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Birdies and Bogeys: Many post-Masters tests this week

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Front nine

It wasn't the 1960 U.S. Open, which featured the future (Jack Nicklaus), the present (Arnold Palmer) and the past (Ben Hogan) all battling for the trophy on the final day. But the 2015 Masters certainly had the gamut of young and old on the leaderboard, just one of many aspects of what turned out to be a historic week for Jordan Spieth.

At 21, Spieth became the second-youngest major championship winner in the Masters era, with Tiger Woods holding the distinction by a matter of months. He led wire to wire, and has now shot all eight of his competitive rounds at Augusta National at par or better in a combined 23 under par.

While Spieth visited New York City for a media tour, went to the top of the Empire State Building and met with Bill Clinton, the golf world could take a deep breath and ponder an immediate future that looks very promising.

Spieth moved to No. 2 in the world behind No. 1 Rory McIlroy, 25, the first time the Official World Golf Ranking has featured a 1-2 of golfers ages 25 and under. McIlroy is also coming off of his best Masters finish as he came in fourth following a final-round 66. No doubt, it sets up nicely for a future rivalry between the opposing Ryder Cup team players in the major championships, regular tour events and rankings.

Major champions Justin Rose (age 34) and Phil Mickelson (44) followed Spieth on the leaderboard, followed by Hideki Matsuyama (23), Paul Casey (37), Ian Poulter (39), Dustin Johnson (30), Hunter Mahan (32), Zach Johnson (39), Charley Hoffman (38) and Rickie Fowler (26). And that doesn't include Woods, 39, who made a successful return to tournament golf by tying for 17th in his first event in two months.

It was just one tournament, but the Masters gave a little of everything: youth and veterans, with seven countries represented among the top 20 finishers.

Woods said again Sunday that he remembers when he was among those young guys taking over the game and, now that he is pushing 40, that he is happy to be "part of the conversation."

For Mickelson, a tie for second was an encouraging sign after so much lackluster play over the past two years. It is clear the majors are what Lefty gets motivated for now, as his only two top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour since the start of 2014 are runner-up showings at the PGA Championship and Masters.

"I don't have a great explanation other than I really focus on those events," Mickelson said. "I really work for them with the idea that these are the events that I'm trying to play well in now. It's not my motivation to go try to grind out week after week. I want to zero in on the four or five biggest events, and I've been fortunate in that I've been able to get some of my best golf out in those events when I focus on them."

That understandably will lead to discussion about the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in Tacoma, Washington. It's a venue unfamiliar to the vast majority of those who played in the Masters, but not for Spieth, who competed there during the 2010 U.S. Amateur, or his caddie, Michael Greller, who lives nearby.

Before the U.S. Open, the top players will convene at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship and Players Championship in consecutive weeks. The European Tour's BMW PGA Championship will see McIlroy attempt to defend his title, followed by a strong field at the Irish Open to be played at Royal County Down, a rare glimpse at an iconic course.

And with Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament just two weeks before the U.S. Open, it makes for a busy golf calendar, with all manner of young and old taking part.


Back nine

Spieth has youth on his side and has shown a propensity for playing more rather than less. But, at some point, he will need to take a serious look at his schedule and make some tough decisions on where and where not to play, even though he'll be more in demand than ever after his Masters win.

Spieth didn't make his 2015 start until the Waste Management Phoenix Open in late January, but that was the first of four straight weeks of competition. After a week off, he played two in a row again, concluding with his victory at the Valspar Championship. And, with this week's appearance at the RBC Heritage. Spieth will have played 10 out of 12 weeks.

He will skip next week's tournament in New Orleans, then return for the WGC-Match Play and the Players Championship. Expect him to skip the Wells Fargo, but then he has more tough choices -- two tournaments in a row in his native Texas and Nicklaus' Memorial event. If he plays them all, that would be 15 events before the U.S. Open.


Birdies and Bogeys

Mickelson

Birdies

1. Phil Mickelson: Perhaps it will only be the big events that get Lefty fired up, but he has finished second in two straight majors.

2. Jordan Spieth: A slew of records, a first major championship and No. 2 in the world. And at just 21 years of age.

3. Tiger Woods: A tie for 17th is nothing to get excited about, but when you are coming from where Woods was two months ago, it's impressive and a strong place from which to build.

Bogeys

Day

1. Jason Day: A pre-tournament favorite, the Aussie opened with a 67 before falling off track, shooting a final-round 75 and tying for 28th.

2. Henrik Stenson: A final-round 68 was too late for Stenson, who was ill at the start of the tournament, broke a club over his knee in the second round and tied for 19th.

3. Another Tiger injury: The last thing Woods needs at this point is a reason to keep him from practicing, and a depression in the ground or tree root is the latest thing to lead to concern. Whether there are lingering wrist issues remains to be seen.


Notable ...

  • After a season filled with a different winner every week going back to the first event in October 2014, we've had previous winners come through in two of the past three weeks -- Jimmy Walker in San Antonio and Spieth at the Masters.

  • Spieth's start at the RBC Heritage is the first time the Masters winner has played the event since Zach Johnson in 2007.

  • Seven players who finished in the top 12 at the Masters are playing this week, including Spieth, Poulter, Hoffman, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas, Kevin Na and Kevin Streelman.

  • Anyone in the top 12 at the Masters earned a return trip next year, with Casey, Hoffman, Streelman and Na the biggest beneficiaries.

  • Jim Furyk comes to Harbour Town off a missed cut at the Masters, his first since the 2013 Open Championship.

  • Maruyama quietly tied for fifth at the Masters, giving him five top-5 finishes this season, tying him with Spieth for the most on the PGA Tour.


... and Quotable

"There's a reason I have a hairline like this. It's stressful what we do."
-- Jordan Spieth after his Masters victory