The Masters begins Thursday and it feels like it is Tiger’s to lose. Las Vegas has made him the favorite even though he hasn’t won a major since 2008, but because a “big named” contender hasn’t won the tournament since Phil won his 3rd jacket in 2010, the field still seems like the best bet. The three winners before Mickelson – Ángel Cabrera (2009), Trevor Immelman (2008), and Zach Johnson (2007) – are all currently ranked outside of the top 25 in the world. Neither of the last two winners, Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel, have a win so far in 2013.
Mickelson had this to say on the course conditions:
So the grass is in incredible shape. It’s probably ‑‑ I mean, every year we come out and talk about how pristine Augusta is, but the reason I believe this is the best I’ve ever seen it is the areas that over the years have historically given problems or been thin, like the fairway shot on 13, even around the green on 12, where you don’t get as much sun exposure, these are perfect. The areas that have historically had problems are not having a problem this year. They are perfect.
These greens are softer than what we play week‑in and week‑out. They are slightly faster, but nothing scary like they used to be.
The weather could be a factor this weekend. Thunderstorms are a possibility on Thursday and Friday with wind gusts up to 20mph on Thursday afternoon and 25-30mph on Friday. Those pristine course conditions could change quickly, but Saturday and Sunday should be perfect.
Tiger, Phil, Rory – Again
Just like last year, these three will be the camera, crowd, and betting favorites through the first day until a wildcard steps up to take the spotlight.
Tiger Woods (3/1) is number one in the world again and playing the best golf we’ve seen from him in a long time. He has three wins this season, but has not won a major tournament since the 2008 U.S. Open when he defeated Rocco Mediate in one of the most thrilling finishes in Open history. His putting has been spectacular, but he is currently ranked 147th in driving accuracy and if the winds are gusting Tiger could be all over the course. In what will be his 19th appearance at Augusta (last win in 2005) this looks like it could be Tiger’s year to return to Butler Cabin and collect another Green Jacket.
(Group 15 – Tiger, Scott Piercy, and Luke Donald – Thursday 10:45AM)
Rory McIlroy (8/1) had a rough start to the 2013 season after finishing 33rd at the Accenture and withdrawing from The Honda Classic. But he enters the Masters fresh off of a second place at the Valero Texas Open where he finished just 2 strokes behind Martin Laird (-14). After the blown lead (2011) and the terrible performance last year, Rory is ready to prove he is the only guy that can compete with Tiger – and according to Nike match him shot for shot. He’s even received advice from Tiger that, should he listen to it, could see the two paired together.
(Group 30 – Rory, Keegan Bradley, Freddie Jacobson – Thursday 1:41 PM)
Phil Mickelson (10/1) has played in eight tournaments in 2013, with his only win coming at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He has only one other top 10 finish and he missed the cut at Bay Hill. Don’t let that fool you though because if anyone can turn their season around quickly after falling down at Pebble, Phil is that guy.
(Group 29 – Phil, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer – Thursday 1:30 PM)
Bubba Watson (35/1) has been busy with hovercraft golf carts, appearances at random municipal courses, and rap videos but has not missed a bit on the course this season. With five top 20s and only one missed cut at the Northern Trust Open, Watson’s odds are tempting. Is Bubba a one hit wonder or will he be a top 10 contender after winning his first Green Jacket last year in spectacular fashion?
(Group 14 – Bubba, Ian Poulter, Steven Fox – Thursday 10:34 AM)
Justin Rose (20/1) has started spectacularly by all accounts. He has three top 10 finishes in four tournaments with his best finish coming at Bay Hill just 2 strokes behind Tiger (-13). Rose is currently ranked third in the world behind Tiger and Rory and could be included in the section above considering his tour success. Rose, though, has yet to break into that group without a major tournament win. Rose has appeared in seven Masters tournaments with his best finish coming in 2007 when he tied for 5th.
(Group 8 – Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Ryo Ishikawa – Thursday 9:17 AM)
Lee Westwood (25/1) has two top 10 finishes in 7 tournament appearances in 2013 and finished tied for 3rd at the Masters last year. Westwood hasn’t won a PGA tournament since 2010, but finished 3rd at last year’s Masters and 2nd in 2010. Westwood is my field favorite to win.
(Group 7 – Westwood, Mark Weir, Jim Furyk – Thursday 9:06 AM)
Louis Oosthuizen (25/1) and Charl Schwartzel (25/1), last year’s runner-up and the winner from two years ago are both having solid seasons. Oosthuizen has missed two PGA cuts but has three top 10 finishes including one at the Shell Houston Open and is currently ranked sixth in the world. Both have been dominant on the European tour this season.
(Group 10 Charl, Webb Simpson, Peter Hanson – Thursday 9:39 AM)
Dustin Johnson (25/1) has had an up and down season starting off with a win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions followed by a withdrawal and two missed cuts – we’ll attribute that to his very distracting girlfriend – but has since settled down and has finished 12th at the WGC and 4th at the Houston Open. Johnson is definitely hitting his stride and could be a big contender this weekend.
(Group 27 – Dustin, Fred Couples, Branden Grace – Thursday 1:08 PM)
Sergio Garcia (40/1), do we really need to cover this? (Group 26 – Sergio, Cabrera, Adam Scott – Thursday 12:57 PM)
Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Graeme McDowell all at 50/1.
The other story, at least for Thursday and Friday, will be Tianlang Guan, the 14-year-old Chinese amateur phenom. Guan is the youngest player to ever play in the Masters and has enjoyed some time with Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson.
(Group 23 – Guan, Crenshaw, Matteo Manassero – Thursday 12:24 PM)
In his interview, Tiger had the following to say about the young Guan:
This kid can’t play high school golf, he’s not in high school yet! When I was 14 I was trying to get in more tournaments, I was running track and cross country and trying to get homework done. I couldn’t imagine playing the Masters. I think I was longer [off the tee when I was 14]. He’s so consistent, he knew what he was doing (during their practice round on Monday). To be able to come out here and handle himself the way he’s done, it’s unbelievable.
[photos via Getty]