With the ANA Inspiration, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, and the Masters back in their traditional spots on their respective schedules, things may not have returned to normal in this era of COVID-19, but those events are doing a fine job of diverting attention from a side of life we’d prefer to forget right now.
After both events were moved back in the 2020 schedule due to the pandemic, the first week of April this year has already been eventful, with more to come as the week progresses at Augusta National.
The champion’s leap into Poppie’s Pond at Mission Hills is usually preceded by something special at the ANA Inspiration, just as it is before the green jacket goes over the shoulders of the champion at Augusta.
All you can say about somebody who overlooks the proceedings in Rancho Mirage, Calif., because he or she is looking past it in a hurry to get to Masters Week is that it’s that person’s loss.
This year is no exception for last weekend introduced us to a 21-year-old rookie, who took a wire-to-wire victory in a major championship as her first tour win, as if that wasn’t enough.
Patty Tavatanakit also fell just one stroke shy of the 72-hole tournament scoring record and averaged 323 yards off the tee to demonstrate the long ball isn’t exclusive to the fellows currently playing their practice rounds at Augusta.
What makes Tavatanakit’s victory so special is that, despite her inexperience in such a situation, she didn’t flinch despite a hard charging veteran and when we say veteran, we’re talking about a player who is just two years older than than the eventual champion.
However, Lydia Ko is a former champion of the ANA Inspiration, after winning it in 2016, one of 15 LPGA Tour wins, including three in Canada. Yet, her last victory came nearly three years ago, but as she arrived at Mission Hills, she had two top 10 finishes in three events so far this year.
Ko began Sunday’s final round eight shots off the lead, but shot a 29 on the front nine for the best nine-hole score in event’s 50-year history. The 10-under 62 the former world No. 1 finished the day with matched the18-hole major championship record.
Ko, who works with Canadian coach Sean Foley, fell short in her quest for her third career major, but finished second, two shots behind Tavatanakit who appeared to be walking away with the title when the day began.
That was Part 1 of what’s promising to be an entertaining couple of weeks in golf as the season gets underway in Canada. As the focus shifts to the Masters, Ko can take inspiration, pardon the pun, from one of the main players this week at Augusta.
Jordan Spieth, also a former world No. 1, won the 2015 Masters and is once again a favourite after winning the Valero Texas Open on Sunday, his first victory since the 2017 Open Championship.
Spieth, who also won the 2015 U.S. Open, fired a third round 61 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier this year to take a share of th 54-hole lead, which he also held a week later at Pebble Beach. That was the beginning of four top 10 finishes, three of them top five, before his first win in nearly four years.
Ko is seemingly on the same trajectory as Spieth, who will also have some big hitters in the field, just as Ko did with Tavatanakit, in other favourites such as Bryson DeChambeau and defending champion Dustin Johnson, not to mention Justin Thomas, among others.
From a Canadian perspective, don’t be surprised to see this country’s best showing since Mike Weir’s landmark win in 2003.
After a T10 finish last year, Corey Conners has a third place finish at Bay Hill and a seventh at the Players Championship in the past month. Conners is ranked 43rd, while Mackenzie Hughes is 51st after making the round of 16 at the recent WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Weir also has top 10s in his last two starts on the senior tour, including a second at the Cologuard Classic in Tucson.
With the fireworks ahead at Augusta later this week, the ANA Inspiration has already done its job in diverting our attention away from concerns of the real world and there’s every reason to believe the Masters will deliver, as well.
It’s what golf has been doing so well since the pandemic began.