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:
|T8||Bo Van Pelt||73||69||68||70||-2||-8||280||$240,000|
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.