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This guest blogger is a good friend of The Southern Fried Sports Girl and will be TSFSG Golf Blogger. Charlie “Mothball” Wood is a graduate of UGA ( B.A. Economics ’11) and is the lead guitarist of the up and coming Athens rock band Jeffers Morning.  He will be featured on a weekly basis talking all things golf.

MBC Masters Preview

 Ah another Wednesday and opportunity to write a column for the awesome Southern Fried Sports Girl, however today marks the eve before Golf’s most prestigious event – The Augusta National Masters Major Tournament. Thousands of spectators gather in August to partake in the festivities while enjoying the beautiful azaleas and lure of the world’s best PGA Tour Professionals. In this week’s column, I’ve decided to break down the frontrunners are forecast to succeed this weekend while identifying a few promising prospects for donning the Green Jacket Sunday.

The Usual Suspects

1) Tiger Woods

Say whatever about Tiger, but his game is undeniably peaking on all cylinders right now. Coming off his first PGA victory in 3 years at Bay Hill, Tiger is confidently the frontrunner to pick up another Major victory this weekend. His incredible familiarity with Augusta’s yardages and greens gives Tiger absolute and competitive advantages over the field. Several of the holes on the course have been altered significantly since the years of Tiger’s dominance to his disadvantage, but his new swing technique and return to the top of Tour Statistics Ranks for ball striking have him ready for Augusta National’s challenges. Recent injuries had slowed his come-back process, however no evidence suggests they will bother him for this tournament. Honestly not much coverage or analysis of Tiger is needed: just know he’s Tiger Woods and any Sunday that begins with him somewhat in contention means Tiger will always have a chance to win.

 2) Rory McIlroy

Redemption time for young Rory begins Thursday. A year ago Rory lead the field with a commanding 4 shot lead in the 2011 Masters, only to shoot an 80 and blow his lead in a horrific Sunday collapse. But that moment in history is what defines the Masters Course – it is a course that requires familiarity and years of experience to conquer. Coming off a win at the Honda Classic and strong play in the WGC Cadillac Championship, Rory also has his game peaking at the right time to avenge last year’s Masters. Learning from his short-comings, Rory has spent the past few months adjusting his swing technique to better accommodate the rigorous conditions of Augusta National. Rory’s golf swing has been labeled nearly flawless, (If you are learning the game of golf then look nowhere else but to Rory for how to perfectly swing a golf club) therefore calculated adjustments solely for the Master’s conditions place him in even better position to succeed. He has displayed Major Championship potential when he dominated the U.S. Open at Congressional last year, now round two will determine if Rory can conquer his green demons at Augusta.

 3) Phil Mickelson

 Lefty always brings his strongest game for Major Tournaments. Recently Phil dominated Tiger head to head at Pebble Beach while playing strongly in other PGA events during March. His short game mastery boosts his ability to score on Augusta’s treacherous approaches to the greens. With the exception of changing putters last week, Lefty’s game remains intact and compatible with the Master’s conditions to presume a strong showing this weekend. Already the owner of 2 Master’s jackets, Phil and his longtime caddie Bones know the Augusta course like the back of their hands. As long as Lefty can remain accurate off the tee box, which has always plagued him throughout his career, then he will succeed. The putter change he made last week is intriguing due to the close proximity of the change before the tournament. He did not putt well last weekend, therefore his choice of which putter to use for the Masters may be the X-Factor if he emerges victorious. Diamonds in the Rough

4) Bubba Watson

The Shot Wizard appears for his first Major win to be the Masters and his homegrown game is more than capable of accomplishing that feat. However Bubba is consistently inconsistent; i.e. his chances to win this weekend depend on which Bubba shows up to tee off each day. As a natural “finger”player, Bubba is incredibly long off the tee-box and able to create spectacularly unique golf shots. The tradeoff of this style of play is errant shots happen more often due to the increased chance of a mis-hit when a player uses his wrists or fingers to shape the ball flight. Bubba must limit these bad shots or he will completely see his contention chances sunk in the deep roughs of Augusta National.

5) Dustin Johnson

(Since this column was submitted Tuesday Dustin Johnson has withdrawn and will not play in the Masters, citing a back injury).

 One of the best athletes physically on tour this season, Dustin Johnson’s power game has the potential to score on most courses. Augusta National is a different animal of a course that requires superb short game and putting, which unfortunately is Dustin’s Achilles heel. His lack of focus and practice on this aspect of his game will handicap him severely this weekend, although his long game keeps him in the mix for contending. Dustin has a strong competitive advantage on several of the longer holes Augusta National lengthened from the early Tiger era. By hitting fairways and greens in regulation, and avoiding too much short game work, Dustin has a strong potential to challenge the field.

6) Hunter Mahan

Winner of last weekend’s Shell Houston Open and the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, where he out dueled Rory McIlroy in the final round, Hunter Mahan absolutely deserves to be favored to contend this year. Despite not making the cut last year, he has demonstrated excellent play at Augusta National by placing in the top-10 both years before. A common trend with the other players on this list, Mahan’s game and confidence from 2 tour wins already have him peaking right in time for the Masters.

7) Keegan Bradley

As MBC’s favorite young player on tour this year, Keegan Bradley is my diamond in the rough pick to surprise the gallery and win his first Green Jacket. Already a Major Champion after winning the PGA Championship last year, Keegan has remained hot and refined his game even further this season. His fantastic iron play and tour leading putting has kept him in contention each week this season. Keagan cultivated his mental game under the Jack Nickalaus style of golf. Learning from the legend’s intangibles gives Keegan the proper mindset and confidence to do well this weekend. In addition, Phil’s caddie Bones gave Keegan an old Augusta National yardage book, which will come in handy to supplement his inexperience with the course. As long as he does not pull that elongated spitting routine from the Northern Trust Open in February, he will be a name to remember come Sunday afternoon. Special Mention

7) Ernie Els

 For the first time in 18 years Augusta National’s fairways will lack the presence and grace of The Big Easy. Ernie Els barely missed qualifying for the Masters and the golf world will miss him this weekend.

Here is a look at what happened last year:

2011 Masters Leaderboard (via yahoo.com).

Round
Pos Name 1 2 3 4 Today Total Strokes Purse
1 Charl Schwartzel 69 71 68 66 -6 -14 274 $1,440,000
T2 Jason Day 72 64 72 68 -4 -12 276 $704,000
T2 Adam Scott 72 70 67 67 -5 -12 276 $704,000
T4 Tiger Woods 71 66 74 67 -5 -10 278 $330,667
T4 Geoff Ogilvy 69 69 73 67 -5 -10 278 $330,667
T4 Luke Donald 72 68 69 69 -3 -10 278 $330,667
7 Angel Cabrera 71 70 67 71 -1 -9 279 $268,000
T8 Bo Van Pelt 73 69 68 70 -2 -8 280 $240,000
T8 K.J. Choi 67 70 71 72 E -8 280 $240,000
10 Ryan Palmer 71 72 69 70 -2 -6 282 $216,000
T11 Justin Rose 73 71 71 68 -4 -5 283 $176,000
T11 Steve Stricker 72 70 71 70 -2 -5 283 $176,000
T11 Lee Westwood 72 67 74 70 -2 -5 283 $176,000
T11 Edoardo Molinari 74 70 69 70 -2 -5 283 $176,000
T15 Trevor Immelman 69 73 73 69 -3 -4 284 $128,000
T15 Brandt Snedeker 69 71 74 70 -2 -4 284 $128,000
T15 Fred Couples 71 68 72 73 +1 -4 284 $128,000
T15 Ross Fisher 69 71 71 73 +1 -4 284 $128,000
T15 Rory McIlroy 65 69 70 80 +8 -4 284 $128,000
T20 Ryo Ishikawa 71 71 73 70 -2 -3 285 $93,200
T20 Ricky Barnes 68 71 75 71 -1 -3 285 $93,200
T20 Y.E. Yang 67 72 73 73 +1 -3 285 $93,200
T20 Martin Laird 74 69 69 73 +1 -3 285 $93,200
T24 Gary Woodland 69 73 74 70 -2 -2 286 $70,400
T24 Jim Furyk 72 68 74 72 E -2 286 $70,400
T24 David Toms 72 69 73 72 E -2 286 $70,400

Signing off now to go cut my lawn with my 7 Iron, enjoy what promises to be another remarkable Masters Weekend. ~ Mothball

Stats from sports.yahoo.com. Images from Getty Images, UGA Today, The Daily Telegraph (UK), The Official Website of the Masters 2011, & Google Images. 

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