Canada Dry

Apr 6, 2004 7:48 AM

There is no tournament quite like the Masters in terms of beauty, snobbery or importance. It’s the event every golfer wants most to win and the one that determines who has the only chance at the Grand Slam.

Normally the Slam is associated with Tiger Woods, but his stuffed animal has a better chance this year. Tiger has made more commercials than fairways, yet his 120 consecutive cuts exemplifies the man’s greatness.

However, this year you can probably find a book in Vegas or offshore that will offer as high as 5-1 odds on Woods wearing the Green Jacket at Augusta National. On a layout that demands pinpoint accuracy off the tee, Tiger ranks 104th. No doubt he has worked nonstop on correcting those pushes to the right, but we think this mechanical problem will take more time.

Here’s a brief breakdown of Tiger: Third in driving distance (302.1), 59th in greens hit in regulation, 166th in sand saves, fourth in birdie average, first in birdie conversion percentage (39.3) and 15th in all-around ranking. That’s about where we think Tiger will end up ”” 15th.

Phil Mickelson, who is 0-forever in majors, is right behind Tiger. However, we’re talking driving efficiency ”” No. 105. We don’t count Phil out, and at 10-1 he’s attractive. It rained here over the weekend. So anything is possible.

In handicapping the Masters, one only needs to look at past winners to see that few if any "one-time wonders" appear. Oh, they will make the leaderboard, but don’t expect the top 10 on the back nine Sunday to look anything like Atlanta a few days ago.

Also, foreigners do well. Seve Ballesteros set the tone in 1980 and followed it up with his second Masters title three years later. Nick Faldo won in ’89, ’90 and ’96. Ian Woosnam in ’91. Bernard Langer in ’85 and ’93.

Then came the current crop of international stars. Vijay Singh won in 2000. Jose Maria Olazabal won in ’94 and ’99. Canada’s Mike Weir is the defending champ.

We like a foreigner to win this year, which narrows our short list to Stuart Appleby, Padraig Harrington, Adam Scott, Singh and, of course, Ernie Els. The Big Easy is the best of the non-Americans never to have won a Green Jacket. The fourth top choice from Palms at 9-1 odds in midweek, Els should be fresh after taking last week off. Ernie finished in a tie for sixth last year at Augusta (with Singh).

Appleby, who is paired against good friend Robert Allenby in Las Vegas Sports Consultants matchups, is definitely ready to capture his first major. Retief Goosen tied for 13th last year and has established himself as one of the game’s most consistent players. Peter Lonard had a top 10 finish in Atlanta and is a coming star.

If you like longshots, the usual suspects include Jeff Maggert (fifth last year), Fred Funk, Scott Hoch and Jay Haas. The over-40 crowd also does well at Augusta, which brings Mark O’Meara, Nick Price and senior PGA Tour members Craig Stadler, Tom Watson and Tom Kite into the fold.

When all is said and done, we don’t expect a Shaun Micheel or Ben Curtis to emerge the winner. With a lot of the ink falling on Tiger, Phil, Adam Scott and Harrington, we think this could be Ernie’s year. And if you like UNLV, we agree that both Chris Riley and Chad Campbell are most worthy.

 

6 WHO CAN WIN

Ernie Els

 9-1

Padraig Harrington

 18-1

Stuart Appleby

 30-1

Shigeki Maruyama

 50-1

Jerry Kelly

 60-1

Peter Lonard

 100-1

MATCHUPS

Mickelson over Woods

Els over Singh

Harrington over Scott

Maruyama over Choi