GOLF NEWS - The first women's major of the season, the ANA Inspiration, concluded Sunday and is followed rapidly by the men at The Masters beginning on Thursday at Augusta, with both featuring in AFP Sport's golf talking points this week:
- Move over Bryson -
Patty Tavatanakit's first major win on Sunday was sprinkled with remarkable feats leading many to believe we may have seen the emergence of the game's newest superstar.
No rookie in the 50-year history of the event had ever made the ANA Inspiration her first win on the LPGA Tour.
And the 21-year-old led every round as she came within a shot of Dottie Pepper's all-time scoring record.
Not only that, she showed composure beyond her years to hold off the charging two-time major champion, Lydia Ko, who blitzed the Rancho Mirage course with a 62 to equal the lowest final round in a major.
The win propels her from 103rd in the world into the elite, at a projected 13th in the new rankings to be released later this week.
But the most incredible stat has to be the young Thai's prodigious driving distances.
Patty averaged a phenomenal 323 yards off the tee over the four rounds. Bryson Dechambeau leads the PGA Tour driving distances this season with 320 yards.
It surely won't be the last we see of Patty power.
- Buckle up for the fast show -
It's become a popular sports quiz question over the last five months: Who is the only player to have recorded four rounds in the 60s at The Masters?
The answer of course is Australia's Cameron Smith, who achieved the feat in finishing tied second after rounds of 67, 68, 69 and 69 behind Dustin Johnson in the delayed 2020 edition in November.
That was in cool, soft autumnal conditions that enabled Johnson to post a record 20-under par total and win by five.
Augusta National course is back to its spring splendour this week with firm and lightning-fast greens almost certain to ensure Smith's feat won't be repeated.
There's a chance of rain Thursday and Friday but if it stays dry then the winning score this time could be in low single digits under par.
Smith's fellow Australian Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, certainly thought that after his practice round alongside Smith on Monday.
"The greens are fiery," Scott said. "If that's a sign of things to come, we've got to buckle up."
- Time for Asia's men? -
Patty Tavatanakit is just the latest of a string of Asian women who have won a major, but for the continent's men, the biggest prizes in golf have proved more elusive.
Only South Korea's YE Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship has managed to capture one of the big four for Asia, but his countrymen Kim Si-woo and Im Sung-jae will fancy their chances of being the second this week.
Kim has two top-20s in his last three visits to Augusta while Im shared second with Smith last time out.
Still only 25, Kim is already a three-time PGA Tour winner, ranked behind only eight-time winner KJ Choi as the most successful Korean in the tour's history.
"I think it's an opportunity for Korean players to motivate each other," said Kim of his rivalry with Im.
In 2017 he became the youngest winner of The Players Championship and he is back in form having won in January in California.
"Competing with good players is the reason why I play golf," he said. "There is pressure and excitement. It will be good."
- World rankings -
Leading men's rankings going into Thursday's first major of the season, The Masters at Augusta:
1. Dustin Johnson (USA) 11.07
2. Justin Thomas (USA) 9.31
3. Jon Rahm (ESP) 8.53
4. Collin Morikawa (USA) 7.38
5. Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 7.30
6. Xander Schauffele (USA) 6.70
7. Patrick Reed (USA) 6.12
8. Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 5.92
9. Webb Simpson (USA) 5.83
10. Patrick Cantlay (USA) 5.73
11. Brooks Koepka (USA) 5.70 (+1)
12. Rory McIlroy (NIR) 5.68 (-1)
13. Tony Finau (USA) 5.28
14. Viktor Hovland (NOR) 5.13
15. Daniel Berger (USA) 4.64
16. Matthew Fitzpatrick (ENG) 4.43
17. Billy Horschel (USA) 4.40
18. Paul Casey (ENG) 4.26 (+1)
19. Im Sung-jae (KOR) 4.20 (-1)
20. Lee Westwood (ENG) 4.05