A tradition unlike any other. Thats right. It’s that time of year again. Jim Nantz has his poetic monologue written, the green jackets are dry cleaned, and John Daly is selling merchandise outside Magnolia Lane. Hello friends, and welcome to The Masters.
Tiger Woods is back: After taking an indefinite leave from competition in February, Tiger will make his comeback on golf’s greatest stage: Augusta National. The last time we saw Tiger, his short game, historically a strong point, was awful, his back pain flared up on nearly every tee shot and his glutes we’re not “activating”. The five-time Masters winner seems to be confident about his game though. He would not compete in this tournament if he didn’t think he could win.
Rory Mcilroy is going for his career grand slam: Since Rory’s 2011 Sunday meltdown at Augusta, the Northern Irishman has won three of the four majors. A green jacket still eludes him. Will this year be his year? So far Rory says he hasn’t been feeling the grand slam pressure. This would indeed be a historic victory; only six other players have ever accomplished the career grand slam.
Bubba Watson will attempt to defend his title: Bubba won his second Master’s last year. Never bet against him winning another. This course sets up perfectly for his game. He can attack the par fives with long drives and shaped approach shots.
Rory McIlroy (6/1): No surprise here. Winning two majors last year makes him an obvious favorite.
Jordan Spieth (8/1): Spieth is coming into this tournament hot. So far this PGA Tour season he has two wins. In the past three weeks Jordan hasn’t finished outside of the top three.
Bubba Watson (11/1): If he’s hitting them we’ll never bet against Bubba winning at Augusta.
Dark Horses to Watch:
Padraig Harrington (250/1): Harrington finally got back into the winner’s circle this year at The Honda Classic. While the weeks following the win didn’t result in any stellar rounds, Harrington has proved before that he can perform at majors. Don’t count him out.
Jonas Blixt (125/1): Blixt will either be cut after two rounds or finish in contention. In the past four weeks he’s had two decent rounds and two missed cuts. Blixt finished tied for second here last year. Perhaps he might be able to get after it again this year.
Sergio Garcia (35/1): Sergio is always capable of putting himself into contention. The question is whether or not he can play well down the stretch. His best finish here is eighth (2013, 2002). Sergio has to find a way not to crack under pressure to win this tournament.
I’ll get this out of the way first. Tiger will make the cut but won’t do anything more. Although he’ll tell you otherwise, making the cut at Augusta in his first tournament back after an awful showing a few months ago would be a phenomenal result and a definite sign of improvement. Moving on.
I don’t see Bubba winning two straight. His ability to shape the ball any which way works both to his benefit and to his downfall. One shot might split the fairway another might land 20 yards left of it. If you ignore his two wins (sounds silly, I know), you’ll find that he has only finished in the top 20 once. Maybe (probably) next year, Bubba.
It takes everything I have not to pick Rory. Ever since he won the PGA Championship, you have to think this tournament has been on the forefront of his mind. There’s no question that he can win here, it’s up to him. I don’t think he’s going to crack under the pressure, I just think his game isn’t all there right now. Rory’s driving accuracy has not been where it needs to be so far this season. If he can’t put the ball in the fairway this weekend, he can’t win.
That leaves us with the question of “If not Rory, who?”. I can name a few.
I love Jordan Spieth this weekend. Last year he proved he can get himself into contention. So far this season he’s shown us that his game has improved tremendously. If he can keep up with the pack going into sunday I wouldn’t doubt on him to win it.
Jason Day has been a popular pick this year and for good reason. He’s won already this year and seems to always stick around in majors until the final few holes. He looks to be ready to win his first major at Augusta.
Billy Horschel was playing lights out in last year’s FedExCup. He’s had some success this year, including a third place finish two weeks ago at the Valero Texas Open. Horschel isn’t intimidated in the slightest by the grounds at Augusta. He was quoted yesterday saying, “It’s got a lot of history and everything but it’s no different than any other 18-hole golf course. They have 18 holes.”
Of those three, I’ll take Spieth to win it all. New, young stars are emerging on the PGA Tour. I think it’s Jordan’s time to be fitted for his first green jacket.
As I’m writing this, a 75-year-old Jack Nicklaus just shot a hole-in-one at the par three contest — further proving that anything can happen at this place. If you need me I’ll be glued to my futon for the next four days.
Michael Nyland is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports