Time was when golf fans had to wait an agonising 10 weeks from the end of the Masters until the start of the next major championship but in this first season of rejigged schedules, the weekend’s drama at Augusta National marks the beginning of a breathtaking run of one major a month between now and July.
So it won’t be just Tiger Woods keenly anticipating the Bethpage Black course in Long Island, New York and a PGA Championship in May. We can all look forward to an action-packed spring and summer of serious golfing action.
Here’s just five of the many talking points to take from this year’s epic 2019 Masters.
1. The second coming of a golfing messiah
As Tiger Woods marched triumphantly up the hill from the 18th green towards the clubhouse, Butch Harmon declared on Sky Sports: “Tiger’s back. Golf’s back”. This was no empty hyperbole. In winning his fifth Masters and a first since 2005, Woods will once again transcend golf and get all sports fans and more besides talking about the remarkable drama of Sunday at Augusta National.
Golf fans will need no reminding of the excellence of those who have filled the breach since Woods won his 14th major back at the 2008 US Open but as far as everyone else from television executives to armchair sports fans were concerned, the game might as well have shut down when Tiger was struggling with poor form, scandal and debilitating back problems.
So fear not. Tiger is back and all is well with the world once more.
2. Just how good was that win?
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To win a major championship is very difficult. To win 15 of them something very special indeed. To win that 15th major coming from behind for the first time is a notable event, both in underlining Tiger’s dominance of the game between 1997 and 2008 and informing us about the man’s competitive drive to get over the line once more this week.
And to do all of that and top a quality leaderboard littered with fellow major champions, all of whom had won their titles more recently than him, well that is something to admire as well. Yet what made this victory unrivalled in modern sporting annals was that as recently as December 2017, Woods’ world ranking had fallen to 1199th following four back surgeries.
From wondering whether he would ever play the game competitively again to seeing off all-comers at Augusta National as they crumbled while his hammered home his superiority was a sight to savour. Only Ben Hogan’s comeback from a near-fatal car accident in 1949 to win the 1950 US Open puts Tiger’s return in the shade in terms of golf’s greatest comebacks.
3. What next for Tiger?
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You have to wonder what this great golfer is now capable of achieving over the next few years. At the age of 43 Woods still has time on his side to catch Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships. The Golden Bear won his 18th, the 1986 Masters, at the age of 46 and that came six years after numbers 16 and 17.
The way Woods was dialled in at Augusta, especially during Sunday’s final round when his distance control was unparalleled, suggests we are going to be seeing a lot more of that famous red shirt in leaders’ groups. Paddy Power have moved Woods into 5/1 to win 18 or more majors, and 10/1 to win 19 or more.
The fact that Woods has claimed victory in the past at both Bethpage Black, host of next month’s PGA Championship, and Pebble Beach, to where the US Open returns in June, will make the newly-elevated World No. 6 feel right at home in the next two majors of the season. Tiger is 6/4 to win two or more majors in 2019, 10/1 to win three or more. That Royal Portrush will stage The Open Championship for the first time since 1951 means the Irish links remains a mystery in competitive terms and Woods is 50/1 to win all four majors this year.
4. Will Rory McIlroy ever win a career slam?
While many of the world’s best were locked in a tussle at the top of the final-round leaderboard with eventual champion Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy was down among the also-rans at Augusta on Sunday. The Green Jacket continues to elude the Irishman, who on Saturday night admitted he had made too many mistakes over the first three round to mount a serious challenge for the one major championship he is yet to win. This was the fifth year that McIlroy arrived looking to complete the Grand Slam – only to come up short again.
This year was his worst finish yet, a tie for 21st, since adding The Open title to his US Open and PGA successes in 2014.
Each year McIlroy tweaks his schedule or tries something new to prepare for the opening major. This year he won The Players and came in as pre-tournament favourite having ticked all the boxes for success, his brain de-cluttered thanks to juggling among other things. Yet he will have left on Sunday night still scratching his head at having failed to locate the final piece of his majors’ jigsaw.
5. Who wins at Augusta in 2020?
Woods is 8/1 favourite to retain his title in 2020 but who can break into that select club of golfers to have earned a place in the champions’ locker room? McIlroy is joint second favourite at 10/1 alongside Dustin Johnson, whose final-round 68 earned a tie for second place alongside fellow Americans Xander Schauffele, playing just his second Masters, and Brooks Koepka.
All three would be among the favourites to win at Augusta in the future. Johnson notched his fourth consecutive top-10 finish at the Masters and his -11 total bettered his previous low mark after 72 holes by three strokes. Schauffele improved on his debut finish of T50 12 months by 20 strokes while Koepka is another who seems to have cracked the Augusta puzzle in his fourth attempt, having missed 2018 with a wrist injury.
Koepka’s 12-under finish improved on his previous best in 2017 when he claimed a tie for 11th on one under. All three will return next year emboldened by strong showings this week.
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