said Rory yet?
Do you expect any real drama from the LIV boys this week either on or off the course? Is there one particular guy you could see making things awkward or uncomfortable?
Brendan: Team Reed tends to make things awkward and uncomfortable, whether they intend to (lawsuits) or not (general presence). Patrick also tends to play his best after he’s made things weird, so it would not shock me to see him play spoiler come the weekend. As they always say: beware of the Masters lurker who posted three rounds of 67 at the Crooked Cat coming into the event.
Andy Johnson: I was going to say no, but then the question used the words “awkward” and “uncomfortable,” two traits Bryson DeChambeau possesses in spades.
Joseph: The beauty of the Masters is that the only real drama tends to exist on the course. A refreshing byproduct of phones being banned from the tournament is that fans aren’t content creators looking to capture or create an incident with a LIV player.
At the Masters, the best way to create drama is by having your name at the top of the leaderboard, which is the way it should be. So Cameron Smith is the LIV player with the best chance of creating drama. He has the skill set and tournament track record that would suggest future success. Nobody should be surprised if he’s in contention on Sunday.
Shane: The only person I could see truly making a scene is Phil. I know the Masters means more to him than just about anything else in the game and I know he appreciates what the place and the golf course have done for his legacy. Phil is also smart enough to understand that if there’s ever a place where he can easily make himself heard, it’s here. Phil isn’t one of those young players hoping to have a spot at the Masters for the next decade or so. He’s a past champion who understands history here matters to the green jackets as much as anything. They’re not going to black-ball him for ruffling feathers, and as we saw at the 2014 Ryder Cup, he will ruffle feathers when he feels they need ruffling.
Meg: At the classiest stop on the Class Acts Tour, I expect everyone to be on their best behavior. If there’s another “tee gate” situation, I’ll be shocked. On-course behavior might be the wildcard especially on the weekend when emotions run high and the pairings are out of the hands of the green jackets.
A Tuesday LIV practice round. Courtesy of the Masters Tournament
What are your expectations for Augusta National’s public response to the Model Local Rule at Fred Ridley’s press conference?
Brendan: I expect pretty strong and unequivocal support for the Model Local Rule announcement, and based on some early rumblings here on the ground, that should be what’s coming on Wednesday in the chairman’s press conference.
Will: I’ve written an overly dramatic interpretation of what I believe will happen later today:
At the beginning of his press conference, Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley puts a list of receipts on the media center desk that shows every dollar Augusta National has spent on acquiring land, re-routing roads, and adding tee boxes to combat modern distance. The total is tens of millions of dollars. Then he looks straight in the camera and calls out the OEMs who have made the same nonsensical excuses for wanting amateurs and professionals to play the same equipment and complained that the creation of an MLR ball would hurt their businesses. He will go on to say that the Model Local Rule is a good first step, but he wants to see a distance reduction across the board so courses across the world can stop worrying about the sustainability of the game. There is also a veiled “I’m watching you Big Jay” reference which makes Jay Monahan dip his head in the Global Home moat to cool off.
At the end of the presser, Ridley brings out Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Jack Nicklaus, and they all chant, “Rollback! Rollback! Rollback!” Half of the media center erupts in applause while the other half remains seated, too stunned to move. Geoff Shackelford jumps off his desk into the arms of other rollback fans and crowd surfs to the front, where he and Fred Ridley share golf’s first successful high five.
What are your thoughts on the new 13th tee? Did it need to be done? Will it have a significant impact?
Andy: For a decade or more, Augusta National has romanticized the idea of the “momentous decision” existing on the second shot on the 13th hole. But that shot hasn’t presented much of a decision for a long time, and the players’ comments this week made that clear. Rory McIlroy said, “It certainly puts the choice back in your mind; that you’re never—since I’ve played here since 2009, there’s never really been a choice, if you hit a good tee shot, you go for the green. But now there’s a decision to be made.” Now, with the 13th tee moved back, we will finally see the “momentous decision” coming back. Dustin Johnson said he likely won’t go for the green if he has more than a 5-iron into the green. That might be true for Thursday through Saturday, but what if DJ has a 4-iron in on Sunday and he’s two shots back? Well, then I guess he’ll have a “momentous decision” to make.
As for my thoughts on the 13th tee, it’s a bit jarring from an aesthetic standpoint and continues to create the strange recurring situation at Augusta National where players putt out, turn their backs to the green, and take long uphill walks back to the next tee. My least favorite thing about the new 13th tee is how elevated it is. To me, that changes the dynamic of the hole—players see more of the landing area, whereas when the tee sits lower, the hillside obscures the size of the landing area. The height of the tee box is also going to change the way balls react when they hit the fairway. Balls are going to have less chase to them because they are coming in on a more severe landing angle. I would love the tee if it sat at a similar grade to the original tee, but it seems like that might have been an impossible feat to achieve given the natural topography of the course.
Joseph: I disapprove of the change to the hole. Augusta should have added an extra 100 yards on top of the 35 yards they added just to remind people what a par 5 is.
I wish Augusta had moved land and sea to add 135 yards to the hole. At 650 yards, players would have to hit driver, full long iron, full wedge to reach the green. Baffled player reactions would have made for tremendous content. Tyrrell Hatton might have exploded.
A Herculean effort to add 135 yards to the hole would have been a hilarious trap set for the anti-rollback crowd. You like what you see on TV? This was nearly impossible for the richest golf club in the world to execute. The anti-rollback crowd, which already regularly stumbles into a million ridiculous arguments, would add this to their lists: ‘The problem is with course setups. Why can’t we just do what Augusta did?’
It would have been epic.
Shane: I did a podcast with Nick Faldo last week and he was talking about some of the clubs he used to hit into the holes on the second nine at Augusta. Woods into the par 5s. A 4-iron into 18. You need a different level of talent to win while pulling headcovers and meaty long irons. So yes, I think it needed to be done. I will never forget that tee shot Bubba hit on the 13th in 2014. At first, it looked like he’d just lost the Masters. Instead, he’d hit such a good shot that he had wedge in. The 13th is too important a golf hole to have guys hitting short irons and wedges. Bring back the long irons and let’s see the caddie-player conversations begin just like the good doctor wanted.
Max Homa and Justin Thomas on No. 13 at Augusta National. Courtesy of the Masters Tournament
Aside from the new tee at 13, what’s one hole or aspect of the course you’re especially keen to watch this week? It does not have to be “new” or a change.
Shane: I always love watching the strategy at No. 3. The modern player just busts driver up towards the green, but depending on the hole location, being oh-so-close can make that pitch shot as tough as any on the golf course.
I find No. 3 one of the real decision-making moments from a tee shot that the players face for the week and I love that bogeys tend to come as quick as birdies.
Will: Given the weather forecast, I’m extremely curious to see what the golf course will look like on Saturday and if the tournament will get any play in at all. If they do persevere through the rain, I think this would be the wettest Masters in some time. We’ve had stoppages in recent years, but this weekend’s forecast calls for steady rain without any downpours or lighting. That could mean a very wet golf course and a tournament in which carry distance plays an even bigger factor than normal. Bombs away, gentlemen.
Is there a “star” or name player you think will bomb out this week?
Shane: I’m nervous for Rory. He’s facing a level of pressure that nobody else in professional golf has to deal with. Tiger doesn’t face this pressure. Jordan doesn’t feel this pressure when he arrives at the PGA Championship. It’s a brutal formula: the biggest golf tournament in the world plus the best player of this generation plus trying to complete the career Grand Slam. That will never be easy for Rory.
I think about Phil Mickelson over the years at the U.S. Open. He was so good at playing U.S. Opens in his prime, yet, as he aged, the closer he got to the lead on Sunday, the tougher it became for him to just play. I’ll never forget the bogey he made on the 13th at Merion in 2013. One of the three best wedge players in the history of the game couldn’t muster up a simple 3 on a hole barely playing 100 yards. That isn’t taking the wrong club. That’s pressure.
Joseph: Bryson DeChambeau.
Meg: For the sake of the Twitter servers, I’ll say the Spieth resurrection will have to wait until the next time the final round falls on Easter.
Will: Sorry, Shane, but I just don’t think Justin Thomas is going to magically figure it out before Thursday morning. I’m not saying he’s going to miss the cut, but JT has finished in the top 25 in each of the last six Masters Tournaments and I think that streak ends this year. A T-40 counts as bombing out, right?
Andy: Tiger is the one true star, and Scheffler, Rahm, and Rory are in a category right below him. So if we are allowed to dip into the third tier of “stars,” I will take Viktor Hovland. Everything about his golf game should mesh with Augusta National, except for one very important skill: his short game. The iconic Augusta National champions are exemplary iron players, and so is Hovland, but regular Masters contenders can also get up and down from inside a phone booth. Tiger, Phil, Olazabal, etc. are wizards around the green. Hovland has improved a ton around the greens, but Augusta National presents extremely difficult recovery shots from perfect lies. The very best short-game magicians thrive in those spots. Hovland will have to figure out how to do that, too, if he wants to succeed at Augusta.
What are your expectations for Tiger Woods?
Will: Tiger knows Augusta National better than anyone in the field, but the forecast gives me pause. I think a firm and fast golf course would allow him to stand out in a way that won’t be possible with wet fairways and surrounds. T-30.
Shane: He will make the cut. He will fire a round in the 60s. And as we’ve seen at all three starts from Tiger since the accident when he’s made the weekend, things get significantly tougher the longer he’s out there. 78-78 on the weekend here a year ago. A 79-WD after making the cut at Southern Hills. And even at Riviera this year, it was a final round 73 that dropped him 19 spots on the leaderboard. I’ll go a little better than Will and say T-22.
Meg: A made cut and four rounds of golf free of grimaces or limping is my standard response for this stage of Tiger’s career, and I’m not going to jinx things by asking for anything more.
Brendan: He will make the cut again, and then it will become a slog as the temperatures drop and he’s forced to walk another 36 holes. He looks to be in better shape than last year, which is not exactly saying he’s ready to take on the world. But we all know he has all the shots and course knowledge to get around even with his physical limitations. On Monday watching him vary trajectories based on the different pin spots on the 13th green from a potential layup spot was a highlight of early practice round viewing.
Andy: He’s going to play well. The more important question is: how long will he play well? Tiger looked way better at Riviera than he did at Augusta last year. Does that mean we can see him continue strong play through the weekend? If so, a top 20 isn’t out of the question. It just depends on how well the leg and body hold up.
Tiger in his element. Courtesy of the Masters Tournament
Is there a Masters rookie you’re most closely watching?
Will: I’ll take a bit of a wild card here and say Kurt Kitayama. He has plenty of length to keep up regardless of the conditions and his inaccuracy off the tee won’t penalize him around ANGC. He’s playing the best golf of his career and I wouldn’t be surprised with a respectable top 20 in his first Masters.
Brendan: While I want to say the new Big Easy (don’t tell my colleague Andy), Adrian Meronk, count me in on the Kitty Kat bandwagon. I think the Kitayama is the most promising option for a course that’s historically inhospitable to rookies. Augusta is somewhat hospitable to wild drivers, which Kurt Kitayama can be, so perhaps he’ll get away with a few foul balls and be able to maintain his good form against one of the season’s best fields.
Andy: He’s a bit of an afterthought as a B player on LIV, but I think that Mito Pereira is an interesting sleeper candidate this week. Through 71 holes he was the champion at Southern Hills, a course that shares some characteristics with Augusta National. Last week, he notched a sixth-place finish in Orlando despite some struggles on the greens. The big-time LIV players will have a microscope on them, but LIV guys like Pereira won’t get a ton of attention. It also seems like the only way for Mito to get a return visit to the Masters will be via a top-12 finish in his first appearance.
Meg: I’ll also be keeping an eye on Mito. Despite his success last year and his near victory at the PGA, the LIV players grabbing the attention will be Cam Smith, Brooks, Bryson, DJ, and Phil. Pereira is the only rookie amongst the LIV contingent, so perhaps his buddy and Netlfix co-star Joaquin Niemann will share some tips on how to navigate Augusta.
Who’s your pick to win?
Andy: I’m taking Rory. It’s really hard to pick against Scheffler but I have a feeling this is the year for Rory. His mindset seems great. He’s enjoying his time at Augusta. Sometimes the storybook moment actually happens.
Shane: I’m going with Scottie. It’s nearly impossible to win back-to-back Masters titles, but it’s also nearly impossible to be this polished at the age of 26. Scheffler has become the Brooks Koepka of a few years ago: when you don’t feel certain about anyone, take the guy that routinely shows up in the biggest of spots.
Joseph: The real Short Game Schef, Scottie Scheffler.
Brendan: I think it’s hard to take anyone over Scottie Scheffler this week. It’s an obvious choice but I think it’s silly or even risky to pick anyone else given his form, brain, and success at the course. There’s no better option.
Will: Jon Rahm. He’s too good to have just one major championship title. It’s time.