So many questions nonetheless unanswered with the Masters coming quickly

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Considerably misplaced within the insanity that was final yr’s Masters was Patrick Cantlay, the soft-spoken, stoic former novice phenom who has one of many smoothest swings within the recreation if not the professional résumé to match.

Cantlay made an eagle at Augusta Nationwide’s par-5 15th through the ultimate spherical in 2019 to briefly take the lead, solely to bogey the following two holes. With Tiger Woods profitable and Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson proper there, and Francesco Molinari’s difficulties and all method of different gamers within the combine, Cantlay was simple to overlook.

However he did tie for ninth. And he tied for third on the PGA Championship a month later.

Sunday’s victory on the Zozo Championship at Sherwood assures nothing when the sector assembles for the Masters subsequent month. However beating again two of the perfect gamers within the recreation in Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas with a final-round 65 actually would not damage. Neither does making solely two bogeys over 72 holes.

Sherwood Nation Membership will not be Augusta Nationwide. However having some confidence going there would not damage, both. Nor does having some good reminiscences to attract upon.

And he isn’t nervous about peaking too early.

“I used to be in a position to win one of many tournaments Tiger received final yr,” mentioned Cantlay, who received his third PGA Tour occasion. “So now I am simply going to attempt to win the opposite occasion that Tiger received final yr.”

That may be a easy manner to take a look at the Masters. However on this strangest of years, a November Masters comes with quite a few questions. What’s the easiest way to arrange? How will the course play? Will the climate have an effect? What about no spectators?

Three prime gamers — Johnson, former Masters champion Adam Scott, and Tony Finau — will arrive at Augusta Nationwide having handled COVID-19 diagnoses. Finau, who contended final yr, tied for 11th at Sherwood in his first occasion again. Johnson was purported to play this week however could not; Scott examined optimistic previous to the beginning of the Zozo.

That is only one wrinkle we have by no means needed to think about up to now.

And what we all know is that we actually do not know.

“I believe it is a once-in-a-lifetime distinctive week that we’ll in all probability not see once more,” mentioned three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson, who shot a final-round 78 at Sherwood and completed second to final. “I do not know what to anticipate. I believe enjoying the identical course for consecutive majors is attention-grabbing in and of itself.

“I am appreciative of the hassle they’re making, the Augusta Nationwide Golf Membership, in offering this match and giving us the chance to compete for a Masters title and I believe all of the gamers are appreciative of that in addition to all these tournaments that we have performed as a result of it is such a distinct atmosphere.”

Mickelson received on the PGA Tour Champions final week and appeared out of kinds this week. He is nonetheless not sure how he’ll method the remainder of his preparation for the Masters, making an attempt to determine between a Champions Tour occasion in Phoenix or the PGA Tour occasion in Houston the week previous to the Masters.

Even Woods is not sure. The defending champion considerably surprisingly broached the thought earlier this week of enjoying in Houston regardless that he has by no means competed the week previous to the Masters as a professional. He left the door open Sunday after enjoying with Mickelson and capturing 74 and ending in a tie for 72nd in his Zozo title protection.

Though it appears unlikely he’ll add the Vivint Houston Open in two weeks, he did not shut it down Sunday. And he is aware of he has work to do after ending 25 pictures behind Cantlay in one other uninspired effort that has been the theme of his six tournaments for the reason that PGA Tour’s June restart following the coronavirus pandemic break.

A number of instances Woods has lamented the shortage of spectators at tournaments because of the coronavirus protocols, a side that shall be in place at Augusta Nationwide and that he mentioned he was having problem determining.

“Typically we have been on the placing inexperienced there earlier than we tee off and also you hear roars on the market on 12 and 13, they reverberate all the way in which as much as the clubhouse, and [this year] there’s going to be nothing,” Woods mentioned. “In order that’s one of many issues that I have been interested by the previous few weeks is what’s that going to be like.”

Thomas concurred. He felt he let a chance slip Sunday, enjoying the final 12 holes in even par and enjoying the par 5s in simply 1 beneath par. Lesson discovered, he mentioned.

“I’ve bought to discover a approach to sort of simply keep somewhat bit extra targeted on the market,” mentioned Thomas, who tied for 12th on the Masters final yr. “It is loopy, however typically it is arduous to simply sort of maintain the killer intuition and keep within the zone when it is as quiet as it’s on the market.

“It is powerful, however we’re all coping with it and I simply have to search out somewhat bit higher manner with how to deal with that right here within the subsequent couple weeks as a result of I’ve bought an enormous occasion on a course that I really like. I really feel like I am enjoying properly and I really feel like I ought to have an excellent likelihood to win. Lots of positives this week. I can not take a look at it as a nasty week, however it’s upsetting not getting it executed.”

Then there’s Rory McIlroy. We have been sleeping on McIlroy a bit as a result of he has not executed a lot for the reason that restart. Amazingly, the four-time main champion has solely two top-10 finishes in 12 tournaments going again to June, with no possibilities to win over the again 9.

However he made 29 birdies for the week at Sherwood, capturing 67-66 on the weekend. However he managed only a tie for 17th — eight pictures again — as a result of he additionally had three double bogeys and eight bogeys. Simply too many errors, he mentioned.

And but it by no means hurts to be making a number of birdies.

McIlroy is aware of all about pleasure heading to Augusta Nationwide. He has handled it since coming inside a Masters win of the profession Grand Slam when he received the 2014 Open — to not point out his blown 54-hole lead in 2010. He has had 5 cracks on the profession slam since, unable to get it executed.

And in a distinct sort of yr, McIlroy type of likes the way in which that is shaking out. Determine a approach to reduce the errors. And switch a unfavourable — the shortage of buzz — right into a optimistic.

“I like this extra,” McIlroy mentioned. “There’s not as a lot hype. Not as a lot … simply not as a lot noise. I type of like this higher.”

It undoubtedly goes to a distinct sort of Masters.

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