Masters week has come and gone, and the season's first major closed with little drama Sunday night as Bubba Watson rolled to a three-shot win. Now we'll wait 51 more weeks for a return to Augusta and golf's biggest event. Here are 10 things I took away from the 2014 Masters.
1. Bubba Watson is going to win more Masters
I went into this in greater detail Monday morning after his second win, but Bubba Watson is the perfect player to repeatedly take down the modern Augusta National. With the new golf ball, a left-handed player has an advantage and Bubba's length accentuates that.
The winning score of 8-under wasn't a ridiculous number, so they're not going to "Bubba-proof" it or anything, but we're going to see him consistently shoot in the 60s. Unless his game falls off a cliff, Bubba will almost always be around the first page of the leaderboard.
After his first win, Bubba, understandably, didn't care all that much for golf -- he wanted to enjoy life as a new major champion and a new dad, and that led to a drought of non-contention. But Sunday was probably the start of a six-to-eight year run now where he's the guy to beat at the season's first major.
2. Jordan Spieth is a better, different kind of American prospect
The 20-year-old emerged on Sunday as the fan favorite and next great American golfer everyone was rooting for at the Masters. Then a two-shot lead became a two-shot deficit in two holes right before the turn, before Spieth's run at becoming the youngest Masters winner ever ended at Rae's Creek.
Spieth continues to exceed expectations, getting to major career mile posts sooner and faster than predicted. He got his full-time tour card less than a year ago, but he's already one of the favorites every week he tees it up. There are some awesome young American players under 30, even under 25, but Spieth is the best and most exciting young player in the game and the best U.S. prospect to come along in a decade. His rookie Masters validated that.
There was already a bit of a backlash to the hype Sunday night and Monday morning.
This Jordan Spieth majors hype rivals blabber about 19-year-old Sergio after his '99 loss to Tiger at the PGA. Wake me when either wins one.— Craig Bestrom (@GDCraigeeBee) April 14, 2014
That he didn't win his first Masters ever doesn't seem like cause for concern. Throwing Sergio's name out there is an easy way to take a shot. You could also just say he's like a 19- or 20-year-old Rory McIlroy, who came close at multiple majors, had a ton of hype, and then won two of them in consecutive years. Whether Spieth is the future of golf or not, we know what he is now.
3. Tiger wouldn't have had a chance
Even if he was able to play unbothered by the back problem that wrecked his Honda Classic and Cadillac Championship, Tiger Woods would not have hung with Bubba (and probably Spieth too) this past weekend. We now know that the back problem was a large part of his struggle in recent months, but Tiger was not sharp before that and had barely played since September. His Sean Foley-redesigned swing may be easier on his knee, but it's not yet reliable, especially at a major and most especially at Augusta, where you have to move the ball both ways. Even at 100 percent, Tiger wasn't going to keep up with Bubba.
Fred Couples works out his 54-year-old back. Photo credit: Andrew Redington
4. The old guys can still hang at Augusta
There were six guys over the age of 50 who made the cut this year. Some were expected on the weekend, others were not (Sandy Lyle, Larry Mize). Fred Couples is the exemplar of why Augusta is the perfect major championship venue, and at this point it seems we can count on him to be there on Sunday until he's 60. Bernhard Langer is the Euro equivalent of Freddie, a former Masters champ who can still make his way around Augusta with the young bombers. Langer finished inside the top 10, and second in the 50-plus division to Miguel Angel Jimenez, who's still chopping away with the young guys every week. The Mechanic had the low round of the tournament Saturday and finished fourth overall. Augusta is great because it incorporates everyone who's playing well regardless of particular strengths or weaknesses, and we saw that again this weekend with those six old guys making noise while players like Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Sergio Garcia and Patrick Reed went home early.
5. The Ryder Cup will be loaded
This week was another reminder that the European team for the Ryder Cup will be just as deep, if not deeper, than the collection of American talent we constantly hear and read about. Recent Ryder Cup results aside, the American group has the bigger pool to draw from and the tougher roster choices to make, but there will still be many options to fill out the 12-man European team.
Jimenez, who had advanced to assistant captain status, is probably going to make it as a player this year. The same could be said for Thomas Bjorn, a veteran who had taken on leadership roles in the organization of the Euro Tour but is now playing the best golf of his life. Then there's the new up-and-coming group, like Jonas Blixt, the Masters runner-up. Lesser known players like Jamie Donaldson and Stephen Gallacher continue to play better than some of the bigger names that have populated the Euro team over the last decade. It's going to be a tough roster to make for Gleneagles (current standings if you're interested).
6. This may be Rory's hardest major
The winner of the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship has struggled at Augusta since the great unraveling of 2011, when he sat on the 54-hole lead. That was a memorably gruesome day playing in the final Sunday pairing with Angel Cabrera. He hasn't been a factor at Augusta since. This week he was out of green jacket contention on Friday, the Sunday backdoor top 10 notwithstanding.
Augusta should suit Rory well. He hits the ball high, which should be an advantage coming into the slippery greens. He's also comfortable drawing the ball right to left off the tee. The biggest issue for Rory seems to be around the greens, where his sometimes inconsistent putting stroke can't always be trusted on the most important part of the course. Ironically, the Ulsterman has always said that he's not crazy about links golf, and aside from a T3 in 2010, he's never been a factor at the Open. But this year's backdoor T8 was his best finish at Augusta, and the greens continue to give him trouble since that Sunday implosion back in 2011.
Rory punches from the flowers at No. 13 on Friday, the point where his 2014 chances essentially ended. David Cannon/Getty
7. Rickie Fowler, Butch Harmon protege, is coming for a major title
This was Rickie Fowler's best major championship performance. Fowler was a contender up to the second nine on Sunday, proving that his short time under Butch Harmon is paying off. After tweaking some things with Tiger's old coach, Fowler started the season with three consecutive missed cuts during the West Coast leg. He told me last month that was due more to failures chipping and putting and not the swing changes, and after that MC streak, he came out of nowhere to get to Sunday and play fives matches at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. Fowler takes heat because his ubiquitous #brand presence on commercials is disproportionate to his one career win, but what we saw this week should change that. There were bad holes and bad stretches, but he avoided going in the tank and grinded his way to a T5. The work with Harmon is pushing him to a new level.
Masters photo gallery
8. When in doubt, whistle at your golf ball
It was great to have Miguel Angel Jimenez play a large role at the 2014 Masters. He made the British Open enjoyable through three days last year, and he was an incredible source of entertainment again this week. I chronicled his ascension to "most interesting golfer in the world" status Saturday, but for me, the high point came Wednesday during the Par-3 contest. Many amateurs helplessly exhort their golf ball with shouts to go in different directions or do different things, looking like nerds every time they do. The Mechanic, on the other hand, just whistles at his ball as if he were calling his pup into the house. And it worked:
9. The most Masters way to "streak" at Augusta
Here's how you storm the course at Augusta -- with pearls, a Lilly Pulitzer (or some such) skirt and a gentle barefoot prance across the green.
10. Last loops for Crenshaw, Stadler
While there was a strong senior circuit element to the weekend, a couple former winners and lifetime invitees closed the books on their career at the Masters. Craig Stadler, the 1982 winner, said before the tournament that this was likely his last Masters. He was part of the first ever father-son duo to play in the same Masters, after Kevin earned a berth with his win in Phoenix this year. The Walrus' 159 total through the first two days was his third-worst, but he hung around for the rest of the weekend and greeted his son as he walked off the 18th green following an impressive debut at Augusta. Getting to experience the week with Kevin should be it for him.
While providing commentary for Golf Channel during the Sunday morning pregame show, Crenshaw announced that next year would be his final Masters. The two-time winner has become the go-to source for Masters history and Augusta expertise, but his 83-85 in the first two rounds was the worst score of the week. He's got a booming course design business with Bill Coore and two Masters titles. I'm sure he'll still be around Masters week, just not as a player.