Former UNLV golfer Charley Hoffman knew he needed a dramatic ending to his 2018 Masters to finish in the top 12 and earn an automatic berth into this year’s tournament.
In the final round, he birdied the par 5 15th hole, then hit his 6-iron tee shot into the hole for the 20th ace in Masters history on Augusta National’s par 3 16th hole. After two closing pars, he secured a tie for 12th.
“There are manually operated scoreboards all over, and you know if your name is on them, you are within the top 12, and I wasn’t there leading up to the finish,” Hoffman said. “I definitely pulled the tee shot on 16, so it was a fortunate result. It wasn’t a perfect shot, but it was definitely the loudest roar I have ever heard on a golf course.”
He tees off at 7:42 a.m. Thursday with Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen. Other players in the field with Las Vegas ties are former UNLV golfer Adam Scott, Las Vegas residents Kevin Na and Aaron Wise, 2018 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and Rickie Fowler, a member of the Summit Club in Summerlin.
Hoffman, a four-time PGA Tour champion, got off to a self-described uncharacteristically slow start this season, but his outlook quickly changed after a second-place finish last week at the Texas Valero Open. He jumped from 158th in the FedEx Cup Playoffs standings to 54th.
“It’s never time to panic, and I keep going back to the fundamentals and not trying to change much,” said Hoffman, who won the Texas tournament in 2016. “I really felt pretty good, even though the results weren’t coming. I know if I just focus on what I can control, good results will follow.”
Hoffman is playing in the Masters for the sixth time, with a career-best finish of ninth in 2015. He has been among the leaders several times, including in 2017 when he led by four shots after the first round before finishing 22nd.
“The course fits my eye, and I love everything about it,” Hoffman said. “To be successful, I need to drive it in the right spots and then hit my irons into the correct spots on the greens. Depending on the pin placements from one round to the next, a hole can go from a birdie opportunity when you can attack to a hole where par is a great score.”
Butch Harmon’s keys
Henderson resident Butch Harmon, who coaches Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Gary Woodland, said he thinks experience is key to winning the Masters.
“Very seldom does a player go there the first time and contend because there are certain things that need to be avoided,” Harmon said. “Players must be spot on with distance control of their irons because of the undulating greens. Three-putt avoidance is also huge because of the green’s difficulty. If a player misses a spot on an approach shot, there are areas on the green where it is nearly impossible to two-putt.”
Harmon’s players to watch
— Johnson and Rory McIlroy: “They are probably the favorites based on recent form. D.J. and Rory are playing very well and with confidence. D.J. hasn’t putted very well, and if he gets the putter sorted out, he will be there at the end.”
— Fowler: “He had a great Masters last year, and the course suits his game well. I’d say on a scale of one to 10, he is about a seven to win.”
— Woodland: “I think he has a very good chance. He has been very consistent the last 18 months. It comes down to putting for G.W.”
— Na: “He is an interesting one. Kevin has been playing well and is very consistent. I wouldn’t say he is a favorite, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he contended.”
— Scott: “If he gets his putting under control, he can win any tournament, anywhere.”
— DeChambeau: “He has the game for it and will be prepared because he is the mad scientist. You have to look at Bryson as a guy who can win.”
— Tiger Woods: “I was very impressed with how well Tiger played from tee to green at the recent match play, but I am concerned about his putting. You can never say never about Tiger.”
Harmon also listed Paul Casey, Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood as potential contenders.
Freelance writer Brian Hurlburt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @LVGolfInsider.