05 May 2024

Scheffler is the man but keep an eye on Brooks

Having just got home from four straight weeks on the road in America which concluded at The Masters, it’s time to sit back with a cup of Yorkshire’s finest and reflect on how things panned out.

Before I flew to the States, I had been spending a fair amount of time with Danny Willett at the range in Rotherham and knew his rehab was going well. Though it was always the plan to see how he felt on the Wednesday of Masters week before committing fully to teeing it up. Hitting balls on the range is one thing, but the physical and mental strain at Augusta National is something completely different.

I’ve been to The Masters more times than I can remember, but I’ve never experienced a relentless wind like that before; it was brutal, especially when the greens started to dry out.

Having won the event in 2016, we all know the course suits Danny’s eye, and he was going well until a bad break at the 18th on Friday. His approach just came up short but plugged in the greenside bunker. With the pin at the front, his only chance from that lie was to dig it out and land it just over the lip, which he nearly carried off. Unfortunately, it rolled back in and found an awkward compact lie, which is why he ended up flying it to the back of the green and walking off with a triple. It was a cruel way to end what was a great round, but that’s The Masters for you. What Augusta highlighted was match fitness, not just for Tiger but also for Danny. We all forget the demands Augusta puts on the body and mind, and this year it bit players harder than ever.

I felt for Tiger, as having to get up at 3am on Friday morning to get prepared to complete his first round and then go out again for a full 18 was hard going for players fully fit and in their prime, let alone a player carrying countless leg and back injuries.

It was great to see him make the cut, but the poor guy was just burnt out on Saturday, but despite what the critics may have said, the legend dug deep and did not withdraw. Now that took balls.

At the other end of the age range was Ludvig Aberg, and what a talent he is. I just love how quickly he plays. Once he is over the ball, he sees the shot and quickly pulls the trigger. That’s the perfect blend of ability and confidence, and right now I don’t see any other young players matching him. His swing is straightforward and efficient in terms of no unnecessary movements, so I can only see him going from strength to strength.

Considering he’s not been a Tour professional for a year and he’s won on both Tours, finished second at The Masters and is currently 6th in the rankings, I can see him being Scheffler’s closest threat. Though Scottie’s form right now is at a different level, but it’s hard to keep that going, and it will be interesting to see if family life adjusts things in any way.

We are now getting into peak season with the US PGA Championship coming up, and the top players know they will need to graft harder than ever to prevent Scheffler extending his winning streak. I still believe Brooks can defend at Valhalla, as he’s swinging it well and injury-free. At The Masters, he didn’t have any joy on the greens, and you will never compete in that event if you can’t get the short stick working.

It will be interesting to see if Tiger tees it up, or if he’s just going to let the body recover more and take up the role of Ryder Cup Captain. For me, he’s certainly the man for the job considering the respect he will get from the American team and his history over Bethpage Black, where he won the 2002 US Open.

The bigger Ryder Cup question is who will be on the European team in 2025? They have the unenviable task of trying to find terms and conditions in which LIV Golf members can qualify, as imagine the fallout if Rahm and Hatton are omitted.

One LIV player I go back a very long way with is Lee Westwood, and it’s great to see him working hard on his game. He’s not trying to play into the Ryder Cup but sharpen up for the PGA Senior Majors, in which he qualifies for being a former World No.1. These are not PGA TOUR-run; therefore, he’s able to tee it up even though he’s a LIV Golf member and team shareholder.

I still have no idea where the professional game is going to end up. All I can do is make sure I’m there for my players, regardless of the politics.  γ

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