By Dan Reardon
Coming on the heels of a dramatic final nine at the Masters, the RBC Heritage was already assigned an inconsequential status in the sports world. That was made all the worse by 20 of the top 25 players in the world taking the week off. About the only things of note from the week were the return to the hurricane-restored Harbor Town Golf Links and the debut win of Web.Com star Wesley Bryan.
While Sergio Garcia’s Masters win consumed all the air from the tournament summary, it is worth a few words to consider some of the non-winners from the year’s first major.
Justin Rose – His 3-under final-round 69, matching Garcia, in the broad sense, is a solid under-pressure delivery from the final group. But zooming the lens shows the same blemishes that tend to put a governor on his tee-to-green excellence.
Rose had opportunities to drive a stake in Garcia’s heart more than once on Sunday but swung and missed with his putter. Eleven could have easily been a two-shot swing if Rose had converted for birdie after a solid approach. As game as Sergio’s scrambling par at 13 was, Rose should have gained a stroke with a short birdie putt. As good as the birdie at 16 to take the lead was, Rose’s bunkered approach and missed par putt at 17 left him still sparring on the tee at 18.
Set aside the errant tee shot in the playoff, Rose had the same putt twice at 18 and missed high side then low. Going 0-2 on the final green encapsulated Rose’s otherwise championship winning play.
Jordan Spieth – Most observers were surprised to see Spieth falter from the penultimate group. Like Rose he faced a series of critical putts to stay in the chase, and until he was hopelessly out of it, he never applied the Spieth signature. But Jordan knew what to blame when dissecting his closing 75. He simply left too many tee shots in the mild rough to give his approaches the precision needed to look at birdies rather than par saves.
Rickie Fowler – Fowler’s presence in the group with Spieth on Sunday was a little bit of sleight of hand (or scorecard). His 5-under standing was built almost entirely on his success on one hole — the par-5, 2nd. Over the opening three rounds, Fowler was 4-under on that hole and only minus-1 for the remaining 51. The truth is Rickie putted lights out for three days, masking a game that wasn’t really firing on all cylinders. Even Spieth can’t putt a field into submission over 72 holes on a course like Augusta.
Rory McIlroy – In his winning remarks, Garcia talked about his cool relationship with Augusta National. While McIlroy has been silent in this area, his history speaks volumes. A player whose skill set is designed to dominate at the Masters, simply has never delivered for four days.
Going in he needed to show that he could do over four days what he has always shown he can do over one. If Augusta National was a swimming pool, McIlroy has mostly dog paddled through too many rounds.
Adam Scott – It may be that Scott will forever be ceilinged by his lack of prowess on the greens, but an alternate theory may be tied to frequency that the Australian puts himself into the fire. Tiger could disappear for weeks and show up on point. Scott doesn’t appear to have that talent. And one has to wonder if a few more stops on Tour would lessen his lifestyle but amplify his success.
Jason Day – One of the new “big three,” Day is looking more and more like the Jason from after Chambers Bay, than the late 2015 Tour steamroller. His management team should find him an endorsement deal with an Urgent Care chain, because if Jason isn’t on the DL, he is frequently playing with a percentage attached to his medical chart. He still remains one-dimensional in his ball-flight pattern, and his, at times, brilliant short game is more sporadic than his once #1 status would suggest.
Bubba Watson – Bubba’s pounds lost are directly proportional to his strokes gained. This not to argue lean Bubba is hurting his game. More likely it is that Watson always rides the scale between quirky and eccentric, and golf has never been accommodating to either. I once observed about the late Payne Stewart, when people talk about your clothes more than your game, it is time to get to work. Payne did. When the color of Bubba’s golf ball is more the focus than how often he puts red on the card, it is difficult to be highly regarded from outside the cutline.
Matt Kuchar – ‘Kooch’ is a golf ATM machine that rarely has large bills in the till. Top five at the Masters, with a final-day hole in one is to be admired, unless it is a permanent profile that finds you in the room but never with the cigar.
Phil Mickelson – We may never know how much the five-time major winner is affected by his arthritic condition. He is a spokesman for pharmaceutical relief from his condition and consequently can never be honest when his game is negatively impacted. You could assume that age is eroding his skills and has kept him winless since 2013, but the left-hander has shown repeatedly that he still has all the shots. But save one brilliant week at Troon, Mickelson looks primed for the Champions Tour in four years, where you only have to swim three laps.
Charley Hoffman and William McGirt – As in life, so too in golf, water will always seek its own level.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 33 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.
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