Tag Archives: Dustin Johnson

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2017 U.S. Open Preview

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Photos: www.erinhills.com

Like Chambers Bay in 2015, Erin Hills is a first-time U.S. Open venue and a relative unknown to the pros as it has little tournament history. It hosted a U.S. Amateur in 2011 as a preparation for the Open.

The heavily bunkered, tree-less course, which opened in 2006, by description sounds comparable to Oakmont, last year’s U.S. Open venue, where Dustin Johnson’s length and short-game prowess powered him to a break through major championship.

That win catapulted Johnson to the most dominant stretch of his career and the world No. 1 ranking. That momentum was stalled at the Masters after a freak fall caused him to withdraw with a back injury. Can he return to form on a course that will play to his strengths – namely length? Or will another big bomber raise the trophy?

On Thurs., we start to find out. Here’s a look at the leading storylines heading into the first U.S. Open ever in the state of Wisconsin.

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The Unknown – The knowns are these: the rough is thick and the course in long, because that’s what a traditional U.S. Open set up is. But practically everything else about the longest course in U.S. Open history (7,741 yards) remains a mystery.

The pros will be using their practice rounds to get used to the new layout and particularly its treacherous bunkers, of which there are three types, the nuances of its rolling terrain and the sight lines for a number of blind semi-blind approaches.

The course is such an unknown that ESPN golf analyst Andy North, a Wisconsin native, gave a 30-shot range for predicting the winning score.

“We really don’t know if it’s going to be closer to 15-over or 15-under,” he said.

Of note: the last major played in Wisconsin, the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits, saw Jason Day post a major championship scoring record of 20-under.

Will someone solve Erin Hills and go on a similar birdie binge or will it be a week that sees a barrage of bogeys? We seem to have a true wildcard course on our hands, but there’s no such mystery about the favorite: It’s Dustin Johnson.

A Double For D.J.? – There hasn’t been repeat champion at the U.S Open since Curtis Strange defended in 1989. Will the 117th Open see Johnson snap that streak?

The fairways are reportedly twice as wide as the ones Johnson dominated at Oakmont a year, so the set-up is friendly to his prodigious length, but it’s his improved wedge and short game that has really been the game changer for his 2017 dominance.

Johnson, however, hasn’t seemed to have quite the same sharpness since returning to competition after the Masters. He missed the cut at his last event (the Memorial), but some analysts viewed that as a blessing in disguise because it allowed him to get a head start on his Open preparation.

We’ll soon see if that extra preparation pays off and Johnson can reclaim the dominating form he had going into the Masters, before which he had reeled off three straight victories.

If D.J. is right, are you betting against him? His putting has improved as well this year and he’s part of a Tour trend.

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Photo: Golf Digest

How They Roll – Rory McIlroy is the latest to add a mallet putter to his bag in a last-minute equipment change this week. The mallet is becoming the preferred style on Tour. Putting is always key, but a hot putter could really get on a roll this week due to the impeccable course conditions.

Erin Hills has been closed since October to ensure premium conditions for the Open, especially on the greens, which, unlike Chambers Bay, are yielding compliments from the pros. The pros who figures out the greens the fastest could gain an early edge. Martin Kaymer solved Pinehurst once by putting from off the greens.

Who will wield the magic wand this week that will lead to victory this week? Will it be a past major winner or a championship newcomer like it has been in the previous six majors?

Break On Through, Take 7? – Sergio Garcia’s win at the Masters pushed the streak of first-time major winners to six. Can another first-timer get hot and continue the streak? Rickie Fowler? John Rahm? Justin Thomas?

Understandably, the Tour’s top bombers dominate the list of favorites. Will one of them prevail if D.J. can’t recapture his A game? If bogeys abound, it could turn into a real scramble (think British Open) and the bounces could favor another first-timer. But if U.S. Open experience prevails …

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Can recent history repeat? – Before D.J., the previous three U.S. Open winners were Jordan Spieth, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose. Rory McIlroy is also a past champion and the holder of the Open scoring record, 16-under in 2011.

Rose is on something akin to a major hot streak of his own. He finished runner-up to Garcia at Augusta and previously won the gold medal in the Rio Olympics playing under course conditions that sound a bit similar to what he’ll be facing this week at Erin Hills. GolfWeek actually has Rose listed as its No. 2 pick behind D.J. and ahead of Jason Day to raise the trophy this week (that’s a TaylorMade trio, by the way) and then rounds out its top five with Spieth and McIlroy.

Will one of the favorites prevail or will we major-victory rookies resume their rise at the majors? We’ll start to get some clues when the major fun begins on Thurs.

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2017 Masters Preview

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Photo: www.techagesite.com

The golf world entered last year’s Masters buzzing about the looming rise of a youthful Big Four. A year later, there’s mostly only talk of an emerging Big One – and it isn’t that guy.

DJ, not TW, is turning into the Tour Goliath that his tremendous talent suggested possible but hadn’t been realized. His breakthrough win at the 2016 U.S. Open appears to have changed all that.

After being named Player of the Year in 2016, DJ has only built on that momentum by rising to world No. 1 and flattening the field on the way to three straight victories coming into Augusta.

Will DJ continue his Tour dominance with a win at Augusta National, a place where he doesn’t have a great track record? Or will players with a better history and feel for the place (Spieth, Mickelson, etc.) stem the tide and deny him the green jacket?

The question: Can DJ’s greatly improved short game and putting stand up to the staunch test at Augusta?

We ponder that and four other storylines coming into what many regard as the best week in golf. Here’s a look at our top five.

Will DJ continue to dominate? – His nearly unrivaled length has always made him a fearsome force on the Tour, but it’s his newfound touch on and around the greens that has changed his game and has him lifting more trophies.

DJ finished a very quiet T-4 last year, which is best finish at Augusta and followed a T-6 in 2016. If he’s stealthily been stalking the jacket, then the new DJ might be ready.

The Golf Channel shared a story about all the work Johnson has put in honing his game inside the scoring zone (125 yards and in) in the past year, and his second major and a fourth straight victory will likely be riding on it. But most critical, will his recently steady putting touch stand up to the test of the slick Augusta greens?

Will Jordan rebound? – We would likely be talking about a two-time defending champion going for a third straight green jacket had Jordan Spieth not gotten two consecutive tee shots wet on the par-3 12th a year ago. That turned what looked to be a runaway into an open door for underdog Danny Willett to sneak in and claim the championship.

Spieth claims not to be haunted by No. 12, having returned to Augusta last Dec. and played the hole without issue. Still, you can be sure the replays of his meltdown will roll when Jordan steps to the 12 tee on Thursday.

Spieth seemed to burn out a bit a year ago after playing a hectic schedule. He’s dialed that back this year and seems to have rediscovered much of the form that had him chasing the Grand Slam two years ago.

We know Spieth can putt the notorious greens of Augusta, but will his ball striking hold up under what are expected to be challenging conditions on Thurs. and Fri.? But if Spieth gets into the weekend around the lead, it’ll be hard not like his chances. With a T2, 1, T2 history at Augusta, would you bet against him?

He’ll certainly be seeking redemption on No. 12 and savoring another chance to win back the green jacket.

Is Rory ready to go Grand? – The Masters is the only gap in Rory’s major resume. Is this the year he completes the career Grand Slam? He seems to have found his form again after being briefly sidelined with a rib injury.

As one of the few on Tour who can challenge DJ off the tee, that’d be a power pairing if it happened on the weekend. Is Rory ready to end his major drought? It’d certainly put some juice into the Augusta gallery if he’s contending going into Sunday.

Can Lefty be right one more time? – Though he’s played some of the most consistent golf of his career and been around the lead often (see the British last year), Phil hasn’t won since he won the British in 2013. Can he pull out one more major surprise with that famous Augusta-friendly short game?

If he’s steady off the tee, the decider for Phil will likely be that claw putting grip he remains committed to. Can he roll it for four rounds again like he did at the British last year? If so, look out for Lefty.

Will it be a favorite or will it be someone like Willett? – More than the course, the weather may be the wildcard to answering this question.

With windy and possible wet weather on tap for the first two days, it could open the door for some underdogs to secure some previous landscape near the top of the weekend leaderboard.

The forecasted cool conditions are being likened to 2007, when Zach Johnson used some clutch and calculated wedge play to surgically conquer Augusta National and the field. Will a similar approach prevail this year?

The Tour saw four first-timers last year claim all the majors a year ago. Will that trend continue or will a favorite emerge victorious? We’ll soon find out during one of the best weeks in golf.

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Socalgolfblog’s 2016 PGA Championship Preview W/Chris Mayson Prediction

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The PGA Tour’s major championship season began with talk of a Big Four – Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler – taking over the tour. Instead, three first-time major winners have taken home the major hardware, the latest being Henrik Stenson at the British Open.

Will one of the young guns rally this week to keep the Big Four from going 0-for-4 in majors in 2016? San Diego golf instructor Chris Mayson says yes, but you’ll have to wait a bit to find out who he likes this week at Baltusrol GC. First, here’s a look at a few storylines going into the week.

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Photo: www.sportingnews.com

DJ For POY? – Henrik Stenson is the man of the moment coming off his epic triumph at Royal Troon, but Dustin Johnson remains the hottest player on tour. After finishing in a tie for second at the Canadian Open, Johnson has now gone 5, 1, 1, T9, T2 in his last five starts, including a U.S. Open victory, and hasn’t missed a cut all year.

Talk of DJ for player of the year is stirring and he’d turn up the volume considerably with a win this week. A hot putter and an adept short game helped DJ clinch victory at the U.S. Open. His putter waned on the weekend in Canada after he never really got his game going in Scotland on a course many expected him to dominate. Which D.J. will we see this week?

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Photo: www.golfweek.com

A British Bounce For Henrik/Phil? – After staging a duel for the ages, Stenson and Mickelson are right back on the major stage two weeks later due to a compacted Tour season to accommodate the Olympics. Mickelson, who won the last PGA at Baltusrol in 2005, is paired with 2014 PGA champion Rory McIlroy and 2015 winner Jason Day. Will Mickelson put behind what must have been an emotional recovery from finishing second at the British to muster any other championship-worthy effort? He’s got a group that can certainly go low. McIroy shot a solid 67 on Sunday to give him momentum going into the PGA.

As for Stenson, we know the ball striking will be spot on at a venue that demands it. Baltusrol has hosted seven U.S. Opens and figures to be a demanding test where hitting fairways will be at a premium. Speaking of which …

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The Driving Iron Is Back – Baltusrol is home to one of the most famous one-iron shots in golf, the one struck by Jack Nicklaus on No. 18 in 1967 that has its own plaque. For a few decades now, however, the driving iron has existed as more of a Lee Trevino punch line – search “what club should I hold up in a lightning storm” – than an equipment option. That has changed this year and you’ll notice several pros, including Day, now carrying driving irons and hitting them long and straight with ease. Here Chris Mayson explains how and why the driving iron has made a comeback:

“I’ve noticed many PGA Tour players going back to the driving iron this year. Callaway and Titleist have made very good models that are easy to hit off the tee or fairway and a lot of the guys have gone to this club for certain courses on tour.

“I believes it is a natural move away from the hybrid. I think the hybrid is fantastic utility club for everybody except the players with high swing speeds. The club companies like to make them a little closed at address to encourage a draw, and you couple this with the extra loft on the face and the best players fear the hook with a hybrid. So naturally more players have been adding a 5/6 wood or more recently a driving iron to find those tight fairways.

“The driving iron goes about 240-270 yards for the world’s top players so it is perfect for a short par 4 or tight tee shot.

“Keep an eye out at Baltusrol and I’ll bet you notice more driving irons than you thought were on Tour.”

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Photo: www.wgt.com

A Unique Double Par 5 Finish – Strategically Baltusrol is the flip of Royal Troon in the respect that the front nine at Troon offered early scoring opportunities and challenged the players to hold on throughout the back. Baltusrol is the flip and uniquely closes with consecutive par 5s.
That finish will set the table for big hitters – hello, DJ – down the stretch, but they could also be digging out of a hole from not being patient on the front. Whoever manages the course and their emotions the best on the front could go a long way toward deciding who lifts the trophy on Sunday. Will it be an experienced former major champion or …

Will We See A Fourth First-Timer? – Strong performances in recent majors have some sentiment in golf circles leaning toward Lee Westwood or Sergio Garcia. Farmers Insurance Open champ Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar are also garnering favor. Trivia alert: We haven’t seen four first-timers sweep the majors since 2011. Can you name them? … Time’s up. They are Charl Schwartzel, Darren Clarke, Keegan Bradley and … the man Chris Mayson is picking this week.

Now onto Chris’ prediction and pick:

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Photo: www.cbssports.com

It’s amazing to me that the PGA championship is here already. With the Olympics added to the schedule this year it seems that all the big tournaments are slammed together and of course we are going into the FedEx Cup soon after as well.

I have heard from players on the PGA Tour that the rough is very thick at Baltusrol this year and that should add to the charm and challenge of the year’s final major. With the rain at Oakmont for the U.S. Open, it never really played as hard as the USGA intended. I am wondering if the PGA will trick up Baltusrol this year.

There have been first-time winners at each major this year without any of them really being a major surprise. But I don’t think that there will be another first-time winner at the PGA. I expect someone with a little more major experience to take this one.

Due to the extreme rough and the premium on hitting fairways I am going to keep my pick the same as for the British Open and stay with Rory McIlroy. He hasn’t won in America this year and is certainly due, and although he didn’t win at Royal Troon, he did have a very strong fifth-place finish.

He is No. 1 in strokes gained off the tee and I believe that will be the difference maker for him at Baltusrol this year. (Editor’s note, courtesy of the European Tour: In seven PGA appearances, Rory has four top 5s and two championships.)

I expect my own student, Brendan Steele, to also have a strong showing. He is a fantastic driver of the golf ball, is currently ranked 15th in strokes gained off the tee and he had a strong 15th-place finish at last year’s PGA championship at Whistling Straits. It’s a great course for him and he has been playing well all year. Enjoy the PGA and the rush finish to the major championship season.

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Maderas: PGA Championship Preview W/Chris Mayson Prediction

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A truly historic season for the PGA Tour hits the home stretch by returning to Whistling Straits for the PGA Championship – and Rory McIlroy’s surprise return from injury to defend his title and his No. 1 ranking only adds to the intrigue.

Here are four storylines teed high for the PGA, including Rory’s risky decision, followed by Chris Mayson’s picks to end what’s been an MVP prediction season (including the Farmers, he’s three for four picking the winners). He’s got a Masters champion pegged for the PGA (Hint: Not Tiger). It’s a doubly special week for Chris because he has a student, Brendan Steele, in the field.

Why Is Rory Risking It? – I’m going to cede the floor early to Mr. Mayson to address the week’s hot topic: Why would Rory McIroy return from the Achilles injury that cost him a spot in the British Open to play such a tough golf course and risk re-injury? Is it simply the ego of being world’s No. 1 and the PGA defending champ?

Chris: “I am not sure why Rory McIlroy is playing and risking his health. The only reason behind his quick recovery and entry into this week is surely because he covets majors more than the Fed Ex Cup.

“It would have made much more sense to take another two weeks off and comeback for the playoffs, but I can only assume that he wants another major that badly and it is worth the risk. It would be great to see a McIlroy and Spieth duel this week, but I think he is going to be way too rusty to compete at that level.”
And this is the same player who once WD’d over a toothache. Obviously, Rory has found a new pain tolerance, but the gain may only negligible or worse.

No Grand Slam But A Historic Hat Trick? – The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee wasted no time predicting a third major for Jordan Spieth this week after his near-miss at the British Open. While he’s running away with Player of the Year, will he tote home a trophy for his mantel to go along with The Masters and U.S. Open?
It would surprise no one if he did to cap The Summer Spieth, and it would certainly send a message to the Tour that it might be more of the same in 2016.

Spieth and McIlroy are paired on Thursday and Friday. Two men enter, one man makes the weekend? If it’s two, we might get a preview of 2016 earlier than any of us expected. It would be a fitting finish to the year of Jordan, Rory and Rickie.

Or Spieth could find himself in a familiar scenario …

A Familiar Foe – And A Haunted One Here – We’re, of course, talking about Dustin Johnson here, whose name was first synonymous with “bunker ruling” at Whistling Straits before “three-putt” at Chambers Bay.

Will poetic justice arrive at a place where DJ has all the usual DJ advantages, or will he be felled again by his familiar fails in majors?

But you can be sure DJ will check his rulebook once and twice to determine which bunkers are naughty (traps) and which ones are nice (waste areas) for grounding your club.

Will the rulebook blindside anyone else this week, or did DJ teach an eternal lesson?

Straits or Straights? – The early feedback from the practice rounds has been about how tough the rough is, particularly off the tee. Finding fairways will be especially critical this week in a PGA that sounds like the traditional U.S. Open instead of what we got at Chamber Bay this year.

Chamblee on tee shots: “Big misses here have big consequences.”

He was, naturally, talking about Tiger, whose resurgence is in debate but there’s no debate that he has a tame track record here. In 2010, he’d just switched swing coaches and spent the week tinkering. Is he still tinkering again in 2015 or he has finally tamed his new swing?

Chris Mayson has another Masters champ in mind this week, and he’s about to tell you why.

The final major of the year is upon us and it seems that golf season has only just begun. The first two majors were won by the best player in the world this year, Jordan Spieth. St. Andrews was too much of a weather pot luck to produce the best player, but Spieth’s run at three consecutive major victories was extremely admirable. You would have to assume that he will be in contention again this week.

My pick this week is one of the longest players on the PGA Tour, Bubba Watson. I always go by the belief that if you want to know who is going to win this week, look no further than who finished second last week – and that was Bubba at Bridgestone. He is clearly playing well and he loves to shape the ball, which you have to do on all Pete Dye golf courses, and his prodigious length will allow him to cut off some of the dog legs.

My other sleeper pick is my own student, Brendan Steele. Brendan hits is very long and straight, can move the ball both ways and is coming off a strong seventh-place finish last week on the PGA Tour. I know I am biased, but I think Whistling Straights is going to be a great course for him.

No matter the contenders, I’m sure that Whistling Straights will produce some drama, the same way it did last time.

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Maderas: British Open Preview W/Chris Mayson Prediction

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A season the Tour couldn’t have scripted any better to make a case for its next generation now collides with one of the game’s special venues to make for a potentially historically epic British Open at St. Andrews.

The possibility of a third straight major for phenom Jordan Spieth hovers over the home of golf, setting the stage for a possible Grand Slam at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

As Spieth’s hole out at 17 for eagle on Saturday at the John Deere shows, little is seeming beyond belief any more when it comes to the 21-year-old Texan. And him hoisting the Claret Judge became a little more likely when defending champion Rory McIlroy withdrew with an ankle injury.

Will history march on at St. Andrews or will it succumb to the quirks and breaks of links golf that Spieth survived at Chambers Bay?

The sure bet is the golf world will be tuning in early to find out. Here’s an overview of the week followed by a few thoughts and a prediction from Maderas Director of Instruction Chris Mayson.

Jordan Rules? – In a season where Spieth seems to be able to do no wrong, some are quibbling with his decision to play the John Deere the week prior instead of working on his links game playing the Scottish Open or prepping at St. Andrews. And then there’s jetlag.

Just as Spieth’s impeccable putting continues to defy all belief and reason, so may he again in prevailing over the skeptics of which there shall remain few, if any, if he wins this week.

The possible payoff not just for Spieth but for golf is huge. What’s already become the Summer of Spieth will drown out NFL training camp noise in August as the holy grail of a golf Grand Slam will dominate the headlines and discussion and give us something not even Tiger could deliver.

Given Spieth’s ability to thrive in pressure situations and elevate himself against the best, and seemingly not succumb to hype, a Sunday run at St. Andrews is the only way this story gets more incredible. And it takes no imagination to imagine that right now.

Rickie’s Run – Following a slip at the U.S. Open, Rickie Fowler regained his momentum from winning The Players to win the Scottish Open and put himself in the discussion at the British. The last five winners of the British have played the Scottish the week before. Will Rickie make it six?

Chambers aside, Rickie’s record in recent majors as good as anybody not named Rory or Jordan, and we know only one of those two is teeing it up this week.

A Tall Tiger Tale? – You have heard Tiger Woods is still playing golf and just did so reasonably well for the first time in a long time – but not a win, mind you.

This has led many, including head Tiger doubter Hank Haney, to predict a big week, and maybe even a win, for Woods – which would be consistent with Haney’s prediction in his book, by the way.

Even with Tiger’s pedigree at St. Andrews (two wins) that seems like an awful big leap after a lot of awful golf, but reviving golf’s most dormant story line is the only thing that could shake up the world more than a Spieth victory.

(By the way, just for fun, can we refer to him as Old Tiger Woods just for this week? Can we? Lord knows the dude has been playing this tournament long enough … )

Louie, Louie – Given his track record in links golf, strong play at Chambers Bay (three rounds in the 60s) and the fact he won the Open the last time it was at St. Andrews in 2010, Louie Oosthuizen is carrying contender status this week.

Will Oosthuizen be that saavy veteran (think Phil two years ago) to peak and get it done again?

Grab a Jacket – For the first time in a few years, it sounds like we’re going to have some real deal British Open weather. The Golf Channel analysts are already talking about scores soaring on Saturday as the winds as predicted to pick up considerably – up to 40 mph – after heavy rains on Friday.

That would make it an old-school Open where the champion is the one who best survives the conditions as much as the course. We haven’t seen one of those in a while, but that could be the story of 2015.

Can Spieth weather the storm, or will he just morph into Hurricane Jordan and whisk away the Claret Jug. Very soon we will begin to know. Happy Open week.

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Now on to Chris Mayson’s prediction:

This British Open is tough to call. With the tournament being held at St Andrews it usually goes to a player that knows the intricacy of the course and has experience playing it.

With Tiger far from his best and Rory out through injury, it seems that the door is wide open for Jordan Spieth to get his third in a row but I don’t see that happening. There is so much pressure for him to do well, and he just came off a win that will certainly take some energy away. I will be so impressed if he is close to the lead, let alone win it.

I do think the course is ideal for Dustin Johnson to play well but the scars from the U.S. Open I believe will be too fresh. Typically he would be my pick.

The weather is going to be bad this week so someone is going to have to be mentally tough and know how to play in cold, wind and rain. That’s why I am going for Henrik Stenson. He’s played well the last month and even won in Sweden when it was cold and windy.

Maderas: Masters Preview W/Chris Mayson Prediction

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Photo courtesy of www.thegolfchannel.com

For the majority of the country who knows what it’s like to take a mandatory climatological break from the game, the Masters represents the annual rebirth of golf.

On the coast, where clubs never stopped swinging and multiple professional tournaments have passed through, the Masters doesn’t have quite the same significance, but it’s no less meaningful. This is the tournament that makes you fall in love with the game all over again, no matter what you shot in your last round.

For us golfers, this is the best week in sports, when the true competitive juices of the game at the professional level flow again. The scenery, the history, the pageantry (the Par 3 contest, honorary starters, etc.) – we watch for all of it.

And, as usual, there’s no lack of storylines at the Masters in 2015 and “major” history is in play, although likely not of the Tiger Woods variety. Making a run right now for Tiger is considered making the cut. And another blow-up round like what we saw in Phoenix might have people talking retirement.

But Tiger does make the cut for our top storylines going into Augusta.

1. Rory’s Run at History –
Golf history is teed high for Rory McIroy, but will be able to take advantage in a year where his game has yet to quite come together?

Besides giving him a third straight major win, a victory would earn McIlroy the rare and coveted career Grand Slam by age 25. He’s the favorite though he’s never won here. He’s most remembered at Augusta for squandering a four-shot lead on Sunday in 2011.

But McIlroy has come a long way since then and masters major moments now far more than shrinks from them. His game at its best is the best in the game, but will he be at his best at Augusta?

History is waiting to find out.

2. Bubba Has Mastered Augusta National – Having won two of the last three Masters, Bubba Watson’s game clearly sets up well for the course. It seems he should be in contention every year here as long as his putter shows up, and after the way he dominated last year, would it really surprise anybody if he eventually won four or five green jackets? Since the course changes, the layout is increasingly friendly to lefties, which brings us to …

3. Paging Mr. Mickelson – After his quietest year ever on Tour, some are pulling for Phil Mickelson’s game to come out of hibernation at Augusta, where the premium will always be on the short game, his forte. Mickelson’s game showed signs of life last week at the Houston Open, where he led early before settling into a 17th-place finish. Can Phil muster enough Masters’ magic for a fourth victory here? His putting, which has dogged him all year, will likely have something to say about it.

4. Has Tiger Tamed His Game? – Everyone will be watching when Tiger plays his first competitive round in nine weeks on Thursday to see he’s still fighting the short-game demons that have dragged his game to a career low. Even the most optimistic outlook has Tiger being more subplot than plot at Augusta. Him just making the cut is being touted as a major achievement. By the way, Tiger now hasn’t won here since 2005. The only history he’s guaranteed is his 20th Masters start.

5. Major Momentum – After a year when three of the four majors were runaways (only the PGA Championship was close), the Tour could use something akin to the Watson/Oosthuizen dual of three years ago to get the major season off to a competitive start and stir TV interest. TV rankings for most of the majors slumped a year ago.

Rory in contention would certainly turn on television sets as might a breakthrough win by someone such as Jordan Spieth. A Tiger scenario seems far-fetched, but Mickelson making another run isn’t out of the question. The tournament hasn’t truly had an outlier champion since Charl Schwartzl in 2011. In a Tour era where seemingly everyone can win, little truly surprises you anymore.

Chris Mayson prediction:

1. Jason Day: I picked him for the Farmers (he won) and I’m sticking with him. Day has always liked Augusta and played well there. He has prodigious length and hits the ball extremely high, which is very beneficial on the hard and fast greens. With the fairways playing soft after this week’s rain, his high ball flight and long carry should suit him even better. He already won at Torrey Pines this year, another very long and difficult course, and he has to be one of the favorites for this year.

2. Jordan Spieth: There is a saying on tour that if you want to find the winner of this week’s event, look no further than the top five of the previous week. Spieth finished second in Houston and also second last year at The Masters and has been playing very well all year. With a point to prove from last year, he won’t be far off the lead come the back nine on Sunday.

3. Dustin Johnson

Maderas: Farmers Preview and Predictions From Chris Mayson

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The last time we saw Tiger Woods’ winning aura was when he pulled into the parking lot at Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open a year ago.

As the reigning Player of the Year, it was anticipated Tiger would take another victory lap around Torrey Pines, a track where he’s won on eight times as a professional … and that’s so not what happened.

After getting thrashed on the North Course by Jordan Spieth on Friday, Woods managed to make the cut but miss the secondary cut on Saturday. We later learned of Tiger’s back issues, which led to him missing much of the season.

The tournament unfolded as a Sunday horse race where, at one point, it looked like an unprecedented six-man playoff seemed possible. Instead, Scott Stallings, a name many fans probably had to Google search, emerged as the winner by a stroke.

This year Tiger returns under what couldn’t be a more different set of circumstances. Here we preview this week’s event followed by picks from our Maderas Direction of Instruction Chris Mayson.

1. Bizarro Tiger – The golf world is wondering what to make of Tiger after his short-game yip-fest in Phoenix. Coming off a career-worst 82, and with football season over, you can bank on his Thursday round getting the full attention, and scrutiny, of a round at a major.

Can Woods piece it back together on one of the courses where’s most comfortable? No one knows, and Vegas is doubting it – posting him at 50-to-1 odds.

Instead of people asking if Tiger can win, they’re wondering if he can make it to the weekend. Quite a different set of a circumstances for a 14-time major winner, indeed.

2. A Tougher TP –
Favorable weather conditions, namely a mild winter, in 2014 allowed for a set up closer to a U.S. Open and Torrey Pines took advantage. A similar set-up seems likely this year.
That means a lower-scoring tournament, where it’s doubtful someone goes low and pulls away. That could leave us with a Sunday leaderboard more like last year.
Several media members panned last year’s set-up as being too tough for a February Tour event, saying it created “boring” scoring conditions. They might be hitting copy-and-paste on those columns this year. We’ll see.

3. Time for Spieth, Fowler? – After trouncing Tiger on Friday, Jordan Spieth was the story of the tournament last year until he ran out of gas on Sunday. It was later learned he played on an injured ankle.
Can Spieth come back and finish the job this week? Or will it be another 20-something – Rickie Fowler.
Fowler finished top-five in every major last year, a spectacular year only lacking a victory. Fowler’s visage is everywhere on the course this year. Will it be featured on next year’s winner’s poster at the course entrance? We’ll see.

4. A Favored Son, Anyone? – Pat Perez, a graduate of Torrey Pines High, finished a shot behind Stallings last year after being forced lay up on No. 18. It was Perez’s best finish in the event, but a shot short of the outcome he’s been dreaming of since he worked the range for this event as a youth. There’s no doubt he’ll have the crowd support. Will Perez finally raise the trophy on No. 18 on Sunday this time?

5. DJ’s back –
After a six-month leave for “personal reasons,” Dustin Johnson makes his 2014 Tour debut at Torrey. As the consensus most talented player on Tour for several years running now, will Johnson now have the discipline and focus to turn that potential into a major championship? He can gain some momentum this week with a strong showing. At a minimum, it’ll be fun watching him bomb it on the par 5s at Torrey.

Now to a few predictions and insight from Chris Mayson, who’s been working with Brendan Steele this week at Torrey.

Mayson: I would have to go with Jason Day. Day is a long hitter and an accurate driver of the ball, which is a huge advantage on the South Course. Day also finished second at Torrey last year so he knows how to play well around these courses.

My other favorite would be Dustin Johnson. DJ is very long off the tee, is fresh off a long layoff and probably has a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove. DJ won his first event of the year in 2013 and 2014 and is looking to complete that trifecta at Torrey.

JC Golf: Farmers Insurance Open Preview W/Pro Picks

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The last time Tiger Woods’ winning aura was seen was when he pulled into the parking lot at Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open a year ago.

As the reigning Player of the Year, it was anticipated Tiger would take another victory lap around Torrey Pines, a track where he’s won eight times as a professional … and that’s so not what happened.

After getting thrashed on the North Course by Jordan Spieth on Friday, Woods managed to make the cut but miss the secondary cut on Saturday. We later learned of Tiger’s back issues, which led to him missing much of the season.

The tournament unfolded as a Sunday horse race where, at one point, it looked like an unprecedented six-man playoff seemed possible. Instead, Scott Stallings, a name many fans probably had to Google search, emerged as the winner by a stroke.

This year Tiger returns under what couldn’t be a more different set of circumstances. Here we preview this week’s event followed by picks from our JC pros.

1. Bizarro Tiger – The golf world is wondering what to make of Tiger after his short-game yip-fest in Phoenix. Coming off a career-worst 82, and with football season over, you can bank on his Thursday round getting the full attention, and scrutiny, of a round at a major.

Can Woods piece it back together on one of the courses where’s most comfortable? No one knows, and Vegas is doubting it – posting him at 50-to-1 odds.

Instead of people asking if Tiger can win, they’re wondering if he can make it to the weekend. Quite a different set of a circumstances for a 14-time major winner, indeed.

2. A Tougher TP – Favorable weather conditions, namely a mild winter, in 2014 allowed for a set up closer to a U.S. Open and Torrey Pines took advantage. A similar set-up seems likely this year.

That means a lower-scoring tournament, where it’s doubtful someone goes low and pulls away. That could leave us with a Sunday leaderboard more like last year.

Several media members panned last year’s set-up as being too tough for a February Tour event, saying it created “boring” scoring conditions. They might be hitting copy-and-paste on those columns this year. We’ll see.

3. Time for Spieth, Fowler? – After trouncing Tiger on Friday, Jordan Spieth was the story of the tournament last year until he ran out of gas on Sunday. It was later learned he played on an injured ankle.

Can Spieth come back and finish the job this week? Or will it be another 20-something – Rickie Fowler.

Fowler finished top-five in every major last year, a spectacular year only lacking a victory. Fowler’s visage is everywhere on the course this year. Will it be featured on next year’s winner’s poster at the course entrance? We’ll see.

4. A Favored Son, Anyone? – Pat Perez, a graduate of Torrey Pines High, finished a shot behind Stallings last year after being forced lay up on No. 18. It was Perez’s best finish in the event, but a shot short of the outcome he’s been dreaming of since he worked the range for this event as a youth. There’s no doubt he’ll have the crowd support. Will Perez finally raise the trophy on No. 18 on Sunday this time?

Another local of note is Daniel Miernicki, son of Twin Oaks Director of Instruction Paul Miernicki, who made the field as a Monday qualifier. Miernicki is a University of Oregon recruit.

5. DJ’s back – After a six-month leave for “personal reasons,” Dustin Johnson makes his 2014 Tour debut at Torrey. As the consensus most talented player on Tour for several years running now, will Johnson now have the discipline and focus to turn that potential into a major championship? He can gain some momentum this week with a strong showing. At a minimum, it’ll be fun watching him bomb it on the par 5s at Torrey.

Now the picks from our pros …

Erik Johnson, JC Golf Director of Golf –
My favorite: Tiger Woods. It may seem cliché, but how many times have we seen Tiger come to Torrey Pines feel right at home and bring home the trophy…. eight – seven Farmers Insurance Opens and the 2008 US Open.

In the mix – Brandt Snedeker. He is coming off a lackluster year and is gearing up to get back on top of leaderboards. Watch for him coming off another course he enjoys out in Phoenix…

The long shot – Justin Thomas. This young player bombs the golf ball! He’s 5-10 and 145 pounds and is averaging 302.6 in driving distance this year. He is building confidence with top-10 finishes at The Sony Open and the Humana Challenge and he finished T-10 in 2014.

Blake Dodson, Head Professional, Rancho Bernardo Inn – Rickie Fowler finds his stride.

Troy Ferguson, Head Professional, Twin Oaks – Graham DeLaet (if he plays).

Brandon Delgado, Head Professional, Carmel Mountain Ranch – Charley Hoffman. Coming off a second-place finish at the Humana Challenge, Hoffman is off to a great start in 2015. Seven of his eight rounds in 2015 have been under par and he has already won this season at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. Hoffman, who is one of my favorite golfers, is a San Diego native and has helped promote many junior golf programs at some of our JC Golf facilities.

Lloyd Porter, Head Professional, Oaks North – I am going with my “local boy” connections. – Charlie Hoffman and Pat Perez. They both grew up here at Oaks North. Charlie used to pick the range for free balls. Charlie is playing well, and Pat is due to make a big breakthrough. He was in contention last year.

JC Golf: U.S. Open Preview & Picks By The Pros

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          As the year’s second major, the U.S. Open, arrives, storylines abound that, refreshingly, don’t involve Tiger Woods.

Unlike the Masters, Woods’ absence at Pinehurst has been barely a blip on the media radar this week. Instead, players who are actually playing in the tournament have been the storyline and, of course, the course itself.

According to my golf-centric Twitter feed, these are the lead stories going into the tournament.

  1. Can Phil Mickelson complete his career Grand Slam?

After his win at the British Open last year, Mickelson has now won them all, save for the Open, at which he’s finish second an incredible six times, including at Pinehurst 15 years ago. Despite his clout of having won five majors, a Mickelson victory seems a bit unlikely when you consider his atypically quiet year on Tour. And he’s tinkering with his putting grip (going to the claw), which is already drawing doubters. As one columnist wrote, “There goes Mickelson, out-thinking himself again.”

But a Mickelson victory would certain give the Tour season a shot in the arm. As would …

2. Will Jordan Spieth Finally Break Through?

The Next Big Thing in golf would erase the “Next” with a major championship. To do it, he’ll have to learn to close, something he’s been unable to do thus far this season. But after finishing second to Bubba Watson at the Masters, a breakthrough at the U.S. Open would announce an arrival that seems inevitable. But as Jack Nicklaus says of Tiger Woods’ major chase: You haven’t done it until you’ve done it.

3. A Classic Venue Restored

Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore oversaw a $2.5 million renovation of the No. 2 course to restore it to the original Donald Ross design and a more natural state. Among other things, that meant removing turf and restoring bunkers and waste areas. As a result, this Open isn’t expected to play like an Open in that it won’t have ankle-high rough. However, in the practice rounds the pros have reported that the greens have been tough to hit, thus the winner’s chance possible riding on a strong short game, which (back to No. 1) … hello, Lefty.

But the course setup has some forecasting controversy …

4.  Could We See A Rules Controversy Like the 2010 PGA?

The 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits is where a rules controversy erased Dustin Johnson’s best chance at a major victory. He grounded his club in what he believed to be a waste area instead of a bunker. He thus invoked a two-stroke penalty that cost him the championship.   

Similar course conditions at Pinehurst abound, meaning the rules official is certain to get a workout this week. Something to watch for, but here’s hoping we don’t have another major overshadowed by a rules controversy.

There’s also the chance for Bubba Watson to notch a second major and really put some sizzle into the Tour season. But none of our JC pros chose him. Their picks are listed below.

Erik Johnson, General Manager, Encinitas Ranch

Rory McIlroy – I think he has momentum on his side and his game 9and mind) are now sharp enough to return to top form

Adam Scott – He has become one of the most consistent players on the planet (hence his No. 1 world ranking), he is one of the best ball-strikers in the game, so if the putter is working he should be a favorite

Long Shot…..Webb Simpson – Wait a second, a former champion as a long-shot?  After the 2012 championship, his game has fallen off, but he is getting hot at the right time and has the experience to prevail.

Jay Navarro, Tournament Director, Temecula Creek Inn –

Webb Simpson – Played well in the FedEx.

Troy Ferguson, Head Golf Professional, Twin Oaks –

Graham DeLaet. Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Blake Dodson, Director of Golf, Rancho Bernardo Inn

Jordan Spieth – Too young to be scared of the U.S. Open.

Lloyd Porter, Head Professional, Reidy Creek and Oaks North

Sergio Garcia – My wife’s favorite.

When I Knew I Wanted To Write About Golf

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My work space this week

Please excuse the personal post, but this week is a fairly big week for me professionally in that it’s one of those rare times where vision and dreams become reality.

I picked up my press passes and various other media materials for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines today and started to plot my week.

Seeing as I was a sportswriter for about 15 years to start my career, and I did cover a string of tournaments on the Nationwide Tour, this whole experience isn’t entirely new to me, but we are talking about the PGA Tour here and that is new, and that’s also part of the dream that brought me to California.

The dream began when a friend from high school who now lives in Chicago invited me to the PGA Championship at Whistling Straights in Kohler, Wisc., in 2010 – you know the one where Dustin Johnson had his “sand trap” trouble?

I’d dreamed of going to be a PGA Tour event, any event really, so having a Major fall into my lap was fairly incredible and exciting even for someone who normally doesn’t get that excited about attending sporting events anymore because of burnout from my career past.

Anyway, before Dustin Johnson made some unfortunate golf history, he changed my life.

The day of the tournament, we walked on to the course in the morning and spent the first part of the day trying to get the lay of the course and get any glimpse of the top Tour talent – Tiger, Daly, Phil, etc. – we could.

We had a pretty good luck, but our best luck came in the afternoon after the crowds had cleared a bit and we had sat down alongside the fairway of a par-4 along Lake Michigan.

We watched about five groups come through and then suddenly two tee balls landed well beyond where any group had been before. Kind of like the tremors in the water glasses in “Jurassic Park,” we knew big hitters were coming over that hill.

It turned out to be Ernie Els and Dustin Johnson.  It was doubly good fortune in that Els was the hot guy at the time and making a run for the day one lead.

Well, we watched them play out the hole and then decided to follow them.

Having birdied the previous hole, Els teed off first on a dog-leg par-5 that was routed around a pond, some scrub and, it being Whistling Straits, naturally some sand traps.

Els played the hole straightaway and fired his tee shot down the fairway. Our group of four had taken up a position to to the right of the tee box. We were talking amongst ourselves when we simultaneously relived we were in imminent danger: Dustin Johnson’s tee shot was aimed at our heads.

One thing to know about watching Johnson live: Don’t blink. He plays fast and hardly takes practice swings.

On this beast of a hole, unfathomably and unpredictably Johnson was aimed to cut the corner. Before any of us could say a word or breath, much less move, Johnson fired. His ball shot straight overhead and it was like we’d just all had our towers buzzed like in “Top Gun.” We heard the ball spinning furiously overhead.

We all exhaled, realized we were still alive and then laughed a bit nervously about the hole ordeal before group curiosity set in about the destination of Johnson’s tee shot.

We tromped through the grassland around the pond before finally emerging at the fairway to discover one very bewildered spotter looking at the golf ball at her feet. She pointed and asked, “Where did this come from?”

We answered, “The tee.”

She asked, “Who?”

We replied, “Dustin Johnson.”

She simply gave an understanding nod.

I asked, “Anybody else try that?”

She said, “Yeah, one guy. Tiger.”

Me: “Where did he go?”

She pointed back up the fairway and into the pond, OB.

Here’s what Johnson had just done: He carried a ball an insane distance of 375 yards into a 25-yard landing strip. He was about to play a heavy duty par-5 on a major championship driver/wedge.

We missed it that night, but apparently the Golf Channel did an entire segment about this shot.

My all-time list of awesome athletic displays I’ve witnessed live reads like this:

–       John Elway throwing a football.

–       Mark McGwire hitting a baseball.

–       Michael Johnson running.

–       Dustin Johnson hitting that drive.

As the awesomeness of what I’d just witnessed soaked in, I decided then and there I needed to be around this great game played at the highest levels a lot more often.

I’d already been traveling to LA regularly to see a friend and was pondering my own California plan when Johnson hit that shot and kind of wrote the script for me.

I looked into the golf industry and jobs within the golf industry and decided it was time to get back into sports writing but in a way totally different than before. And here we are.

Nine months of golf magazine writing and five months of blogging later, I’m more ready than ever to go to work this week.

That work is very much a work in progress as I aim to provided coverage to complement the TV coverage of the tournament, but I have no doubt it’ll work itself out.

I’ll looking forward to a great week and sharing what I can with you during a pretty awesome time for me professionally

Stay tuned.