Father's Day Collection | T-Shirts, Hats, Polos, Crewnecks, Q-Zips and MoreSHOP NOW

Advertisement

From Augusta National: Tiger's Potential Ryder Cup Captaincy, Hovland's Coaching Switch And The Best Bits From Tuesday at the Masters

David Cannon. Getty Images.

AUGUSTA — Tuesday of the Masters is our sport's take on Super Bowl media day, just without all the cellphones. The biggest names in golf cycle through the pristine Interview Room and deliver what is essentially a state of the union. How's your game? How's your preparation going? What are your expectations for the week? 

It's a lot of press conference mad-libs, but occasionally a guy will wax poetic on an ongoing struggle or weigh in on golf's civil war that's still, nearly a year after the famed Framework Agreement, raging on without a clear ending in sight. Here, then, are the most interesting bits distilled down for your reading pleasure by a writer who spent all day asking questions in an overly air-conditioned room. 

Advertisement

The Course

The general consensus is a pretty dry winter/early spring has the course as firm as it's been in years. Rain in Thursday's forecast somewhat dampens (pun intended) hopes for a properly bouncy test but with the club's Sub-Air moisture management system and how dry the course is to begin with, one day of rain shouldn't turn this place into TPC Twin Cities. 

"It's in really, really good shape," says Justin Thomas, who's got Matt Minister on the bag after his surprising split from Jim 'Bones' Mackay last week. "It's firm. It's fast. Obviously can't do much about the weather the rest of the week, but I'm sure that everybody on the greens staff is very, very pleased with where the golf course is at."

From Xander Schauffele: "I mean, I was hitting 5-irons that were coming into par-5s that were bouncing, tomahawking over the green, and I was like this is pretty cool. It's been a while. And when this property plays that way, you have to be -- you're in full team mode with your caddie trying to figure out if you're middle of the fairway, you can be aggressive; but if you're not in the right place, you're playing to certain spots and trying to leave yourself uphill putt even if it's 12 feet versus a 4-footer that's downhill."

The biggest change to the course this year was made on the par-5 2nd, which had played as the easiest hole on the course over the past handful of years. The teebox has been moved about 10 yards further back and to the left, with the idea of bringing the bunker on the right side of the fairway and the overhanging branches that guard the left side more into play. Prior to this year, right-handed players could hit a straight shot or even a power cut and get beyond that bunker and have the ball trickle down a hill a leave a long iron in. To achieve that goal this year you almost have to hit a shot with right-to-left spin. 

Additional changes have been made to the 2nd, 4th and 6th greens. There's a new pin position on the back-middle of the 2nd green and the shelf on the right edge of the par-3 4th has been steepened so that shots that miss right will run off further. They've made one of the hardest holes on the course even harder. And Xander Schauffele suspects the greencoats have also done some more tweaking than they're letting on. 

"There's so many small nuances I feel like to the property," he said. "Like the back of 14, that back left pin going over the green used to be good. I feel like they built up that back area so you actually kind of come up-and-down a little bit more to the hole than before. It used to be kind of a low point; now it just kinds of rolls off that mound."

Tiger Woods

Tiger repeatedly detailed the physical challenges he faces and said he hasn't played since he withdrew from the Genesis Invitational because his body simply wouldn't let him. "I wasn't ready to play," he said. "My body wasn't ready. My game wasn't ready. And I thought that when I was at Hero, once a month would be a really nice rhythm. Hasn't worked out that way. But now we have major championships every month from here through July. So now the once a month hopefully kicks in."

Advertisement

Woods was predictably light on details and stopped short of saying there's anything new that he's dealing with beyond what's always there. His back is fused and so is his ankle, and that puts stress on all parts of his body. "As far as my physicality on certain shots, every shot that's not on a tee box is a challenge (smiling). So, yeah, once we start the hole, it's a bit of a challenge."

As for whether he believes he can win…he said what you'd expect him to say. 

"If everything comes together, I think I can get one more," he said. He demurred when asked if he could see himself playing when that's no longer true, emphasizing that right now he does believe it. 

Perhaps the most telling answer of the session came to a question about the Ryder Cup captaincy for next year's matches at Bethpage Black. Woods did not confirm that he'll lead the U.S. side but that seems to be the direction all sides are heading. 

"It's something that Seth and I are going to sit back and talk about it after this event. I said I'm going to be busy for a couple weeks, so let me focus on getting through this week and hopefully getting another jacket, and then we can sit back and talk about it next week."

Woods was not asked about his recent meeting with Saudi Public Investment Fund chairman Yasir al-Rumayyan in the Bahamas. He was not asked anything about the future of the PGA Tour, LIV Golf or any potential merger. I tried to but was not called on. 

Jon Rahm

The defending champion and prized LIV Golf offseason signing was in a cheerful and reflective mood as the presser began with a wide-ranging question about his 2023 triumph. He was less affable after repeated questions about his decision to leave the PGA Tour, which he acknowledged he hoped would help unify the game.

"I understood my position, yes," Rahm said. "And I understood that it could be, what I hoped, a step towards some kind of agreement, yes. Or more of an agreement or expedited agreement. But, unfortunately, it's not up to me. But I would hope it would be something that would help expedite that process. But at the end of the day, I still did what I thought was best for myself."

As for how his preparation compares to last year, Rahm tried to downplay any differences between his pre-Masters schedule of years past and this one. A little less golf, for sure, but that's not automatically negative. 

"You're saying like playing a little bit less is a bad thing. Which I wouldn't think it is. If anything, for the -- if I had would go based on how I feel today on a Tuesday, I feel physically better than I did last year. But then once competition starts, it doesn't really matter. Once the gun goes off, whatever you feel is out the window; you got to go out there and post a score."

He said he feels the same juice at LIV Golf events that he did at, say, Riviera. Or anywhere else on the planet when he has a scorecard in his back pocket. 

"I understand there's less people. I understand the team format's a little different. I understand we're going shotgun and things are a little bit different to how they are in a PGA TOUR event. But the pressure's there. Like, I want to win as bad as I wanted to win before I moved on to LIV. So, yeah, going down the stretch when you're in contention is the exact same feelings. That really doesn't change. The same way it was when I went through the Spanish Open or many other events where the field might not be up to the level that it could be on a designated event, right, that doesn't really -- winning is winning, and that's what matters."

Viktor Hovland

Hovland made the curious decision to part ways with swing/short-game coach Joe Mayo after the best season of his career last summer. He's worked with Grant Waite this year and was seen chatting with Dana Dahlquist on the range on Monday. Why would he make the move after such an incredible stretch? The answer points to the uneasy marriage between a golfer's feelings and his scores.

Advertisement

"I mean, it's one of those things," Hovland said. "Like, I was playing great golf last year, but it's not like I'm trying to change my golf swing. It's just sometimes the game of golf you try to do the same every day, but then things aren't the same every day when you go to the golf course. I took a huge break after last year and when I came back, things were a little bit different and I had to kind of find my way back to where I think I'm going to play my best golf. And even at the end of the last year I still felt like, yeah, I was playing great, but I got a lot out of my game and it didn't necessarily feel sustainable, but it's not like I consciously went in and said, hey, we're going to change everything up."

Things have changed, though. At least that's what the results suggest. Hovland posted four straight top-five finishes to end last season, including the back-to-back wins at the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship; his results this year are T22/T58/T19/T36/T62. His short-game stats have regressed considerably and he's looked genuinely uncomfortable with his swing and his lack of control. He took three weeks off after the Players as he's always preferred to grind away from tournament pressure than try to make tweaks on the fly. Let's see how it goes this week. 

Rory McIlroy

McIlroy's tried everything under the sun in his quest to win the Masters and become just the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam. This year he's opted for a formula of tons of golf leading up, a consultation/therapy session with Butch Harmon…and not arriving on-site until Tuesday morning.

Yes, McIlroy was the last of all 89 competitors to register for the week. The thought process: treat this tournament just like all the others. He's done fine in those. 

"I think I, you know, this is my 16th start in the Masters, so I feel like I've done it quite a few different ways, and I guess just trying to bring a little bit of normalcy into what I sort of try to do week in, week out," McIlroy said. "I play 25 weeks a year, and there's no point in doing anything different this week compared to other weeks, I guess. So, it was nice to -- I wanted to play quite a bit leading up to this just to feel like my game was sharp or, if it wasn't sharp, to try to get it in the best shape possible. I feel like I made a couple of good strides in that direction last week in Texas. Yeah, it's just sort of nice to get home after a week and reset. And then I usually try to get into tournaments either Monday nights or Tuesday mornings, and that's sort of what I've done this week. I came up here last week to play two practice rounds at the start of the week. So I feel like I've already got most of my prep work done. So it's just about going out there and being relaxed and being in the right frame of mind. And the more I can do that, the more I'll be able to execute on the golf course.

News and notes

Min Woo Lee is dealing with an unwanted complication after breaking his right ring finger during a gym session 10 days ago. He said his recovery has been "miraculous" and he was able to play 9 holes without pain. "It's probably the best worst thing (that could've happened). 

—Fred Couples played his annual nine-hole practice scroll with Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods. And, like every year, he have a glowing review of Tiger's game. 

"I think the last thing he's thinking about is making the cut," Couples said. "Now, the weather is -- I don't know how the weather is supposed to be. I don't know if it's supposed to be perfect or not, but I don't think it matters to him. He can play well in winds and rain and all that. Can he win here? You know what, yeah. I just watched him play nine holes, and nine holes is only nine holes on a Tuesday, but he never mis-hits a shot."

Still waiting for a golfer to walk off a practice round with a guy and say "yeah, he hit it like shit. I'll be stunned if he makes the cut." 

—Brooks Koepka said he'll be sticking with the mallet-style putter he used last week at Doral, where he shot 69-77-77. He used a blade style for all five major championship victories. 

—Scottie Scheffler, as he does, refused to allow himself to think much beyond what's in front of him. He enters this week as the biggest favorite since Tiger Woods in 2013, but he hardly seems bothered. 

"I try not to look too far into the future," Scheffler said. "I'm excited about how I've been playing to begin this year. I had two nice wins, which was obviously a bunch of fun. Then I was close in my last start as well. I think it's just one of those deals where all I'm trying to do is put myself in contention in the tournament and hopefully finish it off. I really am not looking much past tomorrow.

Advertisement