Defending Champion: Bubba Watson
Days have become longer, the tease of summer heat has arrived and azaleas are in full bloom, which can only mean one thing: It’s time to bestow athletics’ highest sartorial honor once again.
The aura of Augusta is unparalleled by any venue in sport. It radiates majesty, oozes prestige. That’s why its own index of event-specific terms exists. The verbal diarrhea that generally spews form our mouths has no place at The Masters. It’s above us, always judging. But I do take issue with the statement that it’s “a tradition like no other”. That claim is only factual about half the time, at least this millennium.
Since 2000, Butler’s Cabin has staged 13 presentations. Three times Tiger Woods modeled the Green Jacket, same for Phil Mickelson. No other player has won more than once. Seven champions: Lefty (twice), Tiger (thrice), Vijay Singh and Angel Cabrera were previous major winners, and of the baker’s dozen only Cabrera and Zach Johnson ranked outside the Top 30 in the world rankings at the time of their victory. Although, recalling a period when Mike Weir was rated so highly is aneurysm inducing, ditto for Trevor Immelman.
Actually, the more I think of it, The Masters is a tradition like no other, it just resembles itself each year.
Let’s put that information to good use.
Tiger Woods – It’s just too risky leaving Eldrick off your squad. There’s a reason he’s the overwhelming favorite. He’s only played five PGA events in 2013, about half tournaments everyone else has entered, yet still leads the Tour in earnings, wins, Fed Ex Cup points, swag, and putting; completing his assent back to the summit of the world rankings. If this were basketball, Tiger would be the Heat – if they had five Lebrons. And regardless of which issues were affecting his game since his fateful Thanksgiving joyride, he always managed to resemble the old Tiger at Augusta – now that he looks like guy on a full-time basis. Fifth Masters triumph seems like a formality.
Lee Westwood, Luke Donald & Sergio Garcia – At one point or another each of these Euros have shared the label of “best player to never win a major”.
First it was Westwood. After rising to No. 1 in the world, when he would win a major wasn’t the question, but how many. That answer is still zero. But you can’t fault his efforts, especially at Augusta; Westwood’s worst finish since 2010 is a tie for eleventh, a result sandwiched in between a third and a second.
Expectations weren’t quite so lofty for Luke Donald, despite spending more weeks at No. 1 than anyone not named Tiger in the last two decades. Chalk that up to his diminutive stature, which is also an apt description of his game – it’s simply not imposing. When Donald became the first player to capture the money title on both the PGA and Euro Tours in one calendar year, not once did he seem like a dominant player. Never a juggernaut, but merely a perfectionist. A guy who once srtung together a 483-hole stretch without a three-putt. The moment Donald stopped converting 100-percent of his sand saves, his reign was finished.
And poor Sergio, he’s had more than his share of opportunities to shed the dubious label. Blowing it every time. He can justifiably place the blame of Major disappointments on his putter, though. A problem yet to be rectified.
Yet despite the consistent letdowns, I still like all three this week. They’re sort of an overlooked trio these days, post-hype sleepers on the links. And now that they’ve all fallen out of the realm of favorites, their time could be now.
Justin Rose – Know this: Rose is not going to win. I’m not prescient by any standard, but to quote Homer J. Fong, “This Things I Believe”. Rose just never wins, doesn’t means he’s not a top notch Fantasy asset however. Since his last trip to the Oversized Novelty Deposit Depot, the 2012 WGC Cadillac Championship, Rose has played 28 tournaments worldwide. He’s finished second in five, third in another, fourth twice, with a fifth to his credit. That’s 17 Top 10s, 23 Top 20s, posting worse than 30th just four times during this remarkably consistent run. Shockingly, not every player on your team is going to win, so why not pencil in some of the safest points available?
Peter Hanson & Jason Day – Many prognosticators like to use past outcomes to predict future performances. Not a bad strategy, but one that doesn’t really apply in golf. There are just too many unquantifiable variables at play. They’ll point to Tiger’s domination of certain courses as a concrete example, forgetting that Tiger is always far and away the premier player in the field. Generally, talent and recent play win out over experience at the majority of tournaments, it also tends to be a far more predictive trait.
Except at Augusta.
Knowing the specific slope of each fairway, where the pine straw is the softest and that putts on 15 defy gravity and break the opposite way is a distinct advantage here. It’s how Fred Couples continues to finish in the Top 15 every year despite having entered the driver/driver/driver to reach Par 5s point of his career. It’s the reason to trust Hanson and Day, both have contended well into Sunday in the past. Day looked like he was actually going to win in 2011 before Charl Schwartzel caught NBA Jam type fire, becoming the first player in history to finish with four straight birdies. And Hanson was the 54-hole leader last year, but a final round 73 left him settling for bronze, two stokes outside the playoff. They’ve been flashing those same skills at various points of 2013, mix that together with their experience at the course and you have a set of legitimate contenders.
Fredrik Jacobson – I’ll bet if The Masters had its way, Jacobson would be banned from the premises. He’s unkempt, and really doesn’t illuminate the polish associated with these hallowed grounds. He’s an everyman, game included. The Swede is a stand in for every schlub watching from the comfort of his sauce-soaked recliner. He hacks around the course, rarely able to shape his shots with the ease of even the most mediocre of Tour players and finds himself in the sand as often as us weekend warriors, muttering profanities under his breathe, but still loud enough for all to hear. The difference is his flat stick. Jacobson straight up doesn’t give away shots on the green. And anytime a player has the potential to lap the field in putting, they demand to be taken seriously.