Photo courtesy of www.thegolfchannel.com
For the majority of the country who knows what it’s like to take a mandatory climatological break from the game, the Masters represents the annual rebirth of golf.
On the coast, where clubs never stopped swinging and multiple professional tournaments have passed through, the Masters doesn’t have quite the same significance, but it’s no less meaningful. This is the tournament that makes you fall in love with the game all over again, no matter what you shot in your last round.
For us golfers, this is the best week in sports, when the true competitive juices of the game at the professional level flow again. The scenery, the history, the pageantry (the Par 3 contest, honorary starters, etc.) – we watch for all of it.
And, as usual, there’s no lack of storylines at the Masters in 2015 and “major” history is in play, although likely not of the Tiger Woods variety. Making a run right now for Tiger is considered making the cut. And another blow-up round like what we saw in Phoenix might have people talking retirement.
But Tiger does make the cut for our top storylines going into Augusta.
1. Rory’s Run at History – Golf history is teed high for Rory McIroy, but will be able to take advantage in a year where his game has yet to quite come together?
Besides giving him a third straight major win, a victory would earn McIlroy the rare and coveted career Grand Slam by age 25. He’s the favorite though he’s never won here. He’s most remembered at Augusta for squandering a four-shot lead on Sunday in 2011.
But McIlroy has come a long way since then and masters major moments now far more than shrinks from them. His game at its best is the best in the game, but will he be at his best at Augusta?
History is waiting to find out.
2. Bubba Has Mastered Augusta National – Having won two of the last three Masters, Bubba Watson’s game clearly sets up well for the course. It seems he should be in contention every year here as long as his putter shows up, and after the way he dominated last year, would it really surprise anybody if he eventually won four or five green jackets? Since the course changes, the layout is increasingly friendly to lefties, which brings us to …
3. Paging Mr. Mickelson – After his quietest year ever on Tour, some are pulling for Phil Mickelson’s game to come out of hibernation at Augusta, where the premium will always be on the short game, his forte. Mickelson’s game showed signs of life last week at the Houston Open, where he led early before settling into a 17th-place finish. Can Phil muster enough Masters’ magic for a fourth victory here? His putting, which has dogged him all year, will likely have something to say about it.
4. Has Tiger Tamed His Game? – Everyone will be watching when Tiger plays his first competitive round in nine weeks on Thursday to see he’s still fighting the short-game demons that have dragged his game to a career low. Even the most optimistic outlook has Tiger being more subplot than plot at Augusta. Him just making the cut is being touted as a major achievement. By the way, Tiger now hasn’t won here since 2005. The only history he’s guaranteed is his 20th Masters start.
5. Major Momentum – After a year when three of the four majors were runaways (only the PGA Championship was close), the Tour could use something akin to the Watson/Oosthuizen dual of three years ago to get the major season off to a competitive start and stir TV interest. TV rankings for most of the majors slumped a year ago.
Rory in contention would certainly turn on television sets as might a breakthrough win by someone such as Jordan Spieth. A Tiger scenario seems far-fetched, but Mickelson making another run isn’t out of the question. The tournament hasn’t truly had an outlier champion since Charl Schwartzl in 2011. In a Tour era where seemingly everyone can win, little truly surprises you anymore.
Chris Mayson prediction:
1. Jason Day: I picked him for the Farmers (he won) and I’m sticking with him. Day has always liked Augusta and played well there. He has prodigious length and hits the ball extremely high, which is very beneficial on the hard and fast greens. With the fairways playing soft after this week’s rain, his high ball flight and long carry should suit him even better. He already won at Torrey Pines this year, another very long and difficult course, and he has to be one of the favorites for this year.
2. Jordan Spieth: There is a saying on tour that if you want to find the winner of this week’s event, look no further than the top five of the previous week. Spieth finished second in Houston and also second last year at The Masters and has been playing very well all year. With a point to prove from last year, he won’t be far off the lead come the back nine on Sunday.
3. Dustin Johnson