The true signal that spring is finally here is the beginning of the Masters, which starts today in Augusta, GA. Although it is by no means the oldest tournament in the world, the Masters carries a prestige and aura which makes it every golfer’s must-win tournament. Adding to the tournament’s mystique is the exclusivity of the Augusta National Golf Club, whose members include Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and Jack Welch.
For the first time since 1997, Tiger Woods is not the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament. Even last year, off the heels of his personal scandal, TW was the favorite to win the Masters. Yet, Tiger is winless since November 2009, and he is eight months into a swing change with coach Sean Foley that hasn’t brought any consistency to his game.
With that being said, Tiger has won the tournament four times, and he knows the intricacies of the course better than anyone else. Since 2005, Tiger has not finished outside the top 10. Additionally, Tiger had the most eagles in the field last year, and if can keep his bogeys down, then he will have a good shot of winning his fifth green jacket. I, however, do not think there is enough consistency in his game to keep the number of bogeys down. Expect TW to finish just outside of the top 10.
Then there is defending champion Phil Mickelson, who won for the first time this year last week in Houston. He played a marvelous final round, and his game is peaking at the right time. Phil has won 3 of the 7 Masters since 2004, demonstrating that he knows the ins and outs of the course extremely well. Mickelson is the bookmaker’s pick to win; however, I do not quite agree with them.
Although Mickelson’s confidence is sky high, that is something that usually goes against him in the later rounds of a tournament (ref. US Open 2006). Mickelson is not exactly the game’s best decision maker- he thinks he can pull of any shot in the game. Augusta will present him with plenty of risk-reward scenarios, and I think the bounces will not fall his way this year. Sure he won last week, but the field was extremely depleted. And he, like Woods, has not consistently played well this year either.
You ask: if not Tiger or Phil, then who? That is the great thing about this year’s tournament- it is extremely wide open. Anyone of the top 7 players in the world can win it. My pick to win is Germany’s Martin Kaymer, who is the top-ranked player in the world.
Although Kaymer has missed the cut in all three of his Master appearances, he is still the last player to have won a major (2010 PGA Championship). That victory showed to him that he belongs on golf’s biggest stage, and more importantly, gave him the confidence to compete with the big names. Unlike Phil, Kaymer has played well this year. He ran away with the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship by 8 shots- a tournament whose field had a strong contingent of European players.
After seeing Kaymer play over the past few months, I believe he has the game to win at Augusta. Augusta favors players who play a slight draw off the tee, and Kaymer hits long drives that have a right-to-left flight. Additionally, his irons are majestically high, and they land softly on the greens. His putting is not too shabby either, which is CRITICAL to win at Augusta. And most importantly, Kaymer is a good decision maker. He does not get ahead of himself, and he knows not to go for every pin, something Phil has still not learned. Expect this to be a good week for the World #1.
These are my thoughts- who do you guys think will pull it off?