- Did we expect too much from Tiger? Should CBS have talked about Patrick Reed's past? Where does Spieth's final-round 64 rank in history? Will Fowler win a major soon?
Every week, SI.com's Daniel Rapaport will be answering four of the biggest questions from the week in golf. This week's edition will focus on the the Masters, which was won by American Patrick Reed. To submit questions for the following week's column, simply tweet at @Daniel_Rapaport or @SI_Golf.
Well, so much for Tiger challenging at the Masters. Woods finished in a disappointing tie for 32nd and really never looked like a threat to be in the mix come Sunday afternoon. Did we expect too much, too soon from Tiger? Or were the expectations fair, and his game just didn't show up?
A little bit of both. As we saw first-hand this past week, just because your game is good enough to contend in non-major PGA Tour events does not mean you'll be able to challenge in major championships. The pressure is ratcheted up a few notches, and the misses are magnified—especially at Augusta. At some tournaments, a slightly-off iron approach might lead to an easy two-putt par; at the Masters it might lead to a short-sided pitch off a concrete-thin lie with the green running away from you. Not exactly apples to apples.
As I wrote last week, Tiger had been off with at least one part of his game in each of the events he's played in this most recent comeback. To win or even come close to winning a major, you basically need to be firing on all cylinders. That's why I didn't expect Tiger to get his fifth green jacket, but I did expect him to put forth a better performance than he did. So the public expectation of him to contend at Augusta was premature, but he also just didn't play as well as he did in recent tournaments.
Interestingly enough, Tiger's main problem this week was his iron play. It's usually one of the strongest parts of his game, and it had been particularly strong in the buildup to Augusta. At the Honda Classic, where he finished 12th, he led the field in approach proximity to the hole and fared well in that statistic at Valspar and Bay Hill, too. But at Augusta, he simply couldn't dial in his distance control, particularly with the scoring clubs. A good example of his struggles is how he played the first hole on Friday and Saturday.
On both days, he pounded a perfect power-cut driver into ideal positions, leaving nothing more than a flip wedge to the green. On Friday, he chased a pin on the left side of the green and missed long and left, leading to an inevitable bogey. On Saturday, he chunked a lob wedge into the bunker short and made bogey again. Those errors have nothing to do with pressure, or rust, or feels, or needing more reps, or any other Tiger-speak we've become accustomed too. Tiger had hit plenty of wedges close in his six starts before Augusta. He just didn't execute.
Patrick Reed's past wasn't really discussed on the CBS broadcast, but it's been covered at length in the days since. He hasn't spoken to his family in years, was expelled from the University of Georgia and was reportedly unpopular among his teammates at Augusta State. Should CBS have at least acknowledged his checkered past?
Eh. I wouldn't have been upset if they did, and I wasn't upset that they didn't.
There were some articles this week that slammed CBS for its "reverential" treatment of Augusta National (a historically imperfect place, for sure) and the Masters tournament in general. Some of CBS's sparkling portrayal of Augusta is contractual in nature—the network is required to refer to the gallery as patrons, and CBS' long-standing deal to broadcast the final rounds is contingent upon its continued favorable description of the club. But some argued that it was CBS' duty to give a fuller picture, both of Augusta and of Reed.
I'd counter by saying most fans don't tune in to Masters tournament coverage for a history lesson on the club or a didactic rumination on Reed's character. If you want either of those things, they are easily accessible via a simple Google search, and most post-round articles discussed Reed's transgressions in some capacity. It's not like the golf media made a concerted effort to censor his past, it just wasn't featured on the broadcast, for reasons both practical and philosophical.
Sure, Reed has been far from perfect, but as our Tim Layden put it in his post-Sunday piece, his past is hardly felonious. He did some stupid things when he was younger and he was punished for it, then he got his attitude in check and became one of the best golfers in the world. And as far as his family drama goes, we don't have any clue as to the intricacies of that situation, just as we don't know what the deal is between Aaron Rodgers and his family. When dealing with something that personal and that unclear, I'd prefer to err on the side of silence.
You don't have to like Reed. I understand why you wouldn't. But just understand that there are two sides to every story—especially familial estrangements—and in the case of his fallout with his parents, only one side is talking.
Another thing—it's truly fascinating to see how different Reed is being treated now, after the biggest triumph of his 27-year-old life, than when he burst onto the scene as a Ryder Cup hero in 2016. Back then, Reed was "Captain America," a refreshingly in-your-face competitor that relished the opportunity to stare down Europe's best. Now, he's an enigmatic young man with a checkered past. This Twitter thread from Shane Ryan put it perfectly:
First off, there's the question of the Ryder Cup, where Reed is celebrated. Why didn't that translate yesterday in front of an American crowd, where his primary opponent, at first, was Northern Irish? Why did they cheer louder on the first tee for Rory?— Shane Ryan (@ShaneRyanHere) April 9, 2018
I think there is a double standard. There is an underlying, almost subconscious belief that someone like Reed is acceptable at a Ryder Cup. He is a necessary hammer. But at majors, we long for a player that fulfills a romantic, warmer narrative. Suddenly, Reed is unpalatable.— Shane Ryan (@ShaneRyanHere) April 9, 2018
Where Rory was seen as a hostile force at Hazeltine, he was the favorite at Augusta (and later Spieth, and later Fowler). Majors are for white knights, not the dragon. We are unhappy when the monster we let out of the closet for combat refuses to slip back into the shadows.— Shane Ryan (@ShaneRyanHere) April 9, 2018
But there's a broader question, too, which is why we despise Reed in the first place. If we look at golf history, we'll quickly find that even the legends of the game have been guilty of greater crimes than Reed.— Shane Ryan (@ShaneRyanHere) April 9, 2018
I don't mean to minimize what Reed has done, but it's also true that he was young, and that his sins would (I think) look very forgivable in the biography of someone different. There is so much redemption to go around even for the worst athletes...— Shane Ryan (@ShaneRyanHere) April 9, 2018
...and winning is meant to be the great redeemer. So where is Reed's redemption? Where is the recognition of our hypocrisy, where we forgive so much for others, and have none for him? I have a theory, and it's just a theory, and it's likely very limited. But here goes:— Shane Ryan (@ShaneRyanHere) April 9, 2018
Jordan Spieth's final-round 64, despite a bogey on 18, was one of the best rounds of golf I can remember watching. Where does it rank among the all-time great Sunday performances at a major?
Well, no one has ever shot lower than 64 in the final round of the Masters, so it has to rank right up there in terms of pure quality with any round in the history of Augusta National. And to think, it could have been so much better—Spieth missed three putts inside ten feet, including a birdie attempt at 7, the eagle try at 13 and the par putt on 18. Give him two of those three and he shoots 62 (which would have tied Branden Grace's record-setting round at last year's British Open) and would have been in a playoff with Reed. Now that would have been a round for the ages.
Of course, he didn't make those putts, and he didn't get himself into a playoff. Ultimately, the round will not be remembered as one of the best in major championship history simply because he didn't get the W. Whether that's fair or not is a discussion for another time, but the rounds we revere the most are those that result in trophies (or jackets). That's just the fact of the matter.
Now that we're on the topic, here is a woefully incomplete list of some of the best final-round performances in major championship history: Johnny Miller's 63 at Oakmont to beat Tom Weiskopf, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus; Henrik Stenson's 64 to beat Phil Mickelson at the 2016 British Open; Greg Norman's 64 to beat Nick Faldo (for once) at the 1993 British Open; Tiger's bogey-free 67 to put the finishing touches on a 15-stroke win at the 2000 U.S. Open; Tom Watson's second-straight 65 to beat Nicklaus by one in the famous Duel in the Sun at the 1977 British Open. (One note on that 1977 Open—both Watson and Nicklaus shot 68-70-65 for the first three days, and on Sunday Watson needed 65 because Nicklaus shot 66. Just an incredible tournament.)
Another near-miss for Rickie Fowler at a major championship. Is it just a matter of time before he wins one of golf's four big ones, or will the repeated close-but-no-cigar finishes wear on him?
Rickie Fowler is going to win a major championship, and it wouldn't surprise me if he did it this year. His game—he hits it really high, drives it really straight and putts fast greens exceptionally well—is perfectly suited for major golf courses. He has two top-fives in each of the four majors and proved on Sunday that he can indeed take it low when he needs to on the back nine on Sunday.
One thing Rickie does need to improve upon, and he'd be the first to tell you this, is his play when he's in the lead heading into the weekend. He has won just one of the six events in which he's held or co-held a 54-hole lead, and his record is even worse when he holds at least a share of the 36-hole lead. You'd prefer not to have to come from behind to win a major, though it has been done plenty of times before, so Fowler will want some more experiences closing out a tournament with the lead on Sunday to get more comfortable in that position.
But man, is he close. Like, one shot away. If Patrick Reed's ball takes the slope and falls into the water on 13, or if he lips out that three-and-a-half footer on 18, Fowler gets into the playoff. Given how well he was playing at the time (he shot 32 on the back nine), you had to have liked his chances in a showdown with Reed.
It feels like he's been out on Tour forever, but Fowler is still just 29 years old. Phil Mickelson didn't win his first major until he was 33 years old, and look how that turned out. If Fowler can chalk up the near-misses to encouragement rather than disappointment, he'll get his major soon enough.