The trickle of Rae’s Creek, the swaying dogwood trees, Amen Corner, The Hogan Bridge, patrons, pimento cheese sandwiches, and those beautiful blooms of azaleas. Yes, it’s Masters week, a tradition unlike any other.
I still remember watching The Masters in my youth. I fell in love with the gorgeous landscape and unparalleled back nine drama, watching with my dad when Jack Nicklaus, at 46 years old, won in 1986 with his son as his caddie. It was a cool father-son moment shared watching sports as tears from both Jack and his son rolled down their faces in victory.
I have never missed watching a Masters since. I am a fan of nostalgia, folklore, legend and tradition. The Masters is a truly special athletic competition example of such.
There will be 90 pros and six amateurs competing in the 78th Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club this Thursday in Georgia. The biggest name in golf, Tiger Woods, will be missing after having back surgery last week. Since then, defending champion Adam Scott, three-time winner, Phil Mickelson, and Rory McIlroy have been installed as the favorites. Currently Scott and McIlroy are at 10-to-1 and Lefty is at 12-to-1.
Golf course: The Par 72 masterpiece stretches over 7,400 yards. It is traditionally a long hitter’s course without the presence of treacherous rough bordering the fairways.
Rather it is closely shaven approach areas around the greens and lightning quick putting surfaces, with tremendous undulations that will all send errant shots off wildly in the wrong direction.
While length and power loom large off of the tee, precision, touch, and creativity rule around the greens at Augusta National.
Trends: Taking a look at The Official World Golf Rankings, it is not necessarily the upper crust that has been most successful in recent years at Augusta. In the past seven Masters, five of the winners have come from outside of the top 15 in the world rankings.
Experience counts: Golf’s Major Championships hold a different level of pressure than your weekly Tour stop. In the past 10 Masters tournaments, seven of the winners had played in at least 20 majors.
Favorites: McIlroy has four top 10 finishes this season on the European and PGA Tours. He has played in over 20 majors, including wins at the US Open and PGA Championship. He needs to avoid that one bad round as he has done in his past three Masters, carding at least one day of 77 or worse. Current World Ranking – 9th.
Scott is the defending champion. The only players to ever win back to back here are Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Nick Faldo. We saw what this UNLV Rebel is capable of a few of weeks back at Bay Hill when he fired a 62 on Thursday and led by seven shots going into the weekend.
Only Tiger Woods and Angel Cabrera have a better record at The Masters in the last five years than Scott who posts an average finish of 16th. Current World Ranking – No. 2.
Mickelson likes the even numbered years and after all, this is 2014. Since 2000, he has finished in the top 5 every single even numbered year – three wins, two thirds and a fifth. Although Lefty has no top 10 finishes this year on Tour, he did just place 12th at The Houston Open.
The defending British Open Champion could be peaking just at the right time. It would seem by his finish in Houston that the oblique muscle injury that forced him to withdraw at The Valero Texas Open, is up to the task. Current World Ranking – 5.
Contenders: Sergio Garcia (25/1) owns the title of best player in the world to have never won a Major and boy has he been hot this year. El Nino has four top 10’s, an 11th, and a 16th. He has length, accuracy, and creativity. His fellow countrymen, Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, had abundant success at Augusta National. Will it be Sergio’s turn this year? Current World Ranking – 6.
Charl Schwartzel (40/1) won at Augusta in 2011 and in three other tries has finished 25th, 50th, and 30th. Schwartzel has plenty of length but sometimes struggles with the putter. He has reached the magic number of late and that is having played in 20-plus Major Championships, and he does rank outside the world’s top 15. Current Ranking – 17.
Matt Kuchar (12/1) lost in a playoff on Sunday at The Houston Open and owns six additional top 10 finishes this season. He’s not quite as long as the game’s biggest hitters but he hits greens in regulation and is a fantastic putter. Since 2010 his Masters finishes are: 27th, 24th, 3rd, and 8th. Current World Ranking – 7.
Others to watch: Jason Day (12/1,) the No. 4 player in the world, has two top 5’s here in three years but has skipped two recent events with a thumb injury. He said it felt “great” after a practice round at Augusta on Sunday.
Dustin Johnson (20/1) is having a super year and has tons of length.
Brandt Snedeker (25/1) has a very good track record here and has played now in 25 Majors.
Justin Rose (25/1) has arguably been the most consistent golfer in the world over the last year.
Keegan Bradley (30/1) has only played in nine Majors despite winning The PGA Championship in 2011.
Jordan Spieth (30/1) is an incredible new talent who will likely contend for many years but this is his first trip to The Masters.
Rickie Fowler (50/1) is coming off a sixth place finish in Houston and will be playing in his 18th Major.
Long shots: Fred Couples (100/1) has the lowest scoring average of any player ever in The Masters for anybody who’s logged 100 rounds or more (71.94). In his last four trips, the 1992 Champion has finished sixth, 15th, 12th, and 13th.
Louis Oosthuizen (60/1) has missed the cut here three times despite finishing second in 2012. The former British Open Champion has all the tools but the question is his health. If he’s feeling good, so might be somebody holding his ticket.
My pick: Mickelson. Lefty puts on the green jacket for a fourth time and joins Arnold Palmer, Tiger and Jack as the only players to ever win The Masters four or more times.
Brady Kannon owns and operates BK’s Golf Services, is a frequent guest on local sports radio and a past winner of the prestigious LVH SuperBook NFL handicapping contest. Check out his website www.LVTeeTimes.com or www.twitter.com/lasvegasgolfer.
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