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Posts Tagged ‘KJ Choi’

With 4 holes to go, the Master’s was a wide open race.  Adam Scott was up by a mere stroke (-11) over Charl Schwartzel and Jason Day.  At 15, Schwartzel hit his 2nd shot over the green and was facing a delicate downhill chip.  Masterfully, he wills his ball just slightly past the hole and made the comebacker for a birdie and a tie for the lead.

Scott however would not give up with a birdie on 16 to regain the lead at 12 under on the shot par 3 16.  Not wanting to be left behind, Schwartzel himself made a magnificent birdie rolling in a putt that was headed nowhere but the bottom of the cup tying up the veteran Aussie.

At 17, Scott was struggling with a wayward tee shot into a fairway bunker way left and behind the trees.  After much consideration he played into the greenside bunker.  From there he blasted to within some 7 to 8 feet from where he putted n for par.  Talk about gutting it out.  In the meantime, playing partner Jason Day, he with the Filipino mother and Australian dad, got tired of just watching the fireworks around him and decided to get into the action.  Facing a daunting putt from quite some distance back, he stroked his putt straight and true and with his birdie he got back into contention just one back with one hole to go.

Schwartzel, playing in the group behind, hit his tee shot into the rough right of the fairway and was facing a difficult shot into a green with a pin position at the right side.  He knew he had to stick it close just to make sure he would not be left behind by the charging Aussies.  He had played brilliantly up to this point and did not want to waste his chance.  Playing 4 back at the start of play at 8 under, he immediately made his presence felt with a birdie on 1 and a hole out from the fairway for an eagle on 3.  He got a bit derailed with a bogey on 4 and then turned quite, until his birdie on 15.  After his lead tying birdie on 16, he did not want to again make a bogey, that would surely pull him out of the race.  So with a sureness in his swing, he hit his ball into the green and found himself around 10 feet away for the birdie.  With one putt to take the lead in the Master’s with one hole to go, Schwartzel, steadied himself and rolled the putt in and stood at 13 under.

In the meantime, Scott played his approach to 18 to within 25 feet while Day, after a brilliant tee shot, was  mere 5 to 7 feet away. Scott’s putt was never really high enough to threaten the hole and ended up with a par for a total of 12 under.  Day, with a chance to tie his playing partner and perhaps not yet knowing what Schwartzel had done the hole before, willed his putt into the hole and pumped his fist, also ending up at 12 under.  He and Scott left the green hoping for at least a chance at a playoff for the green jacket.

Schwartzel though was lying in ideal position in the middle of the fairway of the historic 18. With the pin in its traditional Sunday position, bottom left just behind the bunkers, he knew that the best play was to play the ball just right of the pin and slightly past, allowing the ball to roll back and funnel in close to the hole.  Play that shot he did and was left some 15 feet for the birdie.  Knowing that the green jacket is within his grasp, Schwartzel strolled up the green to the warm applause of the patrons.  Standing over his ball, he knew that two putts would win the Master’s.  But why tale two when you can do it in one?  To the roar of an appreciative crowd, Schwartzel crushed the hopes of the Aussie duo by rolling in his final birdie of the day, finishing at 14 under, two strokes clear of the tied second placers.  Australia still does not have a Master’s champion.  South Africa now has three (Gary Player and Trevor Immelman).

But while many in South Africa would remember Schwartzel’s winning moment the world will remember this Master’s for the collapse of a young phenom.  What was supposed to be a coronation turned into a wake for the last grouping in the Master’s.

Entering the final round with a 4 stroke lead at 12 under, Rory McIlroy, was in full command of his game and writers all over the world were already proclaiming him as the new face in golf.  He had a little hiccup with a bogey at 1 and 5 but birdied 7 to stay at 11 under at the turn, still leading the field.  Then came the dreaded 10th hole. Many say the Master’s really start in the back 9 of Sunday.  This is when kins are made and jesters are exposed.  Traditionally viewed as the toughest hole in Augusta, the 10th this year was the site of a comedy of errors not often seen in this level of competition.  Standing on a 1 stroke lead, McIlroy, leader in driving distance for the week, made a mighty whack at the ball and pulled his tee shot way left and into the cabins.  Pundits say they do not recall anyone ever playing from that area and even McIlroy was wondering whether he was out of bounds.  He then played his second over the fairway, then again over the fairway to behind some scoreboards.  All told, McIlroy left the 10th green with a whopping 7, triple bogey and found himself 2 shot back of the leaders.  Reeling perhaps from the disastrous start of his back 9, he then played bogey-double bogey on his next two holes to end his Master’s campaign.  This was Rory’s Master’s to lose and lose it he did.  After another bogey at the par 5 15th, he ended up at 4 under tied for 15th, comforted only by the fact that he has an automatic invite to next’s year edition with the chance to regain some pride.  Question is, will this tragedy break him or will it make him.  History will soon tell.

This Master’s though should be remembered for a lot of positives.  For one the low amateur, and the only amateur to make the cut is Hideki Matsuyama, 19, from Japan, who got in by winning the Asian Amateur Championship. This validated the decision of the Master’s committee to allow an automatic invite to the Amateur Champion of Asia and served as notice to the world that Asian golf is here to stay.  In receiving his recognition at Butler’s Cabin, Matsuyama expressed pride in his achievement but more importantly wished that his game brought some level of comfort for the people of Japan, still reeling from the devastating earthquake and tsunami.  His play and that of Ryo Ishikawa (the Smiling Prince), who ended up tied for 20th at leas put some smiles into the faces of the Japanese people.

This Master’s is also where the young guns started to show their teeth.  While McIlroy collapsed, he heralded the coming of the likes of Charl Schwartzel (26), Jason Day(23), Rickie Fowler(22) and Alvaro Quiros(28) as serious contenders for major prizes.  For us Filipino Day’s performance should serve as inspiration that we Filipinos can play even in the highest more rarified evels of competition.

But most especially, this Master’s should be remembered as the site for the emergence of a new champion.  Charl Schwartzel while not yet a household name has always been a contender.  While he has not won in the PGA Tour since he joined in 2007, he has 6 European Tour wins including 1 this year at the Joburg Open in Johannesburg, South Africa and is 5th in the Eurpoean money list before the Master’s.  With this win, his first on the US Tour, perhaps 26 year old Charl will now emerge as a consistent contender and play to his true level.

And so we say goodbye to Augusta Georgia for yet another year.  The Master’s has again proven to be the site of a magnificent tournament, filled with drama and crowing a worthy champion.  Congratulations Charl Schwartzel.  You truly deserved it.

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This is the week of the Masters, “a tradition like no other”, as CBS’s Jim Nantz would say.  For the first time in 12 years Tiger Woods is not the odds on favorite to bring home the green jacket.  Phil Mickelson holds that distinction having won 4 of the last 7 stagings of this event, including last year, and winner last week of the Shell Houston Open.  So who do I think will win this year’s edition?  In no particular order my top 5 are:

 

1.  Phil Mickelson – Can’t really argue here.  The guy just came off an impressive win, putting together 2 fine rounds to win in Houston.  The defending Master’s champion showed last year how much he owns the course.  He played with reckless abandon and was rewarded in the end.  His 6 iron from behind the trees in 15 is still the stuff of legends and will forever be part of Master’s lore.  My problem with Phil is that while he won last week, his season before last week was quite pedestrian.  Will we get the champion golfer or the guy who has been complaining about his arthritis.

 

2.  Martin Kaymer – Ok so he has never made the cut in the Master’s.  Ok so he has not won since he became number 1.  Ok  so he has not really contended since the Accenture Match Play.  But the guy is the number 1 player in the world for a reason.  He is steady, composed, long, and accurate.  He has the game for the Master’s and definitely the temperament.  His win in the PGA Championship showed that he can handle the pressure of a Sunday major.  Can he do so, while the cheers are murmuring amongst the trees and azaleas in Augusta?  I think so.

 

3.  Bubbba Watson – It is no secret that long hitters do well in Augusta and Bubba definitely fits the bill.  His game has improved by leaps and bounds and has even given him a win this year while contending in others.  His heartbreak in the PGA only steeled and prepared him for pressure in a Sunday back 9.  More importantly, his short game is pretty good and with the undulating greens in the Masters, that can only serve him well.

 

4.  Lee Westwood – This guy is due.  Has contended in Augusta ending up second last year.  He has contended in the other majors as well just  failing to get over the hump.  This former world number  1 has the game to breakthrough but has to contend with a rather bulky putter lately.  Nonetheless, he has the poise and ability to win.  The golfing gods will do well to reward this gifted golfer.  It’s about time.

 

5.  Matt Kuchar – After his impressive debut in Augusta in 1998, he has kinda fallen off the map.  But last year saw the reemergence of Matt Kuchar, winning once, topping the money, winning the Nelson and Vardon trophies as well.  this year he already has 6 top 10s in 8 events and is 3rd in scoring.  Statistically, he is in a good position to win his first major.  It would indeed be a great story for this Georgia native to win in his hometown.

 

Honorable mentions include Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Nick Watney, and sentimental favorite Ernie Els.  For the asians we can only look towards KJ Choi and Ryo Ishikawa.  I hope the latter does well if only for his pledge to Japanese relief efforts.

 

So those are the players to watch out for.  Who will win?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Let’s enjoy this tradition which unfolds tonight.

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