As a sports fan, the end of March Madness can be depressing. However, one of the things to lift our spirits immediately is the Masters. Come Thursday, when that familiar music hits, all is right in the world. The stakes are high this year, as six golfers can claim the World number one ranking with a win at Augusta. Here are my ten favorites:
Phil Mickelson: Ever since his victory last year at Augusta, it has been a struggle for Lefty. He struggled with his driving accuracy and wrist issues. I was ready to write him off for this year’s edition. That is until last week’s victory where he shot 63-65 on the weekend. With his game rounding into form at the right time and a course he excels on, Phil is rightfully being labeled the favorite. You might see this shot replayed a few times this weekend.
My official pick to win. Poulter is very outspoken and fearless on the golf course. He’s been in contention in majors before and is a Ryder Cup veteran. The pressure should not phase him. He’s been vocal in the past in wanting to challenge Tiger Woods and he does not mince words. In fact, he said this week that Tiger will not finish in the Top 5. (I concur). This brash nature makes him one of the more polarizing figures in golf. He even got in trouble this week when the lords of Augusta caught him posting video of the course on Twitter. It’s been taken down, but he’s a good follow on twitter.
Kaymer does not have much of a track record at Augusta, so he’s a bit of a wild card. However, you can’t leave out the world’s current number 1 in this list. He won the last major at the 2010 PGA and was solid at Ryder Cup. Another one who won’t crumble on Sunday if in contention.
For years, Phil Mickelson had to suffer the label “Best Player to Never Have Won a Major.” This tag now belongs to Westwood, who has come agonizingly close several times, including last year’s runner-up at Augusta. Probably the most consistent golfer in the world right now. Will this be his breakthrough?
Another great player who has yet to win a major. Donald still remains a bit underrated to casual golf fans. His iron play is top notch. He’s had a great start to the year by winning the Match Play. My one question mark for him is the fact that he’s never posted a top 20 at Augusta. Can he master this golf course?
It’s hard to believe that McIlroy is still only 21 years old. He’s already a veteran of majors and Ryder Cups. There is no doubt that he is poised to be golf’s next big star. He’s got the length in his game to really challenge the par 5’s at 13 and 15. I expect a great weekend from him.
2010 was a rough year for Kim after being sidelined much of the year with a wrist injury. He was not able to round into form quick enough to make Ryder Cup, and his competitiveness was missed by the US squad. With Phil and Tiger starting to get older, there is a void as to who will be the next American star. Kim brings both the talent and personality to be able to fill this role.
Another golfer who could be put in the underrated camp. Watney’s name always seems to be near the top of the leaderboard during majors. He has finished top 20 at Augusta the past three years. It’s clear that he likes this course. For that reason alone, I have him on this list.
Mahan is another American with a good track record at Augusta. 2010 was an up and down season for Mahan, ending with a disappointing finish at the Ryder Cup. This year, he’s off to a hot start with five top 10 finishes already. Another American golfer looking to take the next step.
I just mentioned Mahan’s disappointing finish at Ryder Cup. McDowell was the exact opposite. There was no one who hit more crucial putts last year than McDowell. The reigning US Open champ. He proved this with his clinching putts at the Ryder Cup, US Open, and staring down Tiger Woods at the Chevron World Challenge in December. Probably the most clutch player in golf right now.
10 others to watch: Ryo Ishikawa, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Tiger Woods, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson, Sean O’Hair, Justin Rose, and Paul Casey.
Best Groupings for Thursday/Friday
Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day
Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Matt Kuchar
Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell, Robert Allenby
Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, Nick Watney
Fred Couples, Luke Donald, Steve Stricker
Lastly, this article would not be complete without ending with this: