AUGUSTA, Ga. — Welcome to the Masters morning rundown, your one-stop shop to catch up on the action from Augusta National. Here’s everything you need to know for the morning of April 9.
Tiger staying mum around Thomas
Tiger Woods hasn’t won the Masters in 14 years. As Justin Thomas found out, that doesn’t mean his competitive mindset has dulled.
Woods and Thomas, along with Fred Couples, comprised the first group off the 10th tee at Augusta National Monday morning. On the surface, an enviable pairing for Thomas, who’s making his fourth career start at the tournament; aside from Phil Mickelson, what better Masters veterans—Woods a three-time champ, Couples with 20 top-25 finishes—could a fledgling talent seek for Augusta advice?
Unfortunately for Thomas, Tiger wasn’t in a wisdom-imparting mood.
“Tiger probably isn’t as … I’m not trying to be mean, but he isn’t as helpful as Freddy,” Thomas said after Monday’s practice round. “At this point he [Woods] doesn’t quite give as much information. I’ve picked Tiger’s brain enough around this place that he probably has told me everything he is going to tell me.”
Okay, not quite the “9&8” iciness we’ve seen from Tiger in the past. But also a sign that Woods very much considers himself a contender at this tournament, and views everyone else—Thomas included—as an adversary. A sentiment that could translate to its share of roars come the weekend.
As for Thomas, whose best finish at the Masters is a T-17, don’t feel too bad for the 2017 PGA champ. Not only does he feel confident enough in his own strategy—”I truly do feel like I’ve played this place enough, and even though it’s only been a couple times, I’ve picked up on things pretty well,” he said—Couples was also kind enough to give the 25-year-old the lowdown on his Augusta game plan.
Speaking of Couples…
Couples not playing on retiring…yet
There were whispers during last year’s tournament, in which Couples demonstratively battled his recurring back pain to make the cut for the 30th time in his career, that the Hall of Famer was considering hanging up the proverbial spurs. He turns 60 this fall, and as Woods noted last year, Augusta National is becoming “a long golf course for Fred.”
While Couples dispelled the rumors on Monday of an imminent Masters retirement, he also acknowledged that time is not on his side.
“I plan on playing a few more, but if it keeps playing this long we’ll see,” Couples told the Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard after the round.
Though the tournament and club don’t force anyone to retire, former green-jacket winners are waving goodbye at earlier ages than years past, the course becoming too difficult and the players cognizant of avoiding a “Doug Ford” moment. But to his credit, Couples has been far from a ceremonial player with six top-20s this decade. This year marks Couples’ 34th Masters; only Jack Nicklaus has made more weekends than “Boom Boom” in tournament history.
Rose quells idea of curse
It’s not as forbidding as the Par 3 Curse. But being No. 1 hasn’t been providential at Augusta as of late.
Since the Official World Golf Rankings’ inception in 1986, only three players—Woods, Couples and Ian Woosnam—have won the green jacket while holding No. 1 honors. A fact brought to the attention of the current title holder, Justin Rose, on Monday.
Only Rose wasn’t having any of it.
“[Dustin Johnson] has been the No. 1 predominately in the last year and a half,” Rose said. “So I think the weeks that I am No. 1, it’s really cool. I feel like I haven’t had my run yet where I’ve sort of separated myself as the No. 1 player in the world. That’s a goal of mine, still. So I don’t look at it that way, really, at all. So no one’s really being that dominant right now. I think if anyone’s been dominant, it’s been Rory in the last sort of couple of months.
“Hence, why the ranking between Brooks, myself, Dustin, even going back to Justin Thomas, it’s bounced around a lot. From that point of view, I’m not going to take on that story.”
That, my friends, is one heck of a reverse jinx.
Rose, who owns an impressive track record at the Masters but lacks a victory, does have some extra ammo in this bag this week. Or should we say “on” the bag, as caddie Mark Fulcher is returning after being sidelined the last three months following heart surgery.
“I could have come back at the Match Play [two weeks ago], but I thought why push it,” Fulcher told Golf Digest’s Brian Wacker. “I’m very happy. It feels good to be back.”
Spieth’s Masters odds drop
As you may have heard, Jordan Spieth’s not exactly coming into Georgia on a heater. His last top 25 finish came in September, missed three cuts in the new year and ranks 148th on the season in strokes gained. That’s the profile of a player battling for their card, not a three-time major winner.
But Augusta National has been Spieth’s personal playground, boasting a a win, two runner-ups, a third-place finish and an appearance in the penultimate group at the Masters, and his 70.05 scoring average is the best career mark among those in this year’s field.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that, after showing signs of life in San Antonio at the Valero Texas Open, Spieth’s Masters odds dropped from 20/1 to 16/1, now among the handful of favorites to capture the green jacket.
Except that public figure was not moved because of Spieth’s play, but the play of one ambitious gambler.
Given Spieth’s performance, or lack thereof, this campaign, that seems like a wasted $6,000, especially if historical trends about play heading into Augusta are to be believed. Conversely, if anyone is built to snap out of a slump among the Georgia pines, Spieth’s as good a bet as any.
Masters forecast filled with rain
Forget the Champions Dinner or players skipping shots over the 16th. Circulating menacing weather forecasts is the Masters’ true tradition unlike any other.
Alas, whereas most years the media—bunch of no-good scoundrels, that media—has been guilty of sensationalizing bad conditions on the horizon, the threat is very real this week in Augusta. Monday’s practice round was suspended, the course cleared around 4:00 P.M. Worse, severe storms are expected again on Tuesday, with rain likely hitting on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Before sounding the alarm (literally and figuratively), an entire Masters round hasn’t been canceled since 1983, when the tournament finished on a Monday. Nevertheless, if these forecasts are any indication, we are in for a long, and wet, week. Place your Rory McIlroy bets accordingly.