Golf

Biggest winners and losers from 2017 Masters

Sergio Garcia reacts to winning the 2017 Masters
Jesse Reed
Written by Jesse Reed

After four brilliant days at Augusta National, the 2017 Masters is in the books with Sergio Garcia winning his first major at the age of 37 to claim the green jacket.

The final group of Justin Rose and Garcia put on a thrilling display of golf on the back nine, needing a sudden-death playoff after 72 holes to decide the victor.

The first couple of days featured some tumultuous weather, which not surprisingly resulted in some big scores by some of the world’s top golfers. Some players were able to fight through the wind and scored low, however, leading to a surprising leader in addition to some surprising cuts.

Then Mother Nature invited us all to witness Augusta in all its glory with a fantastic weather weekend that allowed the golfers to go full bore.

With this as our backdrop, it’s time to dive into a look at the biggest winners and losers from the 2017 Masters.

Winner: Sergio gets the monkey off his back

Once upon a time, Garcia was Tiger Woods’ peer as one of the very best young golfers in the world. That was before the start of the 21st century.

He burst onto the international scene as a 19-year-old amateur at the 1999 Masters, tying for 38th place in the same tournament that fellow Spaniard José María Olazábal claimed the green jacket.

At the time, it was expected that Garcia would join Olazábal and Seve Ballesteros sooner, rather than later, as a Spanish major champion.

Years went by, and Garcia couldn’t manage to live up to the high expectations. In fact, he shrunk when the lights got hottest in major tournaments, choking away leads on more than a few occasions. Twenty-two times he finished in the top 10 during major championships, but never did he win.

It appeared he’d suffer the same fate on Sunday when, two shots back of Rose on the par-five 13th hole, he shanked his drive into the bushes to the left of a water hazard. As a result, he ended up taking a penalty drop.

Meanwhile Rose was in perfect position, and it appeared the tournament was his to win.

Somehow Garcia saved par, and on the same hole Rose faltered on the green, also making par.

As golfers know, not all fives are created equal. Garcia went on a tear the next two holes, going birdie-eagle on 14 and 15, and suddenly things weren’t so crystal clear.

It appeared Garcia would potentially once again find a way to lose when he pushed his putt to win on the 72nd hole, but it ended up being Rose who couldn’t get the job done on the 73rd hole.

The rest is history.

Loser: Rickie Fowler hit a brick wall Sunday 

Rickie Fowler at the 2017 Masters

Always mentioned among the best golfers to never win a major, Fowler had at least one top-five finish in each of the four majors entering the 2017 Masters.

Fowler was in prime position through three rounds to finally break through with a strong showing on Sunday. Unfortunately, his breakthrough didn’t happen. The 28-year-old absolutely hit a mental wall on the back nine Sunday, going four-over par in his final eight holes to finish outside the top 10.

Making matters worse, after Fowler scrounged up a birdie to get back to four-under par on the tournament, his final three holes went like this: Bogey, bogey, bogey. He and playing partner Jordan Spieth (more on him later) were seen as two of the top players to watch Sunday. But in the end, neither was able to live up to expectations.

No longer a particularly “young” golfer, Fowler is now a nine-year veteran of the PGA Tour. One wonders at this point if he’ll always be on the cusp or if he’ll finally break through with a major win at some point. Talent isn’t the issue, of that we’re quite certain. But it takes some stones to play your best on Sunday when the heat gets turned up, something Fowler has yet to prove he possesses.

Winner: Matt Kuchar takes rocket trip up leaderboard in final holes

Matt Kuchar

Entering Sunday’s final round, Kuchar was in good, but not great shape at even par, six shots off the lead.

Entering the signature par-3 12th hole, he was still at even par, even farther back. Then, he hit a switch and went five-under in five holes, capping off the incredible stretch with a hole-in-one at the 16th hole (watch here).

His masterful performance in these holes vaulted him up the leaderboard, and Kuchar ended up finishing in a tie for fourth place. This surge up the standings will pay off handsomely when his huge check hits the old bank account.

Kuchar has been off his game the past two years at Augusta, but we shouldn’t forget he placed in the top five twice and top 10 three times during a three-year stretch from 2012-14. Based on his past experience, we shouldn’t be surprised to see Kuchar putting on a green jacket sometime in the near future.

Loser: Augusta stairs trip up Dustin Johnson 

Heading into the 2017 Masters, no golfer was scorching golf courses like Johnson. He was, by far, the hottest golfer heading into this weekend at Augusta with three straight wins and a third-place at Pebble Beach in his previous appearance before them.

Unfortunately, the injury bug bit him hard thanks to a staircase at his Augusta rental home the night before the tournament began. Johnson was laid up all night Wednesday and tried to get his back loose enough to play Thursday but never made it onto the first tee.

Johnson hit balls, went back to get treatment and then came back out to hit more balls. Unfortunately, he never got loose enough to give it a go.

It was a huge disappointment, not only to Johnson but to anyone who wanted to see the world’s best golfers competing for the green jacket. Johnson had placed in the top six the past two Masters and has the game to win this major championship.

Combined with his hot streak, he was the clear-cut favorite to win this year. And on a non-golf note, there were plenty of disappointed golf fans who lost money after Las Vegas casinos refused to offer refunds when he couldn’t play.

Winner: Amateurs hold their own over the weekend

A couple of amateur golfers made it to the weekend this year, and both of them did a fantastic job playing one of the toughest courses in the world on Saturday and Sunday.

Curtis Luck, an Australian who recently became the No. 1-ranked amateur golfer in the world, won his first pro tournament last year as a 19-year-old amateur. While he didn’t come close to reaching the top of the leaderboard this weekend (T-46), Luck managed two rounds at par, including Sunday’s final round.

Along the way, he managed to show off his short game while proving the stage at Augusta is not too bright.

Stewart Hagestad qualified for the 2017 Masters by winning the 2016 Metropolitan Amateur. The 25-year-old USC product was extremely steady throughout all four rounds, shooting 74, 73, 74, 73, respectively. For his efforts, Hagestad finished in a tie for 36th place, which is very respectable.

These two golfers have bright futures ahead of them, especially Luck, who is just 20 years old.

Loser: Danny Willett first defending champ since Mike Weir to miss cut

Danny Willett

The last time a defending Masters champion didn’t make it to the weekend was in 2004 when Canadian Mike Weir missed the cut.

Perhaps in part due to some nerves at being the defending champ, Willett botched the opening hole on Thursday with a double-bogey and then again Friday when he posted an awful quadruple-bogey to get his second round started in the worst possible way.

“If the drive on the first was a foot off the edge of the trap,” he said, per James Corrigan of The Telegraph. “If it goes in the bunker it’s not too bad; if it goes a foot right you can get a stance. Not the best start. I played some pretty good golf in the middle there and couldn’t hole a bean. You’ve seen on the last there, I had a chance to salvage something from a tricky day.”

The Englishman had a chance to squeak in and play the weekend heading into his 36th hole. Hoping for a birdie to ensure his chances, he airmailed his tee off the 18th tee, pitched out, hit a brilliant shot from roughly 100 yards out but then missed his par putt in agonizing fashion.

Given the fact Willett hasn’t been able to generate any momentum this year it’s not surprising his Masters encore fell so flat. Still, it had to have been a bitter pill to swallow.

Winner: Fred Couples, Steve Stricker prove age isn’t a big factor at Augusta

It’s fitting that Couples had such a big impact at Augusta in the first Masters contested without The King, Arnold Palmer.

One of golf’s most beloved figures for years, Couples, now 57 years of age, drank from the Fountain of Youth this weekend to produce a tremendous four-round performance score of 289, tied for 18th place.

As a one-time champion and an 11-time top-ten finisher at Augusta, strong play on this course isn’t something new to Couples. However, he had previously missed his last two cuts at the Masters, making this year’s performance all the sweeter.

Stricker, who is 50, also had a fantastic tournament and finished it off in style with a final-round 68. The four-under-par round set him up at even par overall — one shot better than Couples — to tie for 16th place.

It also just goes to show that, while golf is most certainly dominated by the youth, this course at Augusta is somewhat of an equalizer. More so than at many other golf courses around the world, strong iron play, a sweet putting stroke and pure knowledge of the nuances on the ground give more experienced golfers an edge at Augusta.

Loser: Bubba Watson misses cut, lashes out at reporter

It’s either feast or famine for Watson, who is definitely on the famine side of things this season. Heading into the 2017 Masters, the lefty had missed the cut or withdrawn from three of his last six tournaments.

He didn’t improve his fortunes this weekend.

Posting scores of 74 and 78, he exited Augusta two shots outside the cut line. As we’ve grown to expect from this two-time Masters champion, Watson was a bit unfiltered following a dismal performance on Thursday and Friday at Augusta.

Now, to Watson’s credit, he did issue an apology of sorts after his emotional response.

Watson very well may have been joking. But given his historically loose tongue and penchant for lashing out at people when he’s not on his game, he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt here. Furthermore, we’re talking about a two-time Masters champion, and this is supposed to be a gentlemen’s game, after all.

Winner: Golf fans treated to tremendous final round as Augusta shines

Augusta National during the 2017 Masters

After a testy start for many of the world’s top golfers in very windy conditions, the golf gods granted a reprieve on Sunday.

Barely a ripple of breeze could be seen atop the ponds at Augusta. The sun was shining, and when the leaders lined up for key putts, the only thing one could hear were the birds chirping in the background.

As a result of the perfect conditions, low scores were the order of the day for those who managed to find themselves among the leaders. As we’ve mentioned discussing the two who battled it out for the win, Rose and Garcia basically ended up going match play to finish out the tournament. We also highlighted the fine play of Matt Kuchar.

But they were not the only men who found the course to be in prime scoring condition Sunday.

Of the 21 top golfers at the conclusion of the Masters, 14 of them were below par during Sunday’s final round. It was just a mesmerizing display of top-level golf, much to the delight of everyone who had the privilege of watching.

Loser: Jordan Spieth learns the hard way pride comes before a fall

Spieth felt very good about his chances at winning the 2017 Masters after posting an impressive four-under-par round of 68 on Saturday.

Of course, given the way Spieth has played Augusta — minus his Amen Corner meltdown last year — he had reason to feel great about his game heading into Sunday’s final round. Just two strokes off the lead and in a tie for fourth place, he was in excellent shape for a Sunday charge to the top of the leaderboard.

Unfortunately, after Saturday’s round Spieth took a rather pointed jab at Tiger Woods, who of course wasn’t playing this weekend as he continues to struggle with his health (more on that here).

If you believe in karma or reaping what you sow, you don’t need us to tell you how Spieth’s final round went. But we’ll do it anyway. He completely melted down at one point, shooting 75 to finish in a tie for 11th place. Along the way, his nemesis from last year — the par-3 12th — came back to bite him again.

That’s some humble pie right there.

Now, as we saw last year Spieth did manage to bounce back after his mistakes, going three-under par in his last four holes. But the damage was done.

About the author

Jesse Reed

Jesse Reed

Managing Editor here at Sportsnaut. Featured on Yardbarker, Foxsports.com and MSN.com, and formerly was a breaking news writer/NFL analyst for Bleacher Report.