Tiger Woods’ outlook dimming for 2020 Masters among takeaways from Zozo Championship

All the focus of the 2020 Zozo Championship on Sunday was on Patrick Cantlay’s victory over Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas, who both stumbled a bit coming home and missed an opportunity for what would have been a third win of the year. However, there were more takeaways than just those two, especially since Masters week begins just 14 days from today.

Let’s dive a little deeper into what we saw at Sherwood Country Club over the weekend, specifically with how it relates to the final major of the year upcoming at Augusta National Golf Club. We’ll start with what will almost certainly be the No. 1 — or No. 2, depending on how long Bryson DeChambeau’s driver is — story at Augusta.

1. What to make of Tiger Woods

Through six rounds this season, Tiger is negative strokes gained in every single category (putting, around the green, approach shots and drives). To put this in perspective, he’s only finished negative in a single strokes-gained category eight times dating back to 2004 — and therefore likely his entire career given how good he was in the years leading up to 2004. 

This spells disaster for Augusta. Consider this: Leading into his win last year at the Masters, Tiger was 16 for 16 in positive strokes-gained rounds at stroke-play events before winning his fifth green jacket. In his last 16 rounds leading into this year’s Masters, he has just seven positive strokes-gained performances. He’ll flip a mental switch that should allow him to make the cut and possibly even flirt with contention, but unless something changes in a dramatic way with his game over the next two weeks, we will not be getting major win No. 16 from the Big Cat.

2. How excited should we be about Bubba Watson? 

There was a lot of buzz around Bubba on Sunday as he grabbed his second-consecutive top 10 at a PGA Tour event. Given how well he plays Augusta National and his recent solid form, is this building toward green jacket No. 3? Well, maybe. But also maybe not.

Bubba surged going into his two Masters wins, which is no surprise given his reputation as a streaky, feel-y player. However, during both of those Masters he was more or less existing as a top-10 player in the world (blue line below). That’s not where he’s at these days. Last year is instructive. We saw a surge similar to the one he’s currently on heading into the 2019 Masters, and he shot 72-72 to open before finishing T12. Bubba might win the Masters, but this jump is a bit different than the two that led into his previous wins at Augusta National. 

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3. Patrick Cantlay is a threat

Cantlay’s win at Sherwood was a reminder of just how devastating he can be when the putter is working. He scared the lead at the Masters, and thru 15 holes he was 12 under (only Tiger was better at -13) but he bogeyed Nos. 16 and 17 to fade to T9. He will just absolutely wear you out from tee to green as he did all week at Sherwood, and then it can turn into a putting contest. The way to win the Masters these days might be to get yourself into a putting contest with the five or seven other best ball-strikers in any given week. On Sunday at the Zozo, Cantlay made three putts from 15 feet or more. If he misses just one of those, he’s in a playoff with Rahm and Thomas. It’s also how he might win the Masters.

4. Rahm reigns

Among the golfers at the Zozo who are also playing in the Masters, only Rahm and Cantlay finished above 2 strokes gained per round from tee to green. He’s going to end up being my pick to win the Masters given his two top-10 finishes there in the last two seasons, and his form since Aug. 1 ranks behind only Dustin Johnson (sketchy Masters history) and Xander Schauffele (sketchy closing history). I’m undeterred by the sloppy finish on Sunday from Rahm. If he putts it decently at Augusta National, he’s going to win the golf tournament. 

5. Augusta can’t even revive Spieth and Mickelson, right?

That’s correct. Even though they have two of the best scoring averages in the history of the tournament, neither is bring a game worthy of contention to Augusta National. With Zozo likely our last look at both before the Masters, there was nothing about their respective performances that says the Masters is going to look any different than their last few major performances. Spieth lost 1.3 strokes per round off the tee and on approach shots (often termed strokes gained ball-striking), and Mickelson more than doubled him at -3.3. Both will need a miracle to contend in two weeks.

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