Tag: PGA Tour

Measuring Greatness: Jack, Tiger, and the Young Stars on Tour

Jack and Tiger: A League of Their Own

While Major Championships and Tour wins define a player’s legacy, making cuts and recording Top-10’s are the most revealing measurement of success in professional golf. Not surprisingly, Jack and Tiger set the high-water mark for these criteria as well, and they are the standard of comparison when looking at the current group of highly talented young stars.

In the graphic below, Jack’s numbers include the entirety of his career, through his retirement at age 65—and it is particularly impressive that his percentage of Top-10 finishes remains so much higher than any player other than Tiger, even when his twilight years on Tour are included.

Athletes peak at different ages, and unfortunately, injury also plays a significant role. For Jack, his percentage of Top-10’s actually increased throughout his 30’s (his Top-10 percentage was 71.8% on his 30th birthday, and 74.5% when he turned 40). Tiger, on the other hand, built the bulk of his record in his 20’s, with serious physical issues beginning to impact his play almost immediately on turning 30. He lost significant portions of the 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2015 seasons, so although Tiger’s Top-10 percentage stood at 66.0% on his 30th birthday, it fell to 60.4% when he turned 40. And then he lost the entire 2015-2016 season following another back surgery.

Current players are at different stages in their career, so the best way to view performance is by looking at percentages, rather than just the totals. As shown in the graphic below, there is a vast gulf in Top-10 percentage between Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy (No.’s 1 and 2), and Dustin Johnson (No. 3).

Rory McIlroy and John Rahm: Separating themselves from the Field

Jon Rahm, at 27 years old, is only just entering the peak performance years of his career, and Rory, at 33, is at the height of his ability. Collin Morikawa, 25 years old, with the same Top-10 percentage as Dustin Johnson and a significantly higher cut percentage, has virtually his entire career before him. It will be fascinating to track the progress of the current group of talented young PGA Tour stars over the next decade and more, when viewed against the eye-popping numbers that Jack and Tiger put up.

Collen Morikawa: Two Majors at 25

Movers

Although Scottie Scheffler has the look of a much more “seasoned” pro, he only just turned 26 on June 21. On top of his Masters victory in April, and strong performance at the U.S. Open (T2), Scottie has made the cut in 18 of the 20 events he’s played this year while recording 9 Top-10’s (including 4 wins). When The Open Championship gets underway at St. Andrews in July, it’s a pretty safe bet that Scheffler will be on the leader board come Sunday.

Scheffler, Thomas and Spieth: Moving the Needle

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, boyhood rivals with 5 major championships between them, are both at the top of the list when it comes to making cuts and Top-10 percentage. Still in their 20’s, each is a lock for the World Golf Hall of Fame when the curtain comes down on their careers.

Will Zalatoris (No. 8), at 25 years old, has already recorded 6 Top-10’s in major championships. While he has yet to record his first Tour victory, his ball striking is second to none. Should Will begin to putt with more consistency, the possibilities are virtually limitless.

Players with Hall of Fame talent who have yet to reach 25 years of age include Victor Hoveland (No. 20), Sungjae Im (No. 23), and Joaquin Niemann (No. 28).

With so much talent currently on the PGA Tour, challenging the records of Jack and Tiger would seem an impossible task—but it makes for tremendous excitement week in and week out.

LIV

While LIV has picked off 7 of the Career Top 30, closer inspection reveals that the Tour hasn’t given up a whole heck of a lot. As a group, the PGA ex-pats played a total of 99 events in the 2021-2022 season, making just 66 cuts (66%) along with a grand total of 10 Top-10 Finishes (10%). Surprisingly, the star of the show is Abraham Ancer with 3 Top-10’s.

Mickelson, Johnson and Koepka: 4 Top-10’s combined in 2022

Perhaps it’s mostly related to age, with just one defector under 30 years old (Bryson DeChambeau). Two are soon to be 40 (Louis Oosthuizen–39 and Dustin Johnson–38), Sergio is 42, and Phil just turned 52.

Phil and Dustin have already punched their ticket to the World Golf Hall of Fame, but with only 1 major and 6 Tour wins, Sergio has become an extreme long shot (although his 22 worldwide wins give him an outside chance). Pat Reed with 1 major and 9 Tour wins, has removed himself from any consideration. Koepka, with 4 major championships, has closed out his PGA Tour career with a total of  only 8 wins—so his chances of getting to the Hall are now very much in doubt.

The Saudi’s have paid a boatload of money with this venture, but the quality of their purchases have thus far been questionable to say the least.          

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LIV Golf: Patrick Reed to Assume Bad Guy Role

LIV: Patrick Reed—The New Bad guy in Town

With Patrick Reed becoming the latest big name to join LIV Golf, Phil Mickelson will have to relinquish the bad-guy role he’s been shouldering thus far. Phil can only claim a few months of questionable decisions and unfortunate remarks after decades of good deed and immense popularity. Reed, on the other hand, can point to a vast resume of unsavory incidents and eyebrow-raising episodes going back a great many years.

Even the swarthy new look that Phil introduced for the LIV event in London, and the testy attitude he displayed at the U.S. Open press conference, won’t change the fact that he will eventually return to his natural nice guy habitat. And while Reed has not done or said anything recently to draw the spotlight, you can be sure it won’t be long—and the media will have an enormous reservoir of ammunition to work with.

Bethpage Black, Farmingdale, NY

The Incidents

Most everyone is aware that Reed has been called out a number of times over the years for skirting the rules to improve his lie and gain an advantage on the field. The first was in 2016 during the Barclays Championship at Bethpage, when he was faced with a 300-yard second shot from heavy rough on the long par-5 13th hole. The ball was sitting down, and it was clear that Reed would have no choice but to lay back with an iron. After placing a wedge behind the ball 4-5 times as if preparing to hit the shot, all the while depressing the tall grass, he suddenly reached into his bag and whipped out a wood—an option that was originally out of the question—and striped it down the fairway to set up a short approach. He didn’t receive a penalty, because there was no official near-by and his playing partners didn’t see it.

Peter Kostis: “By the time he was done, he hit a freaking 3-wood out of there, which when I saw it, it was a sand wedge layup originally.”

2019 Hero Challenge: Building Sand Castles
Golf Digest (golfdigest.com)

Another episode occurred at the 2019 Hero Challenge, when Reed prepared to hit his third shot from a waste area on the par-5 11th hole. Sand was piled behind his ball, so he placed his wedge behind it and took a couple of “practice” back swings, sweeping the sand away to allow a nice clean strike. This time he was hit with a 2-stroke penalty, because it was simply too flagrant and observed by thousands watching the telecast.

Brooks Koepka: “…there’s no room for intentional rule breaking…Yeah. I don’t know what he was doing, building sand castles in the sand. But you know where your club is.”

The most recent blow-up came during the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, when Reed hooked his approach well left into thick, damp rough. After seeing his ball sitting well down in the grass with little chance of getting his third shot anywhere near the pin, he asked a near-by volunteer if the ball had bounced before coming to rest. When told it had flown directly into the grass without a bounce, making it possible for the ball to be embedded (which would justify relief), he quickly scooped it up and began probing with his finger—determining that it “broke ground” and was therefore entitled to a free drop. He then called for an official to examine the area where he had been probing, and received a favorable ruling. The problem is that television coverage clearly showed that the ball took a low trajectory bounce forward before coming to rest, making the chance that the ball would then “embed” in the ground extremely remote. In light of his prior infractions, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Xander Schauffele: “Obviously, the talk amongst the boys isn’t great, but he’s protected by the Tour and that’s all that matters, I guess.”

Reed then threw Rory McIlroy under the bus, claiming he had done exactly the same thing. Indeed, Rory had taken embedded ball relief on a shot that bounced before coming to rest. The difference was that Rory’s ball had also been stepped on by a volunteer while he was trying to locate it—and of course, there has never been a question about McIlroy’s integrity.

Patrick Reed at Torrey Pines
Photo by WWLG (https://www.whywelovegolf.com)

The Rep

Reed’s tremendous talent and laser focused desire to win have always been unquestioned, as illustrated by the success he’s had at every level of golf—but his tendency for rubbing people the wrong way, combined with an abrasive public persona, have fueled his “bad guy” image. Patrick was born in San Antonio, TX and his family moved to Baton Rouge, LA when he was in his mid-teens. His record as a Junior was outstanding, leading his high school golf team to state championships in 2006 and 2007, and he reached the semi-final of the US Amateur in 2008. After High School Patrick opted to play his college golf at The University of Georgia, where his current public persona began to take shape. Confidence is a critical element for success, and Reed possessed it in abundance. His supreme confidence, however, soon morphed into what might be called “disagreeable arrogance,” impacting team chemistry. Following an alcohol related incident that would not typically result in dismissal, Reed was dropped from the program while still in his freshman year.

Jason Payne (Georgia Golf Coach): “While getting to know Patrick through the recruiting process as a coach, a few character issues came to light, that we as coaches thought we could help Patrick with,” he said. “Once Patrick was on campus for a few months, it became clear that Patrick was not going to mesh with the make-up of the team at that time, and he was dismissed from the team.”

Leads Jaguars to two National Championships
Photo by CBS Sports (https://www.cbssportsf.com)

Reed promptly transferred to Augusta University, where he led the Jaguars to consecutive NCAA Division I golf titles (2010 and 2011), while going undefeated in match play (6-0). The second championship, ironically, came when the Jaguars bested Georgia in the final, with Reed defeating Harris English in the deciding match. The win over English, who also went on to a successful PGA Tour career, burnished Reed’s reputation as a hard-nosed competitor—but his image among peers remained less than stellar.

Kevin Kisner: “They all hate him—any guys that were on the team with him hate him and that’s the same way at Augusta…. I don’t know that they’d piss on him if he was on fire, to tell you the truth.”

Following the second NCAA championship in 2011, Reed turned pro, earning exempt status on the PGA tour by 2013. Throughout his career, Patrick has recorded 9 Tour wins, including a major championship (2018 Masters) and 43 Top-10’s. He has also been outstanding at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, with a combined record of 11 wins, 6 losses and 4 ties (particularly when he defeated Rory McIlroy in 2016, one of the greatest matches in Ryder Cup history).

His successes, however, have been accompanied by statements and episodes that made Reed less than appealing in the public eye, beginning in 2014 when he declared himself to be one of the top 5 players in world after winning his 3rd tournament at 23 years old (he was No. 44 in the World Golf Rankings at the time, although the win moved him up to No. 20). At Bay Hill in 2018 an official refused to grant him relief when his ball landed in a bush, at which point he turned to the gallery and said “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth.”

As P.T. Barnum said, “there is no such thing as bad publicity,” so Patrick Reed and LIV may well be a match made in heaven.

Brooks Koepka Joins LIV

LIV Update

Brooks Koepka and Abraham Ancer have become the latest PGA Tour players to announce their intention to join LIV Golf. Following a dismal finish at the U.S. Open, in the midst of a disappointing season in which he’s recorded only 2 Top-10’s and missed the cut in 6 of the 15 events played, Brooks’ departure does not come as a complete shock. Koepka has always focused primarily on the major championships, and with 4 major wins at 32 years of age, still has the opportunity to add to his record and etch his name among the greats of the game. While the USGA allowed LIV members to compete at the U.S Open, and the R&A has announced that they will be allowed to compete at the Open Championship in July, the position of the powers that be at Augusta National and the PGA of America are less than clear with regard to the 2023 Masters and PGA Championship. Should joining LIV prevent him from participating in 2 of the 4 majors going forward, Brooks may have deep regrets over his decision to take the money.

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2022 U.S. Open: Rory Riding High for Battle in Brookline

Rory Hitting Stride for U.S. Open

With his impressive performance at the Canadian Open, it appears that Rory McIlroy is firing on all cylinders in pursuit of his fifth major championship heading into the U.S. Open. Unlike the PGA Championship where he opened with a magnificent 65 and then glided through the second and third rounds with 71 and 74 before finishing with a solid 68 (8th place), Rory kept his foot firmly on the gas from beginning to end last week, with rounds of 66, 68, and 65 before closing with a sizzling 62 (19 under total). Justin Thomas, brimming with confidence in the wake of his second major championship victory at the PGA, refused to make it easy for Rory in the final round, however. Thomas began the day 2 shots back of Rory at 9 under, and after reeling off six straight birdies from 6 through 11 and adding another at 14, he got to 17 under—within a shot of Rory’s lead. When McIlroy fanned his tee shot into the bunker on the par 3 16th and made bogey, they were tied going to the last two holes—and Rory had a downcast look about him as he left the green that’s been all too common in recent years.

By the time he reached the 17th tee Rory had gathered himself and, deciding to let the big dog eat, unleashed a 367-yard bomb that left only a wedge from 127 yards. He then stiffed his approach to 2 feet, and tapped in for birdie. When Thomas faltered with a bogey, Rory carried a 2-shot lead going to the last. At 18 he ripped another 300+ yard drive to the right fairway, once again stiffing his approach (4 feet this time), and tapped in for birdie and his second consecutive Canadian Open Championship.

When Rory kicks it up a notch in the face of a full-on stress test applied by the reigning PGA Champ, it should give the field at The Country Club something to ponder and have golf fans chomping at the bit.

Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas and John Rahm

The Contenders

Rory certainly looks to be in full control of his game, and it will be shocking if he is not among the leaders come Sunday. He will have a monumental task ahead though, because the field for the 2022 U.S. Open may be the deepest ever assembled for a golf championship. In addition to the red-hot Thomas, Scottie Scheffler, reigning Masters Champion, is at the top of his game as well—and no doubt casting a keen eye toward backing up his win at Augusta with another major championship. The most dangerous player in the field, however, may be Jon Rham. The career numbers Rham has put up on the PGA Tour thus far are eye-popping, and he is past due for his second major. In 120 starts, Jon has finished in the Top 10 an astounding 49% of the time—the highest of any player in the field. In addition, he’s made the cut in 90% of the events he’s entered—so he’s rarely off his game.

Although Jordan Spieth missed the cut at The Masters, he’s recorded a Top 10 in 3 of his last 5 starts, including a win at The Heritage, a runner-up at the Byron Nelson, and a T7 at the Charles Schwab Challenge. With 3 major championships on his resume, Jordan knows how to close under pressure—and his putter is second to none. Although Collin Morikawa has been treading water while making cuts since his strong finish at the Masters (5th), his driving accuracy and precision iron play is exactly what the USGA looks for in an Open Champ.

Jordan Spieth and Collin Morikawa

Based on his dismal season thus far, one might assume that Brooks Koepka will be lacking confidence when he tees it up at the 2022 U.S. Open today. Don’t count on it. After missing the cut as an amateur back in 2012, Koepka, has played the Open 7 times—recording 2 wins (back-to-back in 2017 and 2018), a runner up (2019), 2 T4’s (2014 and 2021) as well as a T13 in 2016 and a T18 in 2015. Koepka lives for major championship golf, and a win this week would go a long way toward healing the pain of yet another injury-plagued season. Perhaps, Tiger-like, he’ll summon a great performance with sheer will and fortitude.

Based on his uninspired performance at the LIV event in London, and with money no longer an incentive, it will be interesting to see what Dustin Johnson brings to the table at the Open. With so few opportunities to achieve anything meaningful in golf going forward, perhaps Dustin will make a statement. It would seem unlikely, but the talent is still there.

Young Guns: Sungjae Im, Joaquin Niemann and Victor Hoveland

The 2022 U.S. Open will also feature a host of mega-talented young stars on the verge of breaking loose at a major—and you can be assured a few will appear on the leaderboard as the championship rolls into the weekend. Will Zalatoris has already recorded 4 Top-10 finishes at major championships in only his second season on Tour, and 24-year-old Victor Hoveland has recorded 3 Tour wins while making the cut in 58 of the 64 events he’s played (91%). Sungjae Im, also 24 years old, has recorded 23 Tour Top-10’s, including 2 wins and a T8 at Augusta in April. Joaquin Niemann, 23 years old, has racked up 21 Top-10’s including 2 wins, and 25-year-old Sam Burns has already notched 4 wins on Tour (3 wins in 2022).

With McIlroy, Thomas, and Scheffler at the top of their game, and so many bright young stars who are poised to burst through at a major, this U.S. Open promises to be memorable indeed—and we are in for a spectacular weekend of golf.

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2022 PGA Championship: Justin Thomas, Will Zalatoris and Mito Pereira

Justin Thomas: Two Time PGA Champion

The 2022 PGA Championship was one of the most exciting final rounds at a major we’ve seen in a long time. Justin Thomas, looking for his second major championship, roared up the leader board with 3 birdies on the closing nine holes to shoot a brilliant 67, tying Will Zalatoris at 5 under par to force a 3-hole playoff. The first playoff hole was the par 5 thirteenth, and after Zalatoris narrowly missed an eagle putt, Thomas calmly knocked in a six-footer for birdie to stay even. The second was the 302 yard seventeenth, and Thomas drove the green, making another birdie to take a one-shot lead going to final hole. With a beautiful tee shot and solid approach, he two-putted for par and the Wanamaker trophy as Zalatoris’ birdie effort failed to fall. With 5 birdies on the final 12 holes of a grueling test at Southern Hills, Justin Thomas earned his second major championship in classic style. And while Will Zalatoris came up just short, he maintained his composure and executed magnificently under stifling pressure down the stretch—so you can expect this 25-year-old to be a force at major championships for many years to come.

Another big story to emerge from the 2022 PGA Championship is Mito Pereira, the talented young South American player who led the championship through the first 3 rounds. A costly double bogie on the final hole denied him a chance to win, but the ball striking and putting stroke he demonstrated throughout the week opened everyone’s eyes—and you can be sure he’ll be lifting a championship trophy in the not very distant future.

Focus and Intensity

Justin Thomas

Justin’s victory at the PGA Championship comes on the heels of a solid performance at the Masters, where he finished in a tie for 8th. He has not missed a cut in any of the 13 events he’s played this season, while recording 8 Top-10 finishes. While everyone’s attention was drawn to the fabulous year Scottie Scheffler’s had, capped off by his win at The Masters, Thomas was quietly putting together one heck of a year as well—and then he brought out the megaphone at Southern Hills. With 15 wins including two major championships, Thomas is headed for the World Golf Hall of Fame—the only question is how far he can climb in the record books toward the all-time greats of the game. He is certainly poised for a monster year, particularly with his powerful showing at the first two majors. There is an abundance of young talent currently on tour who will stand in his way, so Thomas will need to maintain the Tiger-like drive and focus he displayed at the PGA Championship to muscle them aside. Justin only just turned 29, and the book won’t be closing any time soon—but his path for posting career numbers to rival Tiger and Jack will not get any easier. He delivered a powerful message to the young guns on Tour though—and it will be a lot of fun to see how they take it.

Will Zalatoris: Consummate Ball Striker

Will Zalatoris  

Will Zalatoris has not recorded a win on the PGA Tour yet, but it won’t be long—and once the dam breaks, watch out for the flood. Just a few months beyond his 25th birthday, this Dallas Texas native can flat out play. After making the cut in all 16 events he entered on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020, with 10 Top-10’s including a win, Will earned his PGA Tour card and recorded a T6 in his first event—the 2020 U.S. Open played at Winged Foot in the Fall. In his first season on tour, Zalatoris made the cut in 21 of the events he played, including 8 Top-10’s. The big eye opener is his performance in major championships, where he has recoded 4 Top-10’s in the 9 majors he has played. Will has always been long off the tee, and one of the best ball strikers you’ll ever see (currently 14th in driving distance and 5th in greens in regulation), but the putter has always held him back (in 2020 he ranked 170th on tour in putting)—so he went to work on the practice green where the effort paid immediate dividends as he rolled his ball beautifully at Southern Hills. If Will’s putting continues to come around with the game he plays tee-to-green, it will be an explosive combination, and it should come as no surprised if he blows away the U.S Open field at The Country Club in June.

Mito Pereira: Big Things To Come

Mito Pereira

Virtually unknown in the U.S. prior to bursting onto the scene at Southern Hills, Pereira’s outstanding play came as no surprise to golf fans in his native Chile. After winning multiple junior titles, including a victory on the Chilean Professional Tour in 2013 as an Amateur, Mito climbed to number 5 in the official World Amateur Golf Rankings in 2015 at twenty years old. After some time on the Latinoamerica Tour, Pereira joined the Korn Ferry Tour in 2021, and recorded 9 Top-10’s, including 3 wins, earning his Tour card for the 2022 season. Thus far Mito has made the cut in 14 of the 19 events he has played, but showed signs that his game was heating up prior to the PGA with a T13 at the Valero Texas Open and a T17 at the Byron Nelson, where he opened with a 64 in the first round. Pareira currently ranks 4th on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation, but 143rd in putting—a pretty clear indicator of why he hadn’t had more success coming into the PGA. He certainly putted well at Southern Hills, particularly under pressure. With his ball striking ability and the experience gained by contending at a major championship on Sunday, look for Mito to begin appearing among the leaders at PGA events on a regular basis (along with his countryman, Joaquin Niemann, who is due to brake out at a major championship in the near future).

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Rory Puts the Pedal Down at Southern Hills

Rory looks for 5th Major

Rory kicked into gear at the opening round of the PGA Championship on Thursday, and threatened to run away from the field when he moved to 6 under par through the first 14 holes. At that point he held a 3 shot lead over his closest competitor, Will Zilitoris, and it brought to mind the famous Bobby Jones quote about Jack Nicklaus “playing an entirely different game, and one which I’m not even familiar with.” At the end of the day Rory finished with a brilliant 5 under round of 65, one shot ahead of Zilatoris and Tom Hoge. In recent years we’ve seen only flashes of what Rory can do when firing on all cylinders, most notably the final round at the Masters in April when he tied the course record with a sizzling 64 and finished runner up to Scottie Scheffler.

The dry spell Rory’s had at the majors has been marked by extremely slow starts, breaking 70 in the first round only 5 times in the 24 major championships played since 2016—his best being 67 at Winged Foot in the 2020 U.S., where he finished in a tie for 8th. The difference yesterday was the putter, which came to life on the silky-smooth greens of Southern Hills with 7 birdies—the most in the field. The last time Rory shot 65 in the opening round at a major was the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, where he went on to a thumping 8 shot victory over runner-up Jason Day.

Rory: Hitting the Gas

Friday’s Challenge

The players who tee off early in the day have a considerable advantage, with relative calm and greens that are at least somewhat receptive. In Oklahoma the wind generally kicks up pretty good in the afternoon, and the greens start to dry out and firm up, making the already challenging approach shots at Southern Hills that much more difficult. Thursday’s round was true to form, as only five players broke par in the afternoon, in contrast to those teeing off in the morning where 17 players finished under par. Rory will be teeing it up in the afternoon on Friday, and he will need to pay close attention to his ball flight while maintaining the crisp ball striking that has been his trademark. Having grown up in Ireland however, and with an Open Championship under his belt, Rory is no stranger to the wind—so we will likely see another magnificent performance tee to green. The key will be the putter, and if Rory continues to roll it the way he did yesterday, chances are pretty good that he’ll put some additional distance between himself and the rest of the field going to the weekend.

Southern Hills: Bearing its Teeth

The Guy’s to Beat

Justin Thomas fired an opening round 67 in the tough conditions on Thursday afternoon, and followed that up with another solid 67 on Friday morning to finish at 6 under going to the weekend. Going for his second major championship, and one of the top ball strikers on Tour, Justin is the guy that will give Rory his biggest test. A few talented young stars hoping to notch their first major championship are also among the leaders, most notably Will Zilatoris (a shot behind after the first round), and Juaquin Niemann who fired a 68 in the tough conditions on Thursday afternoon. Brooks Koepka, lurking at 2 over par after a solid 67 on Friday morning, is poised to make a run as well (and like Rory, bag his 5th major championship).

Justin Thomas: Applying the Pressure

The Weekend

The great thing about major championships is that they really don’t start until Saturday. The conditions will be as difficult as they can get, and the pressure will continue to mount until reaching a peak on the back 9 Sunday afternoon. And the 2022 PGA is shaping up to be one of the great ones.

Video Highlights: Rory Round 1
Image by BBC (https://www.bbc.com/)

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Rory McIlroy: Primed and Ready for Southern Hills

Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa Oklahoma

With all of the attention on Tiger’s second comeback start, speculation about what Phil has up his sleeve with LIV, and Scottie Scheffler adding a green jacket to his already fantastic 2022 season, Rory McIlroy is once again keeping a low profile as we head toward the PGA Championship. It’s been an eight-year draught for Rory in the major championships, but his game is primed and ready for an assault on Southern Hills—and it really should come as no surprise if he is raising the Wanamaker trophy on Sunday afternoon.

Rory: Primed and Ready

The Early Years (2006-2010)

Rory exploded onto the golf scene all the way back in 2006, when at 17 years old he won the European Amateur Championship and rose to No. 1 in the Amateur World Golf Rankings, earning a place in the field for the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie. Unknown in American circles, he immediately turned heads with a first round 68 (a shot ahead of Tiger), made the cut and took home the Silver Medal as low amateur. Aaron Oberholser, one of the best players on the PGA Tour at the time, was paired with McIlroy on Saturday. When asked what he thought after the round, Oberholser said “I watched him hit his opening tee shot and thought: ‘Man, who is this kid?’ He went on to describe Rory’s approach shot in the cold wind on the 4th hole: “He took the nine, put the ball back in his stance and the shot made a sound I’ll never forget. At that point I’d only ever heard one player make that sound with their irons: Tiger Woods. He just hit it so clean, so crisp and there was so much effortless speed at the bottom of the swing. The way he compressed the ball was unlike anything I’d ever seen apart from Tiger.”

Young Phenom
Image by Irish Golf Desk (https://www.irishgolfdesk.com/)

After competing as a member of the European Walker Cup team at Royal County Down, Rory turned pro and made the cut in 6 of the 8 tournaments he entered on the European Tour that year including two Top-10’s. In 2009 he recorded his first professional win at the Dubai Desert Classic while still a teenager (Rory turned 20 in May of 2009), and showed his pedigree by making the cut in all four major championships, including a T20 at The Masters, a T10 at the U.S. Open and a T3 at the PGA Championship. In 2010 Rory won his first PGA Tour Event at Quail Hollow, and continued his strong play at the majors with a T3 at the Open Championship and another T3 at the PGA.

Domination (2011-2015)

In 2011 Rory began to flex his muscle, adding another European Tour win at the UBS Hong Kong Open, and then followed up with an eight-shot victory in the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, dominating the field. From 2011 through 2015, McIlroy won 4 major championships (2011 U.S. Open, 2012 PGA, 2014 PGA, 2014 Open Championship), 2 World Golf Championships, 5 European Tour events, and 4 regular PGA tournaments. He also recorded 41 additional worldwide Top 10’s, led the European Tour in scoring average three times (‘11, ‘14, ‘15) and ranked first in scoring on the PGA Tour in scoring average twice (‘12, ‘14). At 26 years old, with 15 worldwide wins including 4 major championships, Rory entered the prime of his career on a pace that would put him with Jack and Tiger—if he could maintain it.

Dominating the Field

Cruise Control (2016-2021)

McIlroy has not won a major since his victory at the 2014 PGA Championship and given his monumental talent, that is almost impossible to believe. Rory is one of the nicest young men you will ever meet, and perhaps that is a contributing factor. Jack and Tiger were both cut from the same cloth, with a singular drive where winning (particularly major championships) was their central focus to the exclusion of just about everything else—and opponents were given no quarter should they foolishly try to stand in the way. Rory is different, he seems to view golf as a friendly game that he loves to play, and his fellow competitors as a bunch of guys that he would like to beat—but if not, well that’s OK too.

While Rory hasn’t recorded any major titles since 2014, his over-all record through the past six years is second only to Dustin Johnson. Since 2016 he has recorded 12 wins (9 PGA Tour and 3 European Tour), 12 Major Top-10’s, 32 PGA Tour Top 10’s, won the FedEx Cup, and made the cut in 87% of the tournaments he entered. For comparison, while Brooks Koepka won 4 majors, he recorded only 3 regular tour wins with 26 Top-10’s, and made the cut in 79% of the tournaments he entered over the same period.

Keep in mind that while Rory has been on tour for a long time, he only just turned 33 this month, and his talent and ability have not diminished in the least—so if he decides to turn off the cruise control and put the pedal to the metal, the field will be scrambling for cover.

Enjoying the Game

The Possibilities

Rory is coming off a runner-up at The Masters, where he closed with a spectacular 64 on Sunday and followed up with a 5th place finish at the Wells Fargo Championship. He currently stands 2nd on tour in scoring average, and 8th in driving distance. The only thing holding Rory back is the putter, where he currently ranks 81st on tour—but that can change in a heartbeat (he ranked 20th in 2021). The level of talent on the PGA may well be the highest it has ever been, with young stars like Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, John Rahm, and Justin Thomas—but if Rory decides to kick it he can tap a gear that only Jack and Tiger ever possessed. And if that happens this week at Southern Hills, the field is in big trouble. Rory looks like he’s ready to go, and it is high time he add a fifth major championship to his resume. It’s also great when nice guys finish first every now and again—and let’s hope it is at the 2022 PGA.

Check out Rory’s swing on the GolfDay YouTube Channel
Image by BBC (https://www.bbc.com/)

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The 2022 PGA Championship: Tiger and Phil Update

Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa Oklahoma

Tiger still plans to make his tee time on Thursday at the PGA Championship, while Phil has cancelled—opting instead to remain behind his curtain of silence. This is only the fifth time in the last sixty years that a major champion has failed to defend his title. Three of the previous four were due to injury (Art Wall-1960, Tiger-2008, Rory-2015) and the fourth was the 2000 U.S. Open, when Payne Stewart was tragically killed in a plane crash. While the reason Phil has abruptly pulled out of the PGA is shrouded in mystery, the unfortunate result will be further damage to his image and legacy.

Tiger, on the other hand, has once again done the seemingly impossible, playing the Masters last month—and making the cut in his first start in more than year while favorites like Koepka, Spieth and Xander Schauffele were packing up and heading home on Friday. The odds makers will no doubt make Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm the favorites to win, but the overwhelming majority of fans will tune in to see the old guy—so let’s take a look at his chances.

Tiger and Phil

Tiger

Southern Hills will put far less stress on Tiger’s leg than the constant climbing at Augusta National, and 5 weeks of recovery between starts will undoubtedly help. Completing four rounds at a major championship, and the certainty that his body can still perform at the highest level of tournament competition, is also a tremendous step forward. The big question is—how much did Augusta take out of him? It was impossible to miss the pain he was playing through, particularly on Saturday and Sunday. Pushing through pain, however, is nothing new to Tiger (winning the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg comes immediately to mind). He also gave up a lot of distance off the tee at Augusta (Tiger averaged 285 yards, in comparison to McIlroy who led the field at 318). On the other hand, Scottie Scheffler was twenty yards behind Rory at 298 yards—and he’s wearing a green jacket (he did pump it up to 311 on Sunday, however). Power has always been synonymous with Tiger, but what set him apart from the moment he came out on Tour was mental toughness and an unmatched ability to focus, most notably on the greens where it matters the most. The number of clutch putts Tiger has drained over the course of his career is impossible to count. On Thursday and Friday at the Masters, he putted like the Tiger we are accustomed to seeing with 24 putts on Thursday and 28 on Friday. The weekend was a different story though, with 36 putts on Saturday and 34 on Sunday—where it appeared that the pain and discomfort finally impacted Tiger’s ability to maintain focus.

Southern Hills is a long course at 7,481 yards from the tips, but while length off the tee will certainly provide an advantage, the challenge will be taming extremely firm and fast greens with diabolical fall-offs to very tight lies. And that is where Tiger is always at his best. Keep in mind as well that Tiger won the PGA at Southern Hills in 2007, so he will have pretty good karma when he tees it up on Thursday. And something tells me Tiger will have a bit more juice on his tee ball in his second comeback start. The key will be the putting though, and how he feels physically heading into the weekend. Everyone has seen Tiger literally “will” the ball into the hole—particularly when a major championship is on the line. While winning may seem like a long shot, remember that this is Tiger—where everything is possible.

A Will to Win

Phil

The absence of a public statement from Phil leaves only speculation with regard to his sudden withdrawal from the PGA. The Alan Shipnuck “tell-all” book on Phil is scheduled for release two days prior to the start of the championship, so perhaps Phil believes that his absence will result in less public attention to the book. This doesn’t seem to be a likely reason, however, since the release date has been set for some time now. Some are saying that Phil may feel his game simply isn’t sharp enough after such a long lay-off from tournament competition. This wouldn’t appear to be a factor either, since he’s had plenty of time to practice over the past few months, and he could have pulled out weeks ago. The prevailing conjecture is that Phil is annoyed because the Tour denied his application for a waiver to compete in the LIV event this summer in London, and he is trying to exact some retribution. Unfortunately, if that is the case this will only add to the damage Phil’s image has sustained over the past few months. One thing is certain, the media frenzy and pressure on Phil as defending Champion has been building for some time, and would have reached a boiling point by the time the first round of the tournament got under way.

It’s possible that the confluence of events created an atmosphere where Phil just felt he could not perform to the standard he expects from himself, and he felt it was best for the other players as well to avoid a media circus. Still, it is a blow to his faithful fans who have stood behind him all these years, and were no doubt ready to cheer him on—win or lose.

Will Not Defend

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World Rank Top 30: The Changing Face of Golf

Young Guns

There are seven players among the top 30 in the world golf rankings who have yet to hit their 26th birthday. Everyone is buzzing about 25-year-old Scottie Scheffler after his dominant victory at The Masters. And Collin Morikawa (also 25), with 5 tour wins including two major championships, lived up to everyone’s expectations by closing with a brilliant final round 67 to record a Top 5. But the next big story may well come from one of the three youngest members of this talented group. Sungjae Im, who just turned 24, has accumulated 24 Top 10 finishes in his early career, the same number as Morikawa and one more than Scheffler. Also keep a sharp eye on Victor Hoveland and Joaquin Niemann. Niemann, the youngest of the group at 23, has recorded 20 Top 10’s including a pair of wins. Hoveland, at 24, has notched 3 wins on tour with 12 additional Top 10’s, and has made the cut in 54 of his 60 Tour starts (90%), a figure that surpasses even Morikawa (89%). So, who are these guys? Flying under the radar, they each learned the game abroad, and followed different paths on their journey to the PGA Tour—but don’t be too surprised if one of them suddenly jumps up and flashes across your screen on Sunday next month at the PGA Championship.

Sungjae Im (Age 24/No. 19 in the World Rankings)

Sungjae Im grew up in South Korea. Both of his parents were avid golfers, so he became interested in the game as soon as he could walk and started hitting balls at 4 years old. Sungjae had the gift, so he attended the Korea National Sport University and was named to the South Korean National team in 2014 at 16 years old. In 2015, he received an exemption to play an event on the Japan Tour, and shortly thereafter turned pro. In 2017, at 18 years old, Sungjae played a full year on the Japan Tour and made the most of it, finishing among the top 15 on the money list—which gained him eligibility for the 2018 Korn Ferry Tour season. Blazing right out of the blocks, Sungjae won the first tournament he entered, finished second the following week, and ended the year at No.1 on the Korn Ferry money list while taking home Player of the Year honors—which qualified him for the 2019 PGA Tour season. Talk about a fast track.

Sungjae Im

Once again Sungjae jumped on his opportunity, entering 35 Tour events while making the cut in 26 of them. He recorded 7 Top 10’s, including a T4 in his first event (The Safeway Open), T3 at Bay Hill and a T4 at the Valspar, culminating in a trip to the Tour Championship. In 2020 he had to back it down to 26 events (due to COVID cancellations), but made the cut in 21 of them while recording his first Tour win (The Honda), and tacked on 6 additional Top 10’s—once again getting to the Tour Championship, where he finished 11th.

In 2021 Sungjae ramped back up to 35 Tour events, and made the cut 29 times. His win at the Honda got him into the Masters, and again he made the most of it by finishing in a tie for second behind Dustin Johnson. He then added a T5 at the Tournament of Champions, a 3rd at the BMW, and his third consecutive trip to the Tour Championship.

As the 2022 season rolls through the Spring, Sungjae shows no sign of slowing down. He’s entered 15 events and made the cut in 13 of them, adding his second win (The Shriner’s) and 4 additional Top 10’s-including a T8 at the Masters. With his foot pressed firmly on the gas, Sungjae Im seems determined to add a major championship to his resume in the near future—and based on what he has done thus far, I would not bet against him.

Joaquin Niemann (Age 23/N0. 16 in the World Rankings)   

Joaquin Niemann was born in Santiago, Chile, and he’s the youngest of this stellar group. Like Sungjae Im, Joaquin was swinging a club from the time he could walk (his father gave him a plastic club when he was two years old). Athletics in general was integral to the Niemann family (his mom was a member of the Chilean National Field hockey Team, and his dad played college basketball), but for Joaquin it was always all about golf. He attended a high school for athletes, and the golf program provided him the opportunity to compete in Junior golf championships all over the world—and he won a boatload of them. At 18 years old, Joaquin became the No. 1 ranked amateur in world, and held that position for 48 weeks before turning pro to compete at the Valero Texas Open—where at 19 years old he finished 6th. He entered 11 more events in the 2018 season, making the cut in 9 of them (including 4 Top 10’s) while earning his tour card in record time. In the 2019 season, still only 19 and sporting braces, Joaquin played 28 events—and made the cut 21 times while adding 4 more top 10’s. The following year Joaquin recorded his first Tour win at The Greenbrier (by a whopping 6 shots), joining Tiger, Phil, Rory and Jordan Spieth among the short list of players to win before their 21st birthday. He then added 4 more Top 10’s, including a T5 at the Heritage, a T3 at the BMW, and a trip to the Tour Championship.

Joaquin Niemann

2021 was a breakout season for Niemann. He made the cut in 26 of the 27 Tour events he entered, and recorded 5 Top 10’s, including 3 runner-up finishes (The Tournament of Champions, Sony Open and Rocket Mortgage), while making it to the Tour Championship once again.

The 2022 season is shaping up to be another big year for Joaquin, recording his second Tour victory (The Genesis Invitational) with 2 additional Top 10’s (a T5 at Mayakoba and a T6 at The Farmers). Currently at No. 13 in the FedEx Cup standings, look for Niemann to challenge at the majors this year—and perhaps the PGA Championship will be his biggest moment yet.

Viktor Hoveland (Age 24/No. 5 in the World Rankings)

Born and raised in Oslo Norway, Viktor Hoveland first gained notoriety by winning the Norwegian Amateur in 2014 at the age of 16. He then brought his talent to the U.S., accepting a golf scholarship to Oklahoma State University, where he was named a first team All-American in his sophomore year. In 2018, Viktor won the U.S. Amateur Championship, and became the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world in April of 2019. As the Amateur champ, Hovland gained entrance to the 2019 Masters, making the cut and finishing as low amateur (3 under par). He also competed at the 2019 U.S. Open as an amateur, opening eyes with a T12 at Pebble Beach. Following the Open, Viktor turned pro and made six starts in the remaining 2019 season—making the cut in all six and closing with a T4 at the Wyndham.

Viktor Hoveland

In 2020 (his first full year on Tour), Viktor recorded an early win at the Puerto Rico Open—only his sixteenth professional start. He then added 2 more Top 10’s, including a 3rd at the Workday Charity Open, and capped it off by getting to the Tour Championship. In the 2021 season Hoveland recorded his second Tour win (The Mayakoba Classic), and made the cut in 22 of 24 events he played with six additional Top 10’s, including 2 runner-up finishes, 2 T3’s and a T5 at the Tour Championship.

This year Viktor has been even more impressive with another win (back-to-back at Mayakoba), 10 of 11 cuts made, and 3 more Top 10’s including a T2 at Bay Hill. Currently at No. 7 in the FedEx Cup standings, and ninth on Tour in scoring average, Viktor Hoveland is primed for an assault on the majors—and it would be hard to find a nicer young man to pull for.

As the Tour continues to take on an international flavor, these three talented young men who hail from the far corners of the world are changing the face of golf—and fans will enjoy their thrilling play for many years to come.

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Phil Should Defend at Southern Hills

Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa OK

For the past two decades, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been the preeminent figures in golf. Tiger achieved that status primarily on the extraordinary things he’s done on the golf course—and they are monumental without question. Phil’s legacy has been built largely on personal warmth and family values, as well as his remarkable achievements on the PGA Tour. When the scandal involving Tiger’s personal life exploded at the end of 2009 and continued into the Spring of 2010, there was no question that he would be at Augusta National in April. Yet a few ill-chosen words regarding Saudi Arabia have resulted in a 2022 Masters without Phil. And his appearance at Southern Hills to defend as reigning PGA Champion appears to be in doubt as well. The severity of the treatment Mickelson has received from golf’s establishment and the media is far beyond what would be considered reasonable, so clearly there is much more here than meets the eye.

Gary Player at The Masters
NY Post (https://nypost.com/)

Putting the Saudis Aside

The Saudi connection to the Super Golf League, while less than appealing, is most definitely not an issue that would raise the ire of the PGA Tour to such a degree. Two of golf’s legendary figures, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, have forged ties with golf in Saudi Arabia without creating a ripple in the media. Jack is currently designing an exclusive private course in the Kingdom (Qiddiya), just outside of Riyadh. And Gary Player, who recently joined Nicklaus Design, has been named the “International Ambassador” for Golf Saudi. Yet both took their rightful place as honorary starters at the 2022 Masters, with neither the PGA Tour nor Augusta National voicing a concern of any kind (and Gary even attended the ceremony displaying a Golf Saudi logo).

Qiddiya: Nicklaus Dessin
ASGCA (https://asgca.org/)

It’s Business

At the end of the day, money is at the heart of the matter. The PGA Tour generates annual revenue in excess of a billion dollars, and anything that threatens to disrupt that revenue stream is viewed as an existential threat. While being among the most recognized athletes in the world (No. 12 according to Business Insider), and even with the substantial resources he brings to the table, Phil simply can’t go head-to-head with the Tour. But considering all of the goodwill and excitement that Phil has generated for so many years, it is stunning to see just how far the PGA Tour is willing to go. And seeing Tiger at The Masters was wonderful, but it was painfully obvious that he pushed the envelope too far this time with such an early return. While Tiger is the fiercest competitor the world has ever known, and Augusta holds a special place in his heart, one has to wonder if he also felt pressure to deliver an inevitable spike in ratings—particularly in light of Phil’s conspicuous absence. Tiger most certainly delivered the ratings, and now we can only hope he is able to recover and make his presence felt at the PGA Championship in May.

Phil and Family
Chapelboro (https://chapelboro.com/)

Perspective

Phil has always put family first, and it is commonly known that once an event is concluded and he has given himself to the fans by signing countless autographs, he will immediately head home to have as much time as possible with Amy and his children. And while the rift between Phil and the Tour is essentially a business conflict, the media storm surrounding it has undoubtedly been difficult for the entire family. Keep in mind that Phil skipped the 2017 U.S. Open to attend his daughter’s High School graduation (where Amanda was delivering the commencement address), and they are a tightly knit group. The personal assault on Phil has escalated well beyond business boundaries, and the time has come for the Tour to consider everything that Phil Mickelson has done for the game of golf, and his importance to the millions who admire him as both a talented golfer and a good man. Amy has always stood behind Phil, in spite of his occasional missteps over the years. And they have been through challenging times before—so you can be sure the Mickelson family will weather this storm as well.

Reigning PGA Champion

Getting Back to Golf

Years from now, when the golf community looks back at the greats of the game to honor Phil along with Jack, Tiger, Snead and Hogan, this brief period of unpleasantness will be long forgotten. Now, however, it is time for the PGA Tour and Phil to mend fences and move on. Mickelson became the oldest player in golf history to win a major at the PGA Championship last year, and golf fans deserve the opportunity to see him defend it. What better way can there be to turn the page while ushering in the bright young stars of the future, than to see Phil and Tiger together at Southern Hills in May.

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The Masters 2022: Tiger is Back

Augusta National
PGA Tour (https://www.pgatour.com/)

For the golfer, Masters week means that Spring has finally arrived, bringing a fresh new golf season where anything is possible. Emerging from his long winter hiatus, he’ll grab the remote and tune into “Live from the Masters” for a first look at Augusta National, and to see what’s in store for this year’s Masters. Incredibly, framed against the gorgeous backdrop of azaleas and emerald green, Tiger is confirming that he will indeed be teeing it up on Thursday to go after his sixth Masters championship. And suddenly the excitement level jumps through the roof. Even after hearing that Tiger has been ripping it on the range, and displaying all of the greenside magic he used to win his first five Masters, it seemed impossible to believe that he could actually be back so soon after the terrible accident just a year ago. But this is Tiger, and impossible is not in his vocabulary. It would seem that Vegas got the memo, where Tiger has been given roughly the same odds to win as Bryson DeChambeau. At Augusta, it’s all about the greens, and Tiger knows them like the back of his hand. Winning the Masters is also about confidence, and Tiger wouldn’t be teeing it up if he didn’t believe he could win. There are quite a few talented youngsters in the field this week hoping to don the green jacket, and they will be a lot of fun to watch. But all eyes will be glued to Tiger, including those in the field as the pressure mounts heading toward Sunday. One thing is certain, this is going to be one heck of a weekend—and could there possibly be a better way to launch the golf season? Especially if Tiger were to do the impossible once again, and take home his sixth Masters championship.

Tiger Woods

The Field

The Masters features the smallest field of all the majors, but includes the biggest names in golf from around the world. The early favorite is Jon Rham, followed closely by Justin Thomas. Scotttie Scheffler, who recently moved into the top spot in the World Golf Ranking, along with Cameron Smith, coming off his victory at the Players Championship, each have an opportunity to notch their first major championship win—so it would be a surprise if they were not among the leaders heading into the weekend. But the player to keep the sharpest eye on is two-time major winner, Collin Morikawa. Having just turned 25 years old, Morikawa has already recorded five PGA Tour wins in his short career. Although he missed the cut at the Players, he has recorded five Top 10 finishes in his last eight starts, including three Top 5’s. And with his precision iron play, expect him to have a ton of good looks for birdie on the devilish Augusta greens. Jordan Spieth also knows his way around Augusta, and it will be interesting to see if he can improve on his T3 at the 2021 Masters. Another player of particular note is Patrick Cantlay, coming off his FedEx Cup win last year and trying to break through for his first major championship. Also watch for Brooks Koepka, who always seems to get himself in the mix when a major championship trophy is on the line. And then there is Rory of course, who will no doubt crush the par 5’s and play flawlessly tee to green, so that only his putter can hold him back from securing his first green jacket. It will also be fun to see Freddie Couples, teeing it up once again at the Masters. Somehow, regardless of how badly the back is hurting, Freddie finds a way to bring his best game to Augusta every year. He last made the cut in 2018, but this is shaping up to be a magical yearwouldn’t it be something if Couples could pull a rabbit out of his hat and make it to the weekend?

John Rham, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas

The big story, of course, is Tiger. If he can get himself into the mix come Sunday, the roars will be deafening. And the pressure on the field will be astronomical. There is nothing Tiger would love more than to match Jack’s back nine on Sunday at Augusta in ’86, and add a sixth green jacket while he’s at it.

Collin Morikawa

The History

Augusta National has provided some of the greatest moments in golf history—from Jack’s magical victory at 46 years old in ’86, to Tiger’s win in ’01 that completed the “Tiger Slam.” And of course, who can forget Greg Norman’s monumental collapse at the ’96 Masters, or when Fred Couples’ tee shot on 12 miraculously defied gravity, clinging to the slope above Rae’s Creek as he went on to win. And then there was Phil’s leap, following his birdie on 18 to win his first major, and the amazing approach on 13 from the pine straw when he took home his third green jacket in 2010.

The Masters 2022

Augusta National was founded in 1934 by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, and designed by legendary architect Alister MacKenzie. Built on the site of a former nursery, with unique and abundant flora from around the world, Augusta is a place of unsurpassed beauty. And the Masters, where the giants of golf have gathered each Spring to match their skills, has become the most desirable championship in the world. When you watch the Masters, you are seeing golf history unfold before your eyes. And the 2022 Masters may prove to be the greatest ever.

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