It’s almost November. That means Halloween is coming, there’s plenty of football on TV and the road to the Masters has begun. Yeah, that’s right, the Masters. Remember that whole pandemic that cancelled sports in the spring? Kind of hard to forget, considering it’s still going on. But despite the global crisis, golf has driven on, and the Masters has picked up a temporary new date. The last two weeks have seen the beginning of the road to Augusta, with the CJ Cup @ Shadow Creek and the ZOZO Championship @ Sherwood. Both were moved from their usual Asian homes, hence the course at the end of the names. Familiar names were abound at both events, but it was two underdogs who took home the crowns and, potentially, the momentum into the mid-November major.
Before a look ahead, here is a look back at the past two weeks of West Coast golf on the PGA Tour.
CJ Cup @ Shadow Creek
What’s the best way to close out a tournament and clinch a victory? Sure, a clutch putt on 18 is nice. A playoff win could be, too. But nothing beats a dominant, top to bottom Sunday round, capped off with a birdie on 18. That’s what Jason Kokrak did two weeks ago at Shadow Creek. He put up a -8 64, tied for the lowest round of the week, and birdied 18 to win. He beat runner up Xander Schauffele by two strokes.
Schauffele was in great position heading into the weekend—a Friday 64 had him at -14 after two days—but he faltered on Saturday. A +2 74 is near impossible to overcome when the winner finishes at -20. Tyrell Hatton and Russell Henley finished a stroke behind Schauffele tied for third, and Talor Gooch rounded out the top five.
ZOZO Championship @ Sherwood
Like he always is when he plays, Tiger Woods was the big story coming into this one. He was defending his title at the ZOZO Championship, after all. It wasn’t a great weekend for him, though. He’ll come up later.
Patrick Cantlay looked really good this weekend. He stayed consistent, too, and managed to pull out the victory. He never went over 68 and had two rounds of 65, his low for the week. While a win at -23 would be impressive on its own, he fought off a deep group of challengers on a crowded Sunday leaderboard.
Starting Sunday down three strokes, he needed something big. He came through with a personal best nine birdies. Not only that, but he had to fight off two of the top three golfers in the world, according to the Official World Golf Ranking. While world number one Dustin Johnson was out thanks to the virus, second and third were in contention. Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm finished a stroke back. It was particularly disappointing for Thomas, as he was the 54 hole leader and only finished -1 on par fives.
For Cantlay, this is hopefully a sign of things to come. “I was able to win one of the tournaments Tiger won last year,” he said of the ZOZO Championship, “so now I’m just going to go try and win the other event that Tiger won last year.” Sports fans won’t need a reminder what tournament that was.
Next week will be quiet. The Bermuda Championship, besides being a long commute, has half the purse of last week’s ZOZO Championship. Most major names will not be there. After that is the Houston Open. That’s one that could bring out a few stars, but with it being so far from Augusta, many will skip it.
Then comes the main event. The golf world has been waiting seven months, but the Masters is finally coming. On top of being arguably the most important tournament of the year, it’s Tiger Woods’s first major defense in over a decade. What more reason could anyone need to watch?
Speaking of, Tiger got to test run defending a title this past week. It didn’t go well. In the 77 man tournament that did not feature a cut, Tiger came tied for 72nd. He managed to stay under par, barely, but his Thursday and Sunday rounds raised questions. Thankfully, he bounced back after an opening 76 with a Friday 66. A 71 Saturday was followed by a Sunday 74.
“I did not drive the ball and didn’t hit my irons close enough consistently,” Tiger said. “The only thing I can take out of this week that I did positively, I feel like each and every day and pretty much every hole is I putted well.” Hopefully, he’ll be able to find his swing in the next two weeks.
On the bright side, Tiger did beat longtime rival Phil Mickelson. It wasn’t much of a feat, though. Lefty finished second to last.
Despite his lackluster run on the PGA Tour, Phil Mickelson has had a great start on the Champions Tour. After a win in August at the Charles Schwab Series, he picked up another the week before the ZOZO Championship. He finished the three day event at -17, three strokes ahead of runner up Mike Weir.
World number one Dustin Johnson missed the ZOZO Championship, his second tournament in a row, due to COVID-19. He should be ready to go come Augusta, though.
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