Lydia Ko – back to her brilliant best – file photo 

New Zealand’s Lydia Ko has today won her 16th LPGA Tour title but her first since the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship in 2018 and just her second in nearly five years with a seven-shot victory at the Lotte Championship in Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii.

Ko’s final round of 65 gave none of her chasers a chance, a back nine of 31 putting the final nail in the coffin of those hoping to chase her down.

Ko had finished runner-up to Cristie Kerr in this event in 2017 but after taking a one-shot lead over Nelly Korda into today’s final round she was never headed, extending her lead to four through nine holes, to five through ten before adding four further birdies and eventually cruising to victory over Korda, Inbee Park, Sei Young Kim and Leona Maguire.

Ko is back to what appears to be her best having finished runner-up on two occasions in four starts in 2021 prior to this win, the last of those at the recent ANA Inspiration Championship.

Ko’s victory will take her to the top of the 2021 money list on the LPGA Tour to $791,000, moving past Nelly Korda to do so but remains just behind Korda in the Race to the Globe standings.

The work Ko has been doing over the past twelve months or so with Tiger’s Woods former coach, Sean Foley, is now taking full affect and now that she has found her way back into the winner’s circle and, in the form she is in, it would seem more is to come.

“I think Sean has obviously helped a lot in the technical aspect, but he’s also been super helpful for me for a lot of things that goes on between the ears. He has been there to like slap me out of it if I’m not thinking right or over-complicating it. He’s kept it really simple for me.

“I think he’s just somebody that like has built up a lot of confidence, and I think at the end of the day the confidence and belief in yourself is the 15th club in the bag and almost the most important club.

“I think when that’s there you are able to play with a bit more freedom, and he’s really helped me with that. We’re continuously going to work on the same things. I know some days it’s not going to be good, but as long as I know and have a better understanding of my game, I think it just makes it a lot more simple.”

Ko has a new caddie on her bag this week but he (David Jones) has worked for her previously, this week’s arrangement also a one-off as Jones’ regular boss is not playing this week.

Ko’s regular caddie, Australian Jason Hamilton, will be back next week in Los Angeles for the next few events but he will be gutted to have missed such an important milestone for Ko.

“This was like a last-minute thing that I had to arrange, and luckily Sung Young wasn’t playing this week and she was kind enough to let me borrow Dave just for this week.

“And Dave being somebody that I had worked with prior to this week, it makes it a little bit easier and a bit more comfortable. We’re not starting things from scratch.”

Hannah Green did best of the Australians when she finished 12th after staging a fine recovery from three bogeys to start her final round.

 

 

 

Stewart Cink a five shot leader – photo Getty Images Sam Greenwood

Cameron Smith was unable to repeat his opening day brilliance at the RBC Heritage Classic in South Carolina but his second round of even par 71 has him at 9 under par and tied for 4th, although now seven shots from the lead held by two-time winner of the event Stewart Cink.

Cink, who finished a very encouraging 12th at last week’s Masters, added a second consecutive round of 63 today to lead by five over Canadian Corey Conners with another shot back to Argentinean, Emiliano Grillo.

Cink won this event on debut in 2000 and then again in 2004 although in more recent times his record around the Harbour Town Links layout has not been quite so good. He has not recorded a finish better than 30th in his last seven starts in the event but coinciding with his recent overall form improvement is a significantly better showing this week.

When asked how he is able to keep performing in what is his 22nd start in the event, Cink responded:

“I love playing golf, and the players I’m playing against aren’t getting worse, and that’s just the simplest answer. I don’t really want to stop doing this as a job, and the guys that come out here year after year get better and better, younger and younger, and they don’t make it any easier.

“So I have to continue getting more out of myself and managing myself different ways, and Reagan has been a huge help as far as that goes. To me it just feels like, duh, what other way is there.

The Reagan he is referring to is Cink’s son who is caddying for him at present and they seem to be gelling as a combination.

Reagan had his own thoughts on how it is working: “I think I call the shots. He listens to me most of the time. It’s a blast out there. We operate on the same wavelength pretty much all the time, so we get to joke around and have a great time in between shots, even when the stakes are pretty high and he’s playing really well. And then it’s efficient planning when we get to the shots, so it really works on a lot of levels.”

Cameron Smith – unable to keep pace after his brilliant start yesterday – photo Patrick Smith Getty Images

Smith was philosophical about his day. “Wasn’t actually too bad out there,” said the Queenslander. I think the golfing gods got a few back on me today. They let everything in yesterday, and today I thought I was putting really good and just had a lot of putts that went over the edge, didn’t go in.

”I’m pretty chilled out, to be honest. I just went and had pizza with my caddie last night and a couple beers and went to sleep, and woke up this morning feeling pretty fresh, ready to go this morning. Everything felt great on the range. It just wasn’t quite the day.”

Cameron Davis, the only other Australian in the field added a second consecutive round of 69 to be at 4 under and tied for 31st while New Zealander Danny Lee missed the cut by one, continuing a run of disappointing form in recent months.

World number one, Dustin Johnson, is at 5 under.

 

 

Former Hong Kong Open champion, Sam Brazel, comfortably through

The PGA Tour of Australasia has just completed its Final Stage of Qualifying School for the 2021 / 2022 season,  72 holes having been used to determine those who gain the right to play the Australasian Tour in the new season.

With Covid 19 having impacted on the scheduling of events and the tour school carried over from last December, the Open Course at Moonah Links played host over the last few days to an event which provides an all-important milestone for many wishing to ply their trade in the professional ranks.

The winner was Victorian Will Heffernan who completed the demanding Peter Thomson designed layout on the Mornington Peninsula at 5 under par, one shot ahead of Queensland’s Aaron Wilkin, NSW’s John Lyras and Victorian David Micheluzzi.

2020 Australian Amateur Champion, Jediah Morgan, from Queensland and Lismore’s Sam Brazel, tied for 5th.

Heffernan, who earned his 2020 Asian Tour card by finishing runner-up at that school early last year before Covid disrupted proceedings, will now have access to all events on the PGA Tour of Australasia over the next twelve months and, potentially, turn around a career which, for a range of reasons,  has failed to build continuity since turning professional more than two years ago.

Some 35 players gained full status and another 15 or so earned partial status on the PGA Tour of Australasia.

Perhaps highlighting the demands and roller coaster of professional golf is that players such as European Tour players, Sam Brazel and Jason Norris had to go through the process although both have comfortably gained the right to play the Australasian Tour once again.

The winner of Qualifying School will gain Tournament Exemption Category 9 for the duration of the 2021/22 season. This category is the equivalent of winning a Tier 2 Tournament with less than $400,000 on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia.

Players then ranked up to 30 will be placed in Exemption Category 13 for the duration of the 2021/22 season.

While not guaranteed It is envisaged players in this category will gain a start in all events with prizemoney of lower than $400,000 as well as having a strong chance of gaining a start in a number of the larger prize money tournaments. (the higher up the category the better the chance). This category is included in the mid-year category re-rank of which the player’s performance in the first half of the season will determine their position for the remainder of the year.

Players finishing in positions 31-50 will be eligible to become Full Tournament Members of the PGA of Australia for the 2021/22 season, however, they will not hold an exemption category.

This will deem them eligible to enter Pro-Am events throughout Australia as well as pre-qualifying for ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Tournaments.

Scores 

 

 

 

 

Smith in action today – photo Patrick Smith Getty

Cameron Smith, fresh from his top ten finish at last week’s Masters, leads after day one of the RBC Heritage Classic at Harbour Town Links on Hilton Head Island, the 27-year old’s opening round of 62 equaling the previous best opening round score set by his fellow countryman, Peter Lonard, and multiple winner of the event, Davis Love 111.

Smith’s nine birdie, bogey free round has him one ahead of 2004 champion Stewart Cink with Matt Wallace and Collin Morikawa another two shots back.

Perhaps the highlight of his round came at the 17th where he holed a bunker shot from behind the green to move to 8 under before yet another fine approach set up one final birdie.

Smith was quick to point out the more aggressive approach he was able to take around the greens this week compared to the fast and fiery Augusta National of last week.

“I mean, I feel like after last week, I feel like chipping around here is almost like a breeze,” said Smith. “I was so scared almost last week on every chip shot, and I feel like I can be really aggressive around here.

“Augusta, especially how I played last week was very stressful, I mean, you’re almost worried about every shot out there it seems like. After Sunday I drove back down to Jacksonville. I had a couple days at home.

“I drove up here Tuesday lunchtime, just played nine holes in the pro-am, and I feel like my game — I felt like my game was in a really good spot, so I didn’t feel like I needed to come here and really grind out a couple of good practice days. I felt like everything was in a good spot, and I think it paid off those couple days at home.

“This place really gets my creativity going into the greens. Especially there’s a couple of holes out there where you really have to shape it into the greens around trees, and if you’re in a bad spot off the tee, you just have to know where to miss it, especially with how firm the greens are out there.”

Cameron Davis, the only other Australian in the field, recovered from a slow start to his round of an opening 2 under 69 while New Zealander Danny Lee recorded a round of 68.

 

 

Cameron Davis  – plays his first RBC Heritage

This week’s RBC Heritage Classic at the famed Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island might have only two Australians in the field but this is an event which has been very good to Australians over the years with four of them having won over the Peter and Alice Dye designed layout.

Graham Marsh (1977), Greg Norman (1988), Peter Lonard (2005) and Aaron Baddeley (2006) have been previous champions over one of the PGA Tour’s most highly regarded venues.

Bruce Devlin, Greg Norman (twice), Ian Baker Finch and Aaron Baddeley have also been runner-up in the event.

This year Cameron Smith and Cameron Davis get their chance to add to that record, Smith playing here perhaps to repay an opportunity he was given back in 2015 when he did not have a card to play the PGA Tour and played the event on invite.

That year Smith finished a very impressive 15th in what was his first PGA Tour start in the US and although that has been his best finish and he has missed the cut in his last two starts there, Smith might still improve significantly on that debut performance. His 10th place finish last week suggests he is in good enough form to do so.

Davis gets to play Hilton Head for the first occasion, but he has played well enough in 2021 for him to perhaps continue the impressive record of Australians.

New Zealander Danny Lee is also in the field.

Dustin Johnson, Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay and Webb Simpson are the players from the current top ten in the field.

Simpson is the defending champion and Cantlay has been twice third and one 7th in his three starts in the event.

 

 

 

A huge day for Hideki Matsuyama and Japan – Photo Getty Images 

It would be hard to quantify the impact on Japanese and Asian golf today’s one shot Masters’ victory by Hideki Matsuyama will have but to say the least it will be significant.

He becomes the first Japanese male to win a major and the second Asian male (after Y.E. Yang) to claim one of the four major championship titles and in a golf crazy country like Japan, the win and the manner in which Matsuyama held off all and sundry will provide Japanese golf with a boost the likes of which has seldom seen previously – perhaps ever.

Isao Aoki, Jumbo Ozaki, Tommy Nakajima and Shigeki Maruyama are amongst leading Japanese male golfers to have finished inside the top ten in major championships, Aoki and Matsuyama however had been the best until today however when they finished runner-up at US Open Championships.

That all changed today when the 29-year-old Matsuyama took a four-shot lead into the final round and although the eventual winning margin was just one, he was never headed despite a slow start which saw him lose three of his four shot margin by the time he left the first green.

Will Zalatoris, one of his four closest pursuers entering the final round, birdied his opening two holes and when Matsuyama soon after hit a wild tee shot at the first and took bogey the margin was just one it appeared as if it might well have been a case of ‘game on’ for the remainder of the day.

Matsuyama would rebuild the lead when he hit a fine bunker shot at the 2nd to set up a birdie and by the time he reached the turn he had extended that lead to five over Zalatoris.

Every shot counted on the final day but there were several key moments. Xander Schauffele was playing in the final group with Matsuyama and when he bogeyed the 3rd, 4th and then double bogeyed the 5th his chances appeared gone.

The reason we love this event however is the amazing roller coaster it throws up and the opportunity for chasers to make up lost ground in a hurry.

Schauffele birdied six of ten holes from the 5th and when Matsuyama found the water behind the green at the par five 15th there were all sorts of possibilities beginning to emerge. Matsuyama, though, did remarkably well to save his bogey and although the margin between the pair was then just two it could well have been a very different story.

Then came the horror moment for Schauffele. Perhaps pushing hard to maintain the pressure on the leader, he found the water at the 16th, took triple bogey and despite another bogey by the leader the margin was three and it would be left to Zalatoris with birdies at the 15th and 17th to push Matsuyama to the limit.

Given the tremendous expectations on him how did the 29 year old feel as he anticipated today’s final round?

“My plan this morning was to wake up about 9:30,” said Matsuyama. “But needless to say, I arose much earlier than that and couldn’t go back to sleep. So I came to the golf course early. Had a really good warm-up. I felt really good going to the first tee, until I stood on the first tee, and then it hit me that I’m in the last group of the Masters Tournament and I’m the leader by four strokes. And then I was really nervous.

“But I caught myself, and the plan today was just go out and do my best for 18 holes. And so that was my thought throughout day, just keep doing my best. Do my best.”

Finding the water 30 yards behind the green at the 15th might well have been a mental error especially given the dangers that hole can present when going for the green and his then four shot lead but Matsuyama summed it up this way.

“Xander had just made three birdies in a row at 12, 13 and 14. I hit the fairway at 15, hitting first, with Xander having the momentum, I felt — it was a four-stroke lead, and I felt I needed to birdie 15 because I knew Xander would definitely be birdieing or maybe even eagling.

“But it didn’t happen. And so I stood on the 16th tee with a two-stroke lead, and unfortunately for Xander, he found the water with his tee shot and I played safe to the right of the green at 16.”

Matsuyama has already experienced his fan following in Japan is aware of the significance his win and just what it might mean for the game in his homeland.

“It’s thrilling to think that there are a lot of youngsters in Japan watching today. Hopefully in five, ten years, when they get a little older, hopefully some of them will be competing on the world stage.

“But I still have a lot of years left, so they are going to have to compete against me still. But I’m happy for them because hopefully they will be able to follow in my footsteps.

“I hope it will affect golf in Japan in a good way. Not only those who are golfers already, but hopefully the youngsters who are playing golf or thinking about playing golf, I hope they will see this victory and think it’s cool and try to follow in my footsteps.

“Up until now, we haven’t had a Major Champion in Japan, and maybe a lot of golfers or younger golfers, too, thought, well, maybe that’s an impossibility. But with me doing it, hopefully that will set an example for them that it is possible and that, if they set their mind to it, they can do it, too.

Zalatoris, in his very first appearance in the event, recorded a final round of 70 to be alone in second place, a performance which is further highlighted by the fact that only one player (Fuzzy Zoeller) since the very first staging of the event has won on debut.

“I’ve wanted to be on this stage for forever, for basically my entire life,” said Zalatoris when asked to assess his performance. “So I think, if anything, it’s like you finally get to this moment, and why shy away now? I’ve gotten here. So let’s go do some damage. It was a fun week.

“I can play with the best players in the world. I felt like I played well this week, but I felt like I left a lot out there. The first one’s coming. I’ve just got to keep plotting. Obviously, for my first time to really be in contention to be at the Masters is pretty special.”

“It hasn’t sunk in. I think, if anything, it’s just the fact that I’m one shot short. It’s just kind of sitting right in front of me, thinking through where I could have found that one or two shots, really. That’s just golf every single week. You always think about those one or two.

“But like I said, the fact I put myself in contention and was able to handle it and be in the final group in my third major in my entire career is obviously really exciting.”

Marc Leishman tied for 5th, his second-best finish in the event behind his 4th place finish in 2013. Birdies at the 13th and a near hole in one at the 16th resurrected a round going the wrong way until that point.

He finished as the leading Australian ahead of Cameron Smith and earned US$437,000 for his efforts.

“Yeah, a disappointing start, said Leishman. “It was tough early. I hit a good tee shot off 1 and just pulled my second. Then a couple of good shots into 3, made bogey. A couple of good shots into 7, made bogey. It was just, yeah, a little bit frustrating.

“But this place can do it to you. It’s hard. It’s hard when the wind is swirling and it’s firm. That’s the cool thing about this golf course when it’s in these conditions. A little bit of wind can make it really tough, as the scores show.

“If I’d have got the putter hot there late, I could have made a little bit of a run, but just didn’t quite drive it well enough today. Yeah, still a good tournament.

“Top 4s, top 5s in majors are good. You know, it’s just nice to play well. Felt really good out there. My game felt as good as it has for a long time, and I’m excited for the rest of the year now.”

Smith completed his third top ten in the event in just his 5th appearance and so despite a little disappointment at this week’s result the chances of his eventually breaking through have increased.

“Yeah, it was a pretty up-and-down week,” said the Queenslander. “There was lots of good. Just probably wasn’t quite sharp enough with the shots into the green. I think my putting was just a touch out. My speed was a bit out this week. No, but I already can’t wait to get back here next year. I want a crack at it again.”

Matt Jones finished a very respectable 26th and Adam Scott, the only other Australian to make the weekend, finished last of those who survived Friday’s cut.

SCORES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hideki Matsuyama in action this week – photo Getty Images

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama put together a simply brilliant final nine of 30 on day three of The Masters and tomorrow faces the prospect of becoming the first Japanese male to win a major championship.

The 29 year old leads by four over Justin Rose, Marc Leishman, Xander Schauffele and Will Zalatoris, Rose unable to take maintain his 36 hole lead while so many others took advantage of the more benign conditions on day three.

Chiko Higuchi was the first Japanese golfer to claim a major title when she won the 1977 LPGA Championship followed by Hinako Shibuno who won the Women’s British Open in 2019 but the huge milestone of a first major for a male golfer has thus far eluded the golf crazy nation.

Matsuyama’s bogey free round of 65 included a run of 6 under under par over the closing eight holes and amongst that run was a 3-putt par at the 13th.

At one stage early in his round he trailed Rose by five after the Englishman had birdied his opening two holes but Augusta National has a way of giving with one hand and taking with the other and so it would prove as the weather disrupted round was played out.

“I wouldn’t have believed it if I had been told before the round I would have a four shot lead,” said Matsuyama. But I played very well and my game plan was carried out.”

Perhaps in an attempt to deflect the potential pressure Matsuyama played a straight bat when asked what it would mean to become Japan’s first male to win a major tomorrow. “All I can do is prepare well, try my best and do the best I can.

“I have a lot of great memories watching the Masters as a boy always dreaming that someday I could play here.”

It was simply phenomenal by Matsuyama and it continues a run of excellent performances at August National since his debut as an amateur in 2011.

That year, he earned an invite courtesy of his victory at the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship the previous year and not only did he make the cut he led the amateurs.

The following year he again made the cut as an amateur and in the eight starts since he has missed only one cut and been inside the top ten twice until this week.

Matsuyama has already recorded seven top tens in major championships and given his impressive record at Augusta it is no real surprise he is in the position he is at present. One of those top tens was when runner-up at the 2017 US Open, equaling the performance of his fellow countryman Isao Aoki when that golfer finished runner-up to Jack Nicklaus in 1980.

Matsuyama, though, has the advantage of a four-shot lead and a golf game that has improved sharply following a run of tournaments which has seen not one top ten in his last eleven starts.

Later, Matsuyama put his improving game in recent starts down to the involvement of a full time traveling coach, Hidenori Mezawa, and paid credit to his role in turning things around.

“This year’s been a struggle. Haven’t really played my best. The last three years, you know, there’s been different probably reasons why I haven’t been able to win.

“But this year, starting early in the year, I have a coach with me now from Japan. It’s been a great help, a great benefit. Things that I was feeling in my swing, I could talk to him about that, and he was giving me good — he always gives me good feedback.

“He has a good eye. It’s like having a mirror for my swing, and it’s been a great help for me. We worked hard, and hopefully now it’s all starting to come together.”

Leishman remains Australia’s hope after his round of 70 has him in a share of second place.

Leishman recovered from a mid-round hiccup to birdie the 13th and 15th and finds himself just four from the lead. He missed two very makeable putts at the 17th and 18th but he is well placed and he knows it.

“Obviously if Hideki plays well, he can control his own destiny, I guess,” said Leishman. “But a lot can happen around here. I’ve seen it. I mean, I played with Scottie the year he won. I’ve seen what can happen. I’ve had bad rounds here myself and I’ve had good rounds. You can make up four shots fairly quickly, but you have to do a lot of things right to do that.

“He’s (Matsuyama) generally pretty steady. He’s a great iron player. You’ve just got to play good, it’s as simple as that. I’m not going to catch him if I don’t play well and make putts. I have to do my job. Whatever he does is up to him. That’s all I can do is what I can control, so hopefully I can control a lot of iron shots and birdie putts.

“But happy with the day, 2-under, four back going into tomorrow. If I keep hitting it the way I’m hitting it and can just get the putter hot, you never know what might happen.”

Cameron Smith recovered from a horror run in the middle of his round with two late birdies for a respectable 73 and finds himself ten shots from the lead but six shots out of second place.

Matt Jones had 74 to be at 1 over while Adam Scott continued his disappointing week with a round of 79 to be at 10 over and in last place of those who made the cut.

 

 

 

 

 

Marc Leishman – file photo

Marc Leishman heads the Australians at the halfway stage of The Masters, a second round of 67 having him just two behind the leader, Justin Rose, and in a share of 4th place as the first men’s major of 2021 heads into the weekend.

Leishman closed out his round significantly better than had been the case on day one, a homeward nine of 2 under quite a difference from the 3 over finish yesterday after what had been a great start to the tournament on day one.

Leishman again made a great to his round today, birdies at his opening three holes setting up his 5 under par effort, the only blemish coming at the dangerous 11th when missing the fairway right. He managed to hit a fine shaped recovery just short of the green but was unable to get up and down.

All in all, however, it has been a fine performance to date for the Victorian, especially given some performances below his normal level of late.

His putting has been amongst the best of the week to date, currently in second place in the putting stats.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” said Leishman. “This is why I came here. This is the position I wanted to be in. My game’s finally feeling good. It’s the Masters, so yeah, I’m excited for the next two days, but there’s a lot of good shots that have to be hit and a lot of good putts made to give myself a chance going into the back nine on Sunday.

“It’s probably too early to look at it as opportunity. As I showed yesterday, so much can happen around here that, no matter where you are on the leaderboard, as long as you’re somewhere near the top, anything can happen, whether you’re leading or five back. You go to that back nine, and it’s game on.

“I’m just happy to have a chance and be near the lead going into the weekend. You don’t really want to be nine or ten back going in and have too much work to do, particularly when the greens are the way they are. But, yeah, happy to be thereabouts.”

Cameron Smith worked himself into a great position when he eagled the 13th to get to 5 under and within two of the lead before his approach to the 14th did not jump out of the rough as he thought and he could not negotiate the difficult pitch from short of the green.

Then, at the next, he fell victim to the exceptionally dangerous 15th hole despite laying up with his second. He perhaps got a little too cute flag with his 3rd and came back into the water. The result was a double bogey and, all of a sudden, he was five from the lead.

Smith was unable to advance his cause over the closing three holes and in fact did well to save par at the last after finding the trees from the tee.

The 27 year old is, however, well enough placed just five from the lead and his chances of equaling or perhaps even improving on his runner-up finish last year remain alive.

“I’m quite frustrated, actually,” said Smith reflecting on letting his good early play slip late in his round. “I played some really good golf, and yeah, just to finish like that was quite disappointing.

“I felt like I had a lot going for me. I hit a lot of good shots coming in and just didn’t really get anything out of it and obviously a bit of a silly mistake on 15.

“I mean, 14 hurt. I didn’t really hit a bad shot there, I was just probably half a club out and we thought we were going to get a little flier out of the rough there, and just didn’t jump and come up short, and that’s probably not the best spot to leave yourself there. Yeah, learned something there.”

Smith however has a good record at Augusta National in the four previous times he has played the event and that might stand him in good stead this weekend.

“I think if we don’t get any rain, hopefully we don’t, I love the way the course is playing. I mean, I can play well here, I know it. I’ve done it before.”

Matt Jones has comfortably made the cut in just his second appearance in the event. He is at 1 under, in 17th place and one of only twenty players under par.

“To make the cut was always the first goal,” said Jones. “Today that 69 couldn’t have been — I missed a lot of putts out there. 69 was as high as I could have shot today. I think — I missed the 6th green and the 4th green, and I can’t remember missing another green other than that. I played great today.”

Adam Scott was clearly frustrated with his two bogey, one birdie round of 73 which saw him finish just inside the cut mark at 3 over. A drive into the trees at the first led to a bogey and set the tone for the day.

“I was flat out today didn’t play particularly well,” said Scott in an abbreviated interview after his round. “I didn’t give myself many chances, so not much happening.

“I just didn’t hit it close enough. It’s not easy putting from far around here. You don’t expect to make much. In fact, you’re just trying not to three putt. If I get a chance to play again, I’ll have to hit a bit closer.”

Jason Day was bitterly disappointed with his opening round effort yesterday and things did not improve today, adding a round of 76 to his day one 77 and he missed the cut by a massive six shots.

So four of the five Australians to tee it up on Thursday get their chance to advance their cause over the weekend.

Three of those players are under par and thus remain alive in terms of contending on Sunday but Leishman has displayed a much improved game over the opening two days and has an opportunity to improve on his previous best of his 4th place finish eight years ago.

Scores

 

 

 

 

Adam Scott not far from where he needs to be to do well – photo Getty Images

Reverting back to its traditional date after being played for the first time, last year, in November, the anticipation of an April Masters is building quickly and, in 2021, five Australians get their chance to add to the one Masters title the country has to its name.

Cameron Smith, Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Jason Day and Matt Jones have all played the event previously, Jones the least experienced with only one previous appearance while for Smith it will be his 5th, Scott his 20th, Leishman his 8th and Day his 11th.

Scott provided Australian golf with one of its finest moments when he won in 2013 but there has also been four other top tens for him including a runner-up finish in 2011 when he shared that spot with debutante Jason Day that year.

The fact that Scott finished a very meritorious 9th on debut back in 2002 suggested that this might be the golf course on which he would s record his first major title and so it would be when he defeated Angel Cabrera on that drizzling evening back in 2013.

By his standards, Scott has had an extensive preparation for this year’s event, this being his 8th event of the year and having made every cut and two top tens to his name including his last start 13th at the Honda, suggests his game is not far from where it needs to be to produce a good week.

“It’s been good,” said Scott when asked on Monday where his game is at right now. “I’ve had a couple of weeks to really do what I want with my game, and the test will be on Thursday, but there’s certainly been a focus on my long game.

“It was getting better at Honda, which was good, but I’d like to drive it a bit better again here, and if I can do that, I think that sets me up for a little bit more stress-free golf, which is not completely possible around Augusta National, but if you can take a little bit of the stress away, it makes for a nice week, and hopefully set yourself up for a run on the weekend.

Scott suggested the golf course is as firm as he has seen it in many years:  “Yeah, you don’t often see it like this on a Monday, but in my memory, 2007 had the firmest greens I think I’ve played here in my years. Zach won.

“But in the practice round that year I actually remember being on the 16th green with Greg Norman and poured some water on the slope and the water just trickled all the way across and off the green. It never got absorbed. That stood out for me. I didn’t do that today, but it looks kind of similar.”

Jason Day – Getty Images

Jason Day has the second highest number of appearances of the Australians this week and given only one person (Fuzzy Zoeller) has won on debut at Augusta National (other than in 1934 when all were here for the first time) his runner-up finish that year was stunning. His Friday round of 64 in just his second competitive round on the golf course was Day close to his best.

Day has also recorded three other top tens including a third-place finish behind Scott in 2013.

Day has been playing along solidly, if unspectacularly, thus far in 2021 and it appears he is in a happy place in his life but still retains the motivation to regain a number one standing at some stage.

“I think of myself as a better person now than what I was five years ago. I feel like I’ve found a happier place in my life. I’ve found a little bit more balance per se, and I’m not really driven by the results to make me happy because to be driven by results to make you happy, that’s very temporary, and your emotions go up and down, to the point where you’re always constantly thinking about it.

“My goal is to get back to No. 1 in the world, and I know that I’ll definitely do a lot of things differently just because I’ve been in that position beforehand. If I get back there, I know that things will be a little bit different for me, and hopefully I can actually extend and have longevity at No. 1 like a Dustin or Norman, Tiger, something like that.”

The aspect that has held Day back from being one of the true greats of Australian golf is the injury and health issues he has faced over the years. He appears to be getting to a stage where he is managing those issues perhaps better than previously.

“To be honest, when you sit there and you’re always getting these questions asked, how is your body, how is your back, it starts to like go into the mental side of things, and you actually start thinking about it.

“The more you think about it, the more it hurts. I’m trying to get past that in regards to my body which feels great at present. I’ve been doing a lot of work with my trainer, and I haven’t had a pain whatsoever. It’s been nice to be able to — I think since 2014 I’ve had like — I’ve had 16 MRIs on my back. It’s been a long journey, but now I feel pretty good about it.

“I think I’ve always been kind of a hard worker anyways, and I think that’s why my body has broken down the way it has. I’ve just got to do things differently now. I’m not 21 anymore. I’ve just got to do things differently, prepare a little bit differently.

“I think it has to be more on the mental side now than anything else. I’m doing a lot more visualization off the golf course than I’ve ever had in previous years, just due to the fact that the mind is probably the strongest thing that you’ll have out on the golf course, and if I can’t put in the work as much as I used to, then I’ll have to do it off the golf course and with my mental game.”

Cameron Smith – Getty Images

Cameron Smith arrives at Augusta National with the memories of just five months ago when he finished joint runner-up behind Dustin Johnson in one of the grittier performances ever shown at the Masters.

The 27-year old Queenslander produced some remarkable up and downs throughout that week but perhaps more so over the weekend to produce a remarkable finish.

Smith has continued on with some solid form including a 4th place finish at the Riviera Country Club a month ago and he will no doubt carry a lot more confidence into this week’s Masters than was the case twelve months ago.

Not only does he own a runner-up finish but in one other of his four previous starts he finished 5th so his record is very impressive.

The pandemic issues have prevented Smith from seeing his long-time coach Grant Field and he is missing the opportunity of getting first-hand feedback from a man who knows his game as well as anyone.

“Yeah, it’s been tough. Obviously sometimes it’s nice to be hands on. I know Grant likes to be here, obviously, so he can see everything.

“I send him videos and we do a Face-Time session with Pinner (caddie), myself and Grant probably once or twice a week, so it’s good in the sense that we’ve stayed in contact through that, but I know I want him here, as well, just so he can see kind of everything how I’ve been playing. He hasn’t seen me play. That’s probably the biggest thing.”

Smith played yet another practice round with his fellow Queenslander, Scott, today and relished the opportunity to again pick his brains.

“We play practice rounds most weeks. Just have a bit of a laugh. Obviously Scottie, I think, has been here about 20 years, so he knows a lot more about the course than what I do. Obviously pick his brain a little bit here and there, but yeah, just a good time really.”

Marc Leishman finishing 4th in Hawaii in January – Getty Images

Marc Leishman’s record in the event has been a roller coaster of sorts, three missed cuts in eight starts but there has also been a fine 4th place behind Scott in 2013 and a 9th place in 2018.

Leishman’s game has been below his best since an encouraging 4th place in Hawaii early in the year having missed two cuts and not made it out of the round robin stage at the recent Dell Match Play.

He did play well here last November when 13th so a turnaround is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Matt Jones win in Palm Beach Gardens – gains him his second Masters appearance – Getty Images

Matt Jones is playing the Masters for the second occasion and in 2021 he gets the chance to prepare a lot better than was the case in 2014 when his win in Houston the week before made him the last man to qualify for the event.

His rushed preparation that year resulted in a missed cut that year but having qualified three weeks ago when winning the Honda Classic he is enjoying more time to absorb the subtleties of Augusta National.

“Honestly I really can’t remember that much,” said Jones when comparing this year and 2014. “I won the week before, flew in that night, had nowhere to stay, stayed on Kevin Stadler’s couch. I think he had a house here. Monday was a wash-out, so I didn’t get to go out on the golf course, and then I got to see the golf course — 18 on Tuesday, nine on Wednesday, and then I’ve got the par-3. It was a blur.”

“It’s awesome,” added the Sydney born and raised golfer when asked of his impressions now. “Been seven years since I’ve been here. I came out last week for a couple of practice rounds, which was great, but it’s a little different than it was last week already. The surrounds have tightened up a lot, and the green speeds picked up one or two feet easily.”

Realistically, it would seem that Australian chances lie with Scott, Smith and Day.

Jones is still on a learning curve with Augusta National and Leishman’s most recent form is below that when arriving here in previous years.

Amongst the favourites defending champion, Dustin Johnson’s record is hard to fault. Five top tens in his last five starts here including his win last year tell the story of his comfort zone with the golf course although it must be said that despite being world number one his most recent form is a little concerning.

If I was looking for a player at longer odds to do well it might just be Sungjae Im.

The Korean golfer shared second place with Smith while on debut in the event last year and continues to play with great consistency on the PGA Tour.

What ever the outcome, it is just great to have The Masters back in its regular times slot.

Let’s hope an Australian again gives us something to shout about on Monday morning our time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lydia Ko – file photo Henry Peters

New Zealand’s Lydia Ko has staged a remarkable bid for a third major championship with a final round of 62 at the ANA Inspiration at Rancho Mirage in California and although falling two shots shy of the eventual winner, Patty Tavatanakit, that she was able to produce her best major championship result in nearly five years on the LPGA Tour, tells the story of her game’s resurgence.

Ko, began the final round a massive eight shots behind and thirty minutes ahead of the 54 hole leader, Tavatanakit, but after a brilliant opening nine 29 and seven birdies and an eagle in her opening 11 holes, Ko was making Thailand’s Tavatanakit’s first LPGA Tour title a little more difficult than it appeared at the start of the day.

Ko would add one more birdie at the 15th but the Thai golfer was showing no signs of bucking under Ko’s onslaught and she would eventually run out the winner by two.

Ko won US$287,000 for her efforts but perhaps more importantly went a long way to re-establishing the confidence eaten away by several seasons performing below the level which saw her such a star of the female game earlier in her career.

Ko was clearly enjoying the opportunity to contend again at this level and in a tournament in which she has experienced success previously. This event is one of the two major titles she has won and for a while in today’s final round it appeared she might have been applying the sort of pressure that might see the far less experienced Tavatanakit fold in the latter stages of the event.

“I think you just have to be really patient,” said Ko when asked what she will take out of this week. “I felt like my game is trending in the right direction. The first couple days this week and last week was a little messy, making clumsy mistakes here and there, but I feel like I was able to bring that together, and I’ve really just tried to have fun out there and I think that is such a big key for me.

“When you’re enjoying it I think everything kind of follows. Today is happy Easter so I feel like God was watching me and gave me all the right bounces, right breaks as well.

“To me going into today I didn’t want to play conservatively. I just wanted to go out there and play as aggressively but as smart as I can, and I think to some point when you’re so far behind, all you know is that you need to make as many birdies as you can. It was not a bad position to be in.

“Sean (coach Sean Foley) gave me a little pep talk on his way to the Masters while I was warming up today, and yeah, this place has so many great memories, me jumping into Poppies Pond with my family and team and having my second major championship win here, and even though we don’t technically have friends here, the members were out watching us, and they’ve always supported me and all of us and they love seeing the LPGA here.”

Ko has been working with renowned coach Foley in recent times and paid credit to some of the pepe talks he gives her and the timing of them.

“I think the area that Sean has really helped me is to sometimes call me and he’ll say a few things and I’ll be like, whoa, that was way too much. Not like technical stuff, but he kind of gives me like a word slap, like wake up, and I think that’s what we all need at some point. Sometimes you just get in the way of your way.

“I know that sometimes I get in the way of myself, and at the end of the day all I can do is — it’s me against the golf course, and sometimes the me part is the really hard thing to get over. He’s been really helpful to clear those questions and kind of build the confidence in me.”

The winner, Tavatanakit, is essentially in her rookie season on the LPGA Tour following a collegiate career at UCLA. The 21 year old recorded just one top ten in 14starts in a curtailed first season last year but already in 2021 she had finished 5th in one of her three starts to date.

She is considered one of the longest hitters on the LPGA Tour but combines that power with a deft touch, a combination which is expected to see her a regular contender in events and in major championship golf also.

“I didn’t look at the leaderboard at all today just because — I saw her name up there but I didn’t look at it,” said the 21-year-old who is remarkably just two years younger then Ko. “I wanted to play my own game, which I did, and did a really good job of that today.

“It’s a dream come true. Every time I play here I remember exactly I was on this green receiving my low amateur award and I saw they were jumping and I took a Snapchat and the caption was, One day. It’s been crazy.”

Hannah Green was the leading Australians when she tied for 14th, Gabi Ruffels was 19th and Minjee Lee 25th.,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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