The four days of the 82nd Masters provided not only a compelling educational experience from Augusta National, but also a look into what we might expect in 66 days when the first balls are struck in the US Open at Shinnecock Hills on June 14.
We learned that Masters winner Patrick Reed thrives on being disliked — not only by the European crowds at Ryder Cups, but by American fans, too — and he figures to be a force to be reckoned with to win a second consecutive major. The combo platter of the brash Reed, a polarizing figure, and the New York fans could be combustible in June.
We learned that the weight of history might be becoming a heavier burden for Rory McIlroy in his pursuit of completing the career Grand Slam with a Masters victory, and wonder if McIlroy might be a freer player at the US Open, which he already has won once.
“I’ll sit down and reflect over the next few days and see what I could have potentially done better,’’ McIlroy said. “It’s hard to take any positives from it right now. At least I put myself in the position. That’s all I wanted to do. I got myself there. I didn’t quite do enough.’’
We learned that Tiger Woods (tied for 31st) was not ready to win another major so soon despite how rapidly his remarkable comeback has been moving since his fourth back surgery. And you have to wonder if he’ll be any better at Shinnecock with a U.S. Open setup that will be more austere than Augusta, where Woods finished near the bottom of the pack in driving accuracy last week.
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“I think things are progressing,’’ Woods said. “It was a little bit disappointing I didn’t hit my irons as well as I needed to for this particular week. But overall I’m five or six tournaments into it, to be able to compete out here and to score like I did, it feels good.’’
We learned that Phil Mickelson (tied for 36th) is feeling the effects of the window closing on the prime of his career, and that will be magnified at Shinnecock, where he’ll be attempting to complete the career Slam and where he nearly won the 2004 US Open.
“The difficult thing for me is I continue to put a little bit too much pressure on myself in the majors now because I know that I don’t have a ton of time to win them, especially US Opens,’’ Mickelson said. “But these next two US Opens, Shinnecock and Pebble Beach, give me two really good opportunities. So I need to keep my game, get my game sharp. In the past, I’ve been on at Shinnecock, and I’m hopeful to do it again.’’
We learned that Jordan Spieth is, indeed, likely to compete for multiple green jackets — possibly until he’s 65 — and he’ll go to Eastern Long Island bullish on the state of his game based on the 64 he shot in his final-round charge Sunday.
We learned that Rickie Fowler, runner-up to Reed, might just be ready to be the next younger-generation talent to break through and win his first major championship.
“I am ready to go win a major, but this was kind of the first major week that I understood that and known that and felt that,’’ Fowler said. “So I’m ready to go. Shinnecock is one of my favorite golf courses in the US. It should be a very good major season.’’
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This Masters was Fowler’s third runner-up in a major championship and eighth top-5 finish in a major — as many top-5s as McIlroy and Spieth since 2011 and more than anyone else.
“I’m definitely happy with the week, but at the same time not happy that we finished second,’’ Fowler said. “Obviously, I want that green jacket. Obviously, I want to be the one standing on top after the four rounds, but this is, if anything, a step forward and makes me feel better about going forward into our next major, the US Open. I feel like this is a year to knock off our first.”
We learned that it’s difficult to repeat as Masters champion — as Sergio Garcia and the 13 strokes he took on the 15th hole on Thursday proved.
We learned that Jon Rahm is perhaps an adjustment to better controlling his high-strung emotions away from winning his first major championship, which, the way his career is trending, could come as soon as June at Shinnecock.
“It’s one thing to win a PGA Tour event but a major is very different,’’ Rahm said. “I didn’t panic at all. I felt really comfortable. I loved the situation. I loved that hunt. Hopefully, next time I go into the back nine on a major, I’m the one in the lead and get to experience that.’’