This tournament has the potential to be one of the greatest Masters of all time. All of the world’s stars are playing well and there are several interesting story lines forming a critical backdrop. As in prior years, the battle at Augusta National can be handicapped with the Horses for Courses method, since the field is smaller than the other majors, and previous champions typically play well and have an advantage. I’ve thrown distractions, injuries, and momentum into my prognostication pot so let’s get at it.
The 2012 champion will come from one of three players. Woods, Mickelson, and McIlroy so throw away the rest right now and consider the main contenders.
Tiger Woods has the track record at Augusta with four green jackets and 12 top tens. Also, the five-shot nuclear bomb he detonated last week at Bay Hill should have caught your attention as it did mine and the entire ranks of the PGA Tour. With his ball striking in top form and his suspect putter behaving as of late, Tiger has the momentum of a downhill locomotive heading to Augusta. What concerns me is his propensity to suffer lower body injuries at critical junctures with no prior warning. All the talk about “explosiveness” from Tiger is gibberish because he’s on a shaky foundation and everybody knows it. Another negative, and I hate to bring this up, but the release of the trashy film Three Mistresses is set for Tuesday and is going to be a distraction he doesn’t need. Finally, Tiger does not intimidate like he used to . . . but the Bay Hill win was a HUGE statement.
Phil Mickelson also has the track record with three Masters wins and 13 top tens; virtually Tiger’s equal minus the extra green jacket. Phil has showed good form this week in Houston and is still on a high from his head-to-head butt kicking of Tiger at Pebble Beach. This recent one-on-one dominance of Tiger is a compelling by-line especially if they get paired on the weekend. Unfortunately, Phil rides the momentum roller coaster too often and you never know when he’ll get on or off. Phil is also susceptible to the dumb mental mistake at a critical juncture because he has the personality of a gambler. Tiger does not.
Rory McIlroy can make the case for being the best player in the world with the most upside potential. His win at Honda with Tiger throwing a final round 62 at him was impressive. I love how he responded with clutch up and downs while his ball striking was off and with Tiger applying the vice-like squeeze. How would he play paired with Tiger on the final day at Augusta? I think he’d be fine. What I don’t like is that he hasn’t played competitively since Honda. Another negative is that final round 80 from last year’s Masters and exorcising those demons. The talk with Jack Nicklaus got him over the hump at the U.S. Open, now can he win it on the back nine on Sunday?
Brief notes on The Field: The balance of power in the world is at an amazingly high level and another first time major winner is a possibility. Defending champion Charl Schwartzel is a nice player but last year was an aberration. World #1 Luke Donald has good momentum from Doral and Transitions but how many majors has he won? He’s a little short and a little crooked off the tee for my liking and being able to hit wedges from the fairways into as many par-4s as possible is critical at Augusta. Perennial also-ran Lee Westwood is starting to look like Colin Montgomerie in the majors. Just wants it too much and should relax and play shot to shot. At least his attitude is better, but he doesn’t putt well enough to win at Augusta.
The green jacket goes to Rory McIlroy. Best player in the world wins the best tournament in the world.
Runner up is Tiger Woods. 5-shot win at Bay Hill was huge but need to see more consistency with the putter.
Third is Phil Mickelson. Bull or bear, who knows?