April 4, 2011
It’s the time of the sports calendar that signals Spring. The Final Four, the start of baseball season, and the ends of the NBA and NHL regular seasons all mean that the weather is getting warmer. But the Masters is, perhaps, the biggest sporting event of the season. The weather forecast for this week is favorable with temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s and plenty of sun, so we should be all set for four days of excellent golf.
Here are a few players that will be ready to claim the green jacket.
2011 may mark the first time that Tiger Woodsisn’t declared as a heavy favorite by fans. Not only is he winless so far this season, he failed to record a single victory in 2010. It used to feel like a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ Woods would regain his previous form, but the longer he goes without winning, the harder it might be for him. Still, with four Masters titles under his belt, Tiger can’t be counted out as he continues to pursue Jack Nicklaus‘ record of 18 major championships. Woods knows the course well having competed on it for nearly 15 years and is still one of the game’s biggest drivers. That plays perfectly into his hands, despite the club’s attempt to ‘Tiger-proof’ the course in recent years.
Then there’s Phil Mickelson– the defending champion. Lefty isn’t only a favorite because he won the green jacket last season, but because he’s been wildly successful at Augusta throughout his entire career. He also has two prior Masters victories and an astounding six additional top five finishes. Even more impressive than that, Mickelson is almost always in the thick of things as he’s finished in the top ten every year since 1999 with the exception of 2007 when he came in 24th place. Few, if any, golfers have had that kind of success at any tournament, let alone the Masters.
Martin Kaymer, the current No. 1 player in the World Golf Rankings, mightbe a contender. He won the PGA Championship last year for his first major and finished in second place in this season’s WGC Accenture Match Play Championship in February. But Kaymer has yet to even get past the cut at the Masters over the past three years and with a strong field, he will have his work cut out for him. He has the talent, but the lack of experience in playing past Friday may be a factor in his ability to close the deal on Sunday even if he does make the cut in 2011.
One player to watch in my opinion is Luke Donald. Donald, the third-ranked player in the world is off to a great start this season. He’s finished in the top ten in three of his four PGA Tour events and won the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. Donald had to defeat two top ten golfers in Kaymer and ninth-ranked Matt Kuchar on his way to the title and is playing some of the best golf of his career. He will be overlooked by many, despite his No. 3 World Golf Ranking, because he’s never won a major. But Donald has finished in the top ten in the Masters twice over the past five seasons, including a third place finish in 2005. He has all the tools to break through and potentially capture his first Masters victory.
Young guns like Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson will try to make their mark and other top-ranked players Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, and Paul Casey could also be right there in the end. But some older golfers will also be looking to make history, too.
25 years ago in 1986, a past-his-prime Jack Nicklaus laid claim to his 18thand final major. Not many gave him a chance as he hadn’t won a major since 1980, but Nicklaus found a way to win. In 2009 the age of 59, Tom Watsonbecame the oldest golfer to lead a major as he looked to win the British Open. Watson not only held a lead, but topped the leaderboard heading into Sunday. He eventually lost in a playoff to Stewart Cink, but proved that golfers into their 50’s can still be competitive in major championships. Experience counts for so much in golf and while players such as Fred Couples and Vijay Singhshouldn’t be expected to contend this weekend, well… you never know.