Wed, Mar 09, 2016 - Page 18 News List

Golf no longer dominated by single star of the show

NY Times News Service, DORAL, Florida

The takeaway from the World Golf Championships event at Trump National Doral in Florida is that the US Masters cannot start soon enough. Can someone press the pause button and freeze the PGA Tour until April 7, the opening round of the Masters?

The first few months of the wraparound season have seen so many players assert themselves, the lead pack is more of a scrum, as golf rounds the final curve toward Augusta National. Defending Masters champion Jordan Spieth, and Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama have claimed victories for millennials, while another, Rickie Fowler, has four top-eight finishes in five PGA Tour starts this year and a win on the European Tour.

The last few weeks of the wraparound season have seen so many former Masters champions assert themselves, it is hard to settle on one pre-tournament favorite. Three times in the past five years, Bubba Watson has finished second at the World Golf Championships. The first two times, he went on to win the Masters.

Watson, 37, whose runner-up finish on Sunday came on the heels of a victory at the Tour stop outside Los Angeles two weeks ago, should be the prohibitive favorite at Augusta, according to Adam Scott, the winner at Doral.

“It just sets up so good there for him,” said Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, adding: “I am not trying to put the pressure on Bubba, but he is obviously playing fantastic.”

Scott, 35, is also in top form, with two victories and a second in his past three starts.

“I would love to just bottle up where my game has been the last couple weeks,” he said.

Phil Mickelson is experiencing a career renaissance at age 45. He has three top-five finishes in six starts this year, and in each of his tournament appearances, he has posted at least one sub-70 round. A rejuvenated Mickelson has described every round as a “stepping stone” for the Masters, which he has won three times, always in even-numbered years: 2004, 2006 and 2010.

“It is fun because I know that when I show up, I am going to play well,” said Mickelson, who switched coaches after last season, leaving his longtime instructor, Butch Harmon, to begin working with the Arizona-based Andrew Getson.

“I know I am going to hit it well. I know the swing is going to be there,” Mickelson said. “It is just a very enjoyable experience and I know I am going to be in contention and have a chance. The game is starting to feel easy again. The challenge for me is to be patient, because I want instant gratification, instant results and I have got to be patient and just kind of let it keep building.”

Before Jason Day, Scott was the young upstart of Australian golf. At 23 years old, he won the Players Championship, considered a notch below a major title, but it took him nine more years to win a major.

The men’s game is an intriguing mix of young stars, who expect to overpower every par-five or make every putt, and older stars adept at managing their emotions and their games. Every week provides proof that the one-man show starring Tiger Woods has given way to a wonderfully talented ensemble cast.

Twice in his past three starts, Rory McIlroy, 26, has lost after holding at least a share of the lead during the final round.

It would be unwise to read too much into McIlroy’s final-round fades. On a hard course like Augusta, with his fifth major — and a career Grand Slam — in his sights, McIlroy is likely to manage his focus and his game much better. The major-hunting McIlroy already has Georgia on his mind.

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