Tuesday, April 6, 2010
The Mother of All Masters Previews
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is time for a tradition unlike any other. The Masters is upon us this week, and if that wasn't enough, we will also be witnessing the return of Tiger Woods. Even if you are not a golf fan, there is no reason why you should not be glued to the TV screen this weekend. One of the greatest golf tournaments in the world and the return of arguably the most famous athlete in the world should make for some great television. Though all eyes will be on Tiger Woods this week, don't be surprised if two groups of golfers make a statement this weekend. Both the internationals and the young guns will be represented very strongly at Augusta and we should not be surprised if one of them takes home the green jacket on Sunday. On the other hand, don't be surprised if Tiger takes it home either.
Augusta National Golf Course is one of the finest tests of a golfer in the world. Its narrow fairways, extreme undulation and super fast and contoured greens make a round of even par 72 nothing to be ashamed of. Other than some of the British Open courses, I would argue that Augusta is one of the most complete tests of a golfer. There is no bias toward being super long off the tee, which is often the case with some of the newer courses, so golfers young and old all have a chance at Augusta as we saw with Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera in '09. It all comes down to limiting your mistakes. That being said, I don't necessarily like any of the geezers this week. In my opinion it could very well be one of the young guard breaking through at Augusta this week, or the trend of internationals taking home the green jacket could continue. Let's have a look at who I like this week:
Anthony Kim- If Tony Kim can play like he did last week at the Houston Open, he could very easily win his first major. However, putting and accuracy off the tee (as you can tell) are a problem for him. If those problems start to surface, he will be in big trouble.
Hunter Mahan- Hunter picked up the second win of his career in Phoenix earlier this year amidst a star studded field. He also finished in the top 10 last year at Augusta. Look for him to be there again in 2010.
Sean O'Hair- O'Hair has struggled a bit this year, but something tells me he will pick up his game for the Masters. He had a top ten finish last year and usually shows up for majors. Maybe Augusta will be his break out tournament this year.
Nick Watney- This dude has 3 top tens already this year and has been playing some pretty solid golf. I know I said that driving distance isn't a big factor at Augusta, but this kid can boom it.
Ernie Els- The Big Easy has already won two tournaments this year, resurrecting a fading career. Look for him to make a charge at his 4th major this year at Augusta, even though he typically doesn't play great here.
Ian Poulter- The Poultergeist won his first tournament in America this year at the match play, and usually plays pretty well at Augusta. Regardless of his play, he will stand out with his flashy attire.
Lee Westwood- Not really sure what's going on in that picture, but Westwood's name always comes up when we talk euro-trash at the majors. Perhaps this year will finally be the year for him.
Vijay Singh- Vijay is a past champion, and is playing better this year. It all comes down to his putter basically.
Rory McIlroy- McIlroy played well in his debut at Augusta, and rumor has it he has been scouting the grounds at Augusta for a few weeks now. Look for this young gun/international to be in the hunt on Sunday.
David Duval- God would I love to see Duval win this thing and pump those fists like crazy. So far his two returns from golf obscurity have come at the U.S. Open last year and at Pebble Beach this year. He seems to rise to the occasion at big time courses. Maybe we can see a return to the Duval of old when between 1998-2001 he had a lower average score per round at Augusta than Tiger.
Matt Kuchar- I wanted to put him in as a young gun, but Kuchar is 31 now and it seems like ages ago that he stared down Tiger at Augusta as a amateur. Nonetheless, the Donk's boy has been playing well this year and has handled the pressure of Augusta, and playing with Tiger, well in the past.
Fred Couples- Boom Boom is a past Masters champ and has played very well on both the Champions and PGA Tour this year. He could be the Tom Watson of 2010, making a final run towards major championship glory.
Tiger Woods- I previously opined that there is no way Tiger could be sharp enough to win his first tournament back from exile. One thing I failed to take into account though, was how sharp he will be mentally. Can you imagine all the things that were running through Tiger's mind the past few years when he was trying to focus on golf? The lying, the sneaking around, the thinking up dirty text messages, the stress. God, he probably couldn't escape his own thoughts. Now that all his dirty laundry has come out to the public and he has gone through rehab, Tiger is finally mentally free. This is a bad thing for everyone else. Even in his interviews this week, Tiger seemed to be so much more at peace, relaxed and happy. Imagine what that guy could do on a golf course, even if he is rusty. All his focus can be on golf now. Tiger has a serious chance to win this week, even though it is his first tournament back. The crowd will be pulling for him too.
This could go down in history as one of the greatest Masters tournaments ever. There are so many different story lines that could unfold. Can one of the young guns establish themselves as the next major contender? Can an international, and possibly even a limey, continue the trend of international winners? Can one of the past winners win another jacket? Can Tiger win his first tournament back? Anyone of these things would be great. Let's sit back and watch with the rest of the free world.