Since we seem to lose all our golf guys (ok, maybe a golf post every week was a little excessive) I'm going to have to take the reins here for a preview of The Masters, which begins tomorrow. Don't worry, there will be plenty of Twins talk to come.
The Favorite: Tiger Woods. Obviously. Tiger would almost certainly have been the favorite no matter what happened his last time out, but winning at Bay Hill two weeks ago tells the world know that he is all the way back. If you had to choose between Tiger and the Field, who would you pick? The field, obviously, but you'd at least have to think about it.
The Top 10 Contenders:
1. Paul Casey. Yes, I consider Casey your best bet to knock off Tiger this week. He's only played in the US three times this year, but those include a win at the Shell last week and a runner up finish in the Match Play Championship. Add in a 10th and 11th at the last two Masters, and a made cut in eight straight majors, and I think he's the guy to watch out for.
2. Zach Johnson. He won here two years ago, but then followed that up with a pretty mediocre 2008. It looks like the Hangover has abated, with Joaquin Phoenix's double having a pretty nice 2009, with a win at the Sony Open and five top 17s on the year.
3. Retief Goosen. Probably the best golfer at the Masters to never win the tournament, Goosen has finished in the top 3 here four times, and his career finishes since 2002 are very impressive: 2, 13, 13, 3, 3, 2, 17. He seemed to be on the downslope of his career last year, but has seen a resurgence this season with a win already at the Transitions Championship and another top 3 on the resume. This could be the year he finally gets his green jacket.
4. Phil Mickelson. Can't put Lefty any lower than this, and it was a tough call putting him even this low. Mickelson is incredibly uneven at times, but there's no doubting his ability when he's on. He also loves this tournament, with two wins and a total of eleven top 10s in 15 tries as a pro. If that's not enough, he's already got two wins this year, including a WGC event. I'm starting to wonder why I put him fourth.
5. Padraig Harrington. Since Paddy won his second straight Major at the PGA last year, he had been in coast mode, missing the cut in the next two tournaments and not finishing in the top 50 until March this year. The good news for Paddy fans is that he seems to be rounding into shape, with a 20th, 11th, and 26th in his last three. With the last two majors under his belt, and a 7th and 5th in his last two trips to Augusta, Harrington might get one step closer to the Paddy Slam.
6. Geoff Ogilvy. Ogilvy, despite a bit of a final round collapse last week, usually thrives in big tournaments, with four of his six career wins being either Majors (1) or WGC Events (3). He's also playing well right now, with two of those six career wins coming this season already. He's never seriously contended at Augusta (career best T-16th), but he's also never missed the cut here.
7. Mike Weir. Do you remember that Weir won here in 2003? Me neither. I always forget that and then realize it right before the tournament, and then realize again that Weir is pretty damn good at Augusta, with four top 20s in five tries since he won. He's also playing solid golf so far this season, with zero missed cuts and two top 3 finishes.
8. Nick Watney. I'm as surprised as you are to see this kid on the list, but he's burst on the scene in a big way this year, and has probably been the most consistent golfer so far this year. Watney has a win at the Buick and two other top 5 finishes. In fact, Watney has finished in the top 25 in seven of his eight tournaments this year. This is his second trip to Augusta, and he proved last year that he can handle it, finishing in a tie for 11th place. Stranger things have happened.
9. Robert Karlsson. I didn't know this until I was looking up his majors record on Wikipedia, but apparently he has two nicknames: "Ivan Drago" and "The Scientist." How awesome is that? If you need more, Karlsson finished in the top 10 in three of the four majors last year, including 8th at the Masters, finished 20th in the other Major, and won the European Order of Merit (the commie Player of the Year). He's also looking good, coming into the tournament with a T-14 finish last week.
10. Brandt Snedeker. He's not exactly having the best year, with as many missed cuts as made so far, but I have a hunch about the 2007 Rookie of the Year, particularly after he finished 17th his last time out at the Arnie Palmer. Snedeker generally plays well in Majors that aren't the British Open, with two top tens last year including a T-3 at Augusta.
10 "Contenders" Who Have No Shot:
1. Sergio Garcia. This pains me. If you pay attention to the Golf posts I make round here, you know I love the Sergio, but it's not his year, at least not at the Masters. The sexy Spaniard hasn't done much this year, with just one finish in the top 30, and the Masters is not where he's going to turn it around, with three missed cuts in his last four attempts here.
2. Vijay Singh. One of the more obvious "big" names to put on the list, the big Fiji has really struggled this year coming off knee surgery in January. Since his return, he has missed three cuts and finished 53rd and 59th. The Masters is generally not a place where players return to form, and Singh's streak of 10 straight top 25 finishes here is in jeopardy.
3. Luke Donald. As long as we're talking injuries, let's talk Donald's wrist. Luke had wrist surgery and missed the second half of the season last year, and then had to withdraw from the Match Play Event due to wrist trouble again. He's played in two tournaments since then, and managed a top 20 at the WGC, but comes in with a MC at the Houston Open. He also missed the cut at Augusta last year.
4. Adam Scott. Here's another one who is trying to return from an injury, and not at all succeeding. Scott injured himself surfing last December (note: Surfing is stupid. You look like a seal from below. Sharks eat seals. Ergo, if you surf, sharks will eat you) and hasn't hit his stride in his return, coming into the Masters on the heels of missed cuts in his last two events. Considering he's never finished better than 25th here since 2003, I don't see this being his big return event.
5. Jim Furyk. I never thought there would be a tournament where I'd consider Furyk to not be a factor, but since a 3rd place finish at the last WGC event, he's played really poorly, finishing 52nd and missing the cut in his last two times out. In fact, in the last six rounds he's played he's only broken 70 once, and has carded two separate rounds of 78. Add in that he hasn't really contended at Augusta since 2003, and I don't think this is Jimmy's week.
6. Ernie Els. Unlike Goosen, who seems to have pulled himself out of a career decline, the same can't really be said for Els, who has won only once since 2004. It's not that he's playing terrible golf, but he just doesn't really seem to ever be a serious threat to win anymore, much less at a major. Particularly Augusta, considering he's missed the cut the past two years.
7. Anthony Kim. Remember when Kim was the next big thing? He was one of the hottest golfers last season, picking up two wins and finishing fourth in the Fed Ex Cup Playoffs. He started out hot again this year, with a second place finish in the first tournament of the year, but has really cooled since then with nary a top 25 finish to his name. Add in that this is his first trip to Augusta, and I'm not seeing it.
8. Stewart Cink. People like Cink. People like blood sausage, too. People are morons. I can't stand this guy. Sure, he finished 3rd last year at Augusta, but he's sucked all year, with a 24th place finish his best, has only won once since 2004, and generally chokes anytime he's in contention for anything except for biggest homo on the tour. Want more? He named his two sons Connor and Reagan, and has a twitter account or page or whatever it is. H-O-M-O.
9. Steve Stricker. Speaking of choking when the pressure is on, holy cow has Stricker had his hands around his throat this year. On paper, his three top fives already this year look great, but consider that he had the lead at one point in all three of those tournaments and gave it back. Google "Steve Stricker chokes" and you'll see a ton of hits. Sound like a guy who can handle the pressure of the final round of the Masters? Add in that he's missed the cut here in five of his eight tries, including his last three attempts, and you can rule him out.
10. Kenny Perry. The Dan Akroyd clone may have had a good year last year, but he did it playing only one round in a major: he didn't qualify for the Masters or the US Open (and didn't attempt to), declined to play in the British, and got hurt after one round at the PGA. Perry is playing well this year (four top-10s already) but his lack of success at Augusta (five missed cuts in 8 tries), unfamiliarity with the course and tournament (hasn't played in the Masters since 2005), and overall lack of Major experience (only played five rounds total in the last 8 majors) tell me to stay away.
- Rory McIlroy. If you pay attention to golf, you know who this is. If you don't, he's the next young challenger to Tiger Woods, or at least is being portrayed that way. He's a 19-year old kid from Northern Ireland, and has already risen to the #17 ranked golfer in the world rankings. He already won in Dubai earlier this year, and finished 5th at the Accenture Match Play to go along with three other top 20s in the states. Simply put, he's young, he's untested in a Major, and by all rights shouldn't be in contention. However he's played well this year under pressure, seems completely unflappable and in control at all times, and is supremely talented. Really, I have no idea how to place him. I had him in both the Top Contenders and Players With No Chance categories at different points when I was thinking about this. Nothing would shock me.
There you have it. As a reward, here's a fun little picture of Natalie Gulbis: