Golf

Top 10 takeaways from 2017 Masters

2017 Masters
Michael Dixon
Written by Michael Dixon

The 2017 Masters was one of the best ones we’ve seen in a while. For the first time since 2013, the first major championship of the year took more than 72 holes to decide.

When Sunday began, the Masters looked to be a free-for-all with several big names in contention. In the end, two of Europe’s best golfers — Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose — treated us to an epic duel. And for the first time in his career, we can call Sergio a major champion.

So, what are the main takeaways? Rose and Garcia each rank high, but who else does? How did Dustin Johnson’s absence impact the tournament? What can we take away from the disappointing performances of Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, and Phil Mickelson?

What are the 10 biggest takeaways from the 2017 Masters?

1. Sergio Garcia finally claims his major

Sergio Garcia reacts to winning the 2017 Masters

For Garcia, 0-for-73 at majors was more than enough. In probably the most emotional Masters win since Phil Mickelson’s in 2004, Sergio earned his first major.

And make no mistake about it, Garcia did it the hard way.

When he had to take an unplayable lie following an errant tee shot on the 13th hole, it looked like yet another major letdown for Sergio. But he had other ideas, scrapping through to make a par on that hole and playing at three-under over the final five holes.

Even missing a final putt to win on the 72nd hole did nothing to deter Garcia. He came through with a birdie on the first playoff hole to defeat Rose and get a massive monkey off of his back.

The fact that he did so on the 60th birthday of the late Spanish golfing legend Seve Ballesteros made his achievement even better.

It may be that a new and improved Sergio didn’t need a major win to be happy in life. But it will certainly be a nice bonus. Never again can anyway say Garcia was a great golfer who couldn’t win the big one. That’s pretty darn significant.

2. Disappointing near-miss for Justin Rose

If Rose hadn’t won the 2013 U.S. Open, this loss would have been been even more disappointing. That can mask some of the pain he must be feeling, as can losing to good friend and Ryder Cup teammate Sergio Garcia.

But this one will sting.

By all rights, Rose should have had a three-shot lead (or better) leaving the 13th green. But Sergio’s great par, along with a short miss from Rose, gave each of them a five. Normally, pushing a hole with a two-shot lead is fine. But walking off of the green, that one felt different.

Indeed, it was.

Rose now has five career top-10 finishes in the Masters. He finished tied for second in 2015 and earned solo second in 2017. He’s shown that he can play at Augusta. Now he has to show he can prevail against the famed second nine on Sunday at the Masters.

3. Parity continues to reign in golf

With Garcia’s win, six of the eight Masters contested this decade have been claimed by a first-time major champion. Phil Mickelson (2010) and Bubba Watson (2014) remain the only exceptions.

In general, first time-major winners have claimed each of the last six majors, dating back to Jason Day’s victory at the 2015 PGA Championship. It doesn’t quite match the nine in a row that we saw between the 2010 U.S. Open and the 2012 U.S. Open. But make no mistake, parity reigns.

And while a few guys (notably Rory McIlroy) have won multiple majors this decade, the major championships in the 2010’s have been far more spread out than they were in the 2000’s.

Only 22 men won the 40 majors contested between 2000 and 2009. By comparison, 22 men have won the 29 majors contested since 2010.

We don’t yet know who will win the U.S. Open in June. A lot can change in two months. But if you’re a believer in recent trends, note that the U.S. Open will probably be won by another first-time champ.

4. Rickie Fowler once again struggles to post four good rounds

Rickie Fowler at the 2017 Masters

Another first-time major winner being crowned in June is music to the ears of Fowler. But for now, the 2017 Masters will go down as another in a growing line of major disappointments.

For three rounds, this looked like a golden opportunity for Fowler. He entered the final round only one shot back and seemed to have the complete game necessary to win, or at least be a heavy factor on Sunday.

No dice.

Fowler bogeyed the fourth and fifth holes and never got on track afterwards.

Fowler is one of the most popular players on tour and deservedly so. He got a lot of attention early for his bright outfits, but he also developed a reputation for being gracious and giving with the fans. He’s also a darn good player, posting four wins in the USA and two more on the European Tour.

But he’s left a lot of wins on the table with poor fourth-round performances. He’s also failed to win a single major, having far too many follow a similar script to the 2017 Masters.

In order to be truly defined as one of the best players in the world, he has to seal the deal at one of these majors. Fowler is accomplished, but other twenty-somethings like Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and Jordan Spieth have won more in general and have all claimed at least one major.

For Fowler to be in a group with them, he has to come through at one of golf’s four biggest events. For Fowler, the 2017 Masters will be remembered as a failed opportunity to do just that.

5. Phil Mickelson is not U.S. Open ready

While Mickelson had his moments, the big lefty was not much of a factor at the 2017 Masters. That, in and of itself, doesn’t mean much as it relates to Mickelson’s U.S. Open chances in June.

But it’s hard to not be alarmed when looking at why he struggled.

Mickelson’s drives were erratic. Hitting fairways is a key to success at any tournament. But Augusta is one of the more forgiving major venues. Erin Hills is a largely unknown venue but if it’s anything like normal U.S. Open sites, it will severely punish errant drives.

Additionally, Mickelson’s short game was surprisingly bland at Augusta. Lefty is not only one of the best wedge players in golf history, but he knows the venue incredibly well. If his short game couldn’t bail him out at Augusta, how can we expect it to be there at a venue that he doesn’t know?

The good news for Mickelson is that the U.S. Open is two months away. The bad news? If he has any realistic hopes of wrapping up the career grand slam, his game needs a significant upgrade.

6. Jordan Spieth continues his complicated legacy at Augusta

In 2014, Spieth finished tied for second at his first ever trip to Augusta. The following year, he won, tying the Masters scoring record in the process. Those will always be part of Spieth’s Augusta legacy.

But his complete collapse at the 2016 Masters will also be a part of his legacy. Recording a quadruple-bogey nine on the 15th hole during the opening round of the 2017 Masters will also be a part of Spieth’s legacy.

In fact, the 2017 tournament was even more complicated. Spieth fought back brilliantly, even channeling the late Arnold Palmer to hit one of the tournament’s best shots on Saturday.

Unfortunately for Spieth, the magic seemed to stop there. Spieth entered Sunday only two back of the lead but bogeyed three of his first six holes, effectively taking his name out of the mix.

So, what do we make of this guy?

The talent is obvious. But a lot of Spieth’s calm, humble nature seems to have gone away. Since winning the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open, Spieth has been more willing to let his emotions show. But Spieth had one of the best seasons in golf history while maintaining a calm, stoic demeanor.

Showing emotion may work for some people (Patrick Reed), but Spieth’s best golf came when he was more of an icy player. He’d do well to try to find that person again.

7. Rory McIlroy’s career slam can’t be taken for granted

To a degree, it seems crazy to even suggest McIlroy won’t win a Masters at some point in his career. He’ll turn 28 in May, so there’s still plenty of time. Additionally, McIlroy has four top-10 finishes at Augusta including three in a row.

That doesn’t even include the 2011 Masters, which he dominated for three rounds before collapsing on Sunday.

So, he didn’t come through this year, but it’s just a matter of time. Right?

It’s certainly possible. But consider a couple things.

Greg Norman finished in fourth place at the 1981 Masters, his first trip to Augusta. From 1986-1989, he finished in the top-five every year at the Masters. But Norman never won.

Phil Mickelson has finished in second place at the U.S. Open six times. When Payne Stewart beat him in 1999, did anyone really think hat he’d still be without a win in his national championship 18 years later?

McIlroy was never really a factor at Augusta this year. It’s the third Masters in a row where he’s had a chance to complete the career slam, and while three straight top-10 appearances looks fine, those finishes are fool’s gold. He was never a factor in any.

Even if a McIlroy win at Augusta seems inevitable, it’s not something we can take to the bank.

8. Golden opportunity slips away for DJ

Dustin Johnson

Generally speaking, the world No. 1 not playing causes a tournament to lose some of its cache. At the Masters, that’s not really the case. Augusta National is the true star of the week every year.

So, while the tournament was fine without Dustin Johnson in the field, DJ’s absence was a major blow to him personally.

DJ had won each of his last three tournaments. Entering the week, he was the hottest golfer in the world by a wide margin. Given how 2015 and 2016 were his best career performances at the Masters, 2017 was a great chance for him to step up and claim his first green jacket.

It’s awfully hard to imagine that he wouldn’t have been at least in the mix over the weekend. The tough conditions of the first two days would have suited Johnson’s game very well.

Obviously, that was not meant to be.

9. Danny Willett proves that repeating at Augusta is hard

Danny Willett

The good news for Willett is that he can view this from a glass-half-full perspective. The defending champ always has to put the green jacket on the back of the newly crowned winner. It didn’t get much more awkward than Spieth, who had just choked the tournament away, having to put the jacket on Willett’s back in 2016.

The ceremony between Willett and Garcia was nowhere near as awkward. In fact, Willett was practically giddy to help Garcia don the famous jacket.

Willett — the 2016 champion — shot seven-over through the first two days and missed the cut. He became the first defending champ since Mike Weir in 2004 to miss the weekend.

But while we expected Willett to be a part of the festivities on Saturday and Sunday, his performance was only a mild disappointment.

Much was deservedly made of Jordan Spieth’s collapse in 2016. But in reality, the fact that Spieth was so close to repeating last year was a minor miracle. Tiger Woods was the last repeat champ at Augusta, winning in 2001 and 2002. Other than Spieth and Woods again in 2006, no other defending champs have come terribly close to repeating since Tiger’s successful bid.

If nothing else, we can let Willett’s 2017 tournament serve as a reminder. Winning any golf tournament two years in a row is hard. Winning the Masters in consecutive years is even more challenging. It’s something to remember when we’re looking at Garcia in 2018.

10. Augusta bids fond farewell to Arnold Palmer

Before the 2017 Masters ever got underway, Augusta chairman Billy Payne delivered a moving eulogy to golf’s one and only King before Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus hit the ceremonial tee shots.

It was an incredibly moving ceremony and a wonderful tribute to a man whose contributions to golf can never be adequately stated.

The 2017 Masters will certainly be remembered for Garcia and Rose’s thrilling duel as well as Garcia earning his first major. But it will also be remembered as the golf world’s final goodbye to a legend whose career and legacy was so intertwined with that tournament.

The Masters will go on and will always be the highlight of the golf season. But without Palmer, it will never be the same.

About the author

Michael Dixon

Michael Dixon

Bay Area born and raised, I have extensive experience in both the print and online worlds. There are few things in this world I love doing more than talking sports.