This Masters should be quite intriguing

Apr 3, 2001 9:59 AM

It’s that time of the year again; a sure fire sign that Spring has arrived. Once again, the PGA Tour heads to Augusta, Ga. for the first Major of the year: the Masters.

   The 65th edition of the Masters presents even more intrigue than in years past as Golf’s number one player Tiger Woods goes for what can be construed as the Grand Slam for holding all four Major titles at once — although not in the same year. Defending Champion Vijay Singh lost by a stroke to Tiger at the TPC a week ago, but still has not had a round above par this year. Greg Norman…need anymore be said about him? And then there are those skilled players still looking for their first Major win: Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia. More than enough intrigue for the golfing fan and some things to think about for anyone laying down some money on a few of these players.

   Taking a look at some of the favorites from this year’s event:

   Tiger Woods — After a “slump” of finishing no worse than 13th place, Tiger has had back-to-back victories in his last two events, including the Players Championship with it’s impressive field. Coming into the Masters, where a victory, at least in his mind, would give him the Grand Slam, he ranks 1st on the Tour in scoring, 11th in Total Driving, and 17th in Greens in Regulation. Unfortunately, at +150 there is little value in betting on Tiger so some other players are probably worth exploring.

   Vijay Singh — Only two players have won consecutive Masters: Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo, but Vijay has an excellent chance at repeating. Since switching to a longer putter, he has improved his putting average to 3rd on the Tour while being in the Top 20 in Green in Regulation. With five Top 5 finishes in eight events this year, the 20-1 odds offered on Singh make him a very attractive player.

   Ernie Els — Last year’s runner-up at Augusta had a 2000 season that would have probably made him the biggest star of the golf world; if there was no Tiger Woods. While his play in the state of Florida has always been shaky throughout his career, moving on to play at Augusta seems to motivate him quite a bit. He has made the cut 6 out of 7 times he has played the Masters and has finished in the Top 20 each time. Current odds of around 10-1 aren’t that inviting, but he is likely to be a factor on the final day.

   Davis Love, III — Davis finished in the Top 10 in five of his first six events this year before flopping at the TPC, and with five Top 10 finishes in his past six Masters appearances it is no wonder that Love goes off as one of the favorites with odds of 10-1. Solid driving and great up-and-down ability make Love a solid choice: provided his putting stands up to the challenge which may be his Achilles Heel in this tournament.

   Phil Mickelson — Still in search of his first Major win, Mickelson has had a lot of success at the Masters despite being a lefty. Among players at the Masters with between 25 and 49 rounds, Phil leads the group in scoring average with 71.67 and has four Top 10 finishes at Augusta in his last six appearances despite missing the cut in ’97. So far this year he has posted finishes of 1st, 2nd and 3rd — but also has missed two cuts. Questionable value at 8-1.

   David Duval — At 10-1 you have to question taking a chance on Duval. He started 2001 with a 7th place finish at the Mercedes Championship (5 shots off the lead), missed two cuts, had two more forgettable tournaments and had to withdraw from the TPC with a sore wrist. Either he’s rested and ready, or he’s a real liability at the price the oddsmakers are offering.

   Nick Price — Right here you are looking at 50-1 odds. In 15 Masters, Price has survived the cut 10 times and finished in the Top 10 three times. With four Top 20 finishes in four events played on Tour this year, including a tie for 10th at the TPC, he has compiled the 4th best scoring average. His putting is a little shaky, but the Price is right for a long shot.

   Greg Norman — If you believe in the theory of Tiger hungry for a win making him a good bet at 3-2, then Norman at 65-1 is a fantastic bet. Known more for failures at Augusta, Norman has made the cut in 16 of 20 Masters, finished in the Top 3 six times, Top 10 nine times and the Top 25 twelve times. Although he missed the cut at TPC, he has a 4th place finish at Bay Hill — the only other event he has played in this year. With 19 Tour victories, he knows how to win and would like nothing more than a victory at Augusta.

   Some other players worth noting: Jim Furyk at 35-1 and Carlos Franco at 60-1. Good luck and enjoy the Magnolias.