April 2, 2017
It's Masters Week!!!
The first major of the year is upon us. All the preparation and hard work leads up to this week. For Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and others that desperately want a Masters title on their resumes, it is an extremely gut wrenching week. Jordan Spieth has to overcome the negativity of his unthinkable mental lapse and collapse on the 12th hole from last year. But winning the first one is even more difficult. Just ask Greg Norman, Ernie Els, or Sergio Garcia what they would give for the privilege to wear the Green Jacket.
Augusta National Golf Club is a fair demanding test for the best golfers in the world. The back nine offers a variety of "risk-reward" opportunities that ultimately separates the cream of the crop for the rest of the pack. However, Augusta is not a course that everyone can play. Short hitters are at a distinct disadvantage, because there are many long carries to get to the desirable position to get to the par fives in two or have high lofted irons into hard greens that don't respond well to low hit long irons. The Masters greens are treacherous. Television does not accurately portray the sever slopes, speed, and difficultly in figuring out the proper break. That is why it is very rare that a first time player can win at the Masters. John Rahm is a player that has the game for this course, but give him a few years and I see him as a Masters champion. Great putters like Jordan Spieth, Ben Crenshaw, Phil Michelson, Tiger Woods, and Jack Nicklaus have a big advantage on this course.
The course also favors the player that can maneuver the ball around the golf course. Many drives require a right to left trajectory. In recent years left handed playing golfers, Phil Michelson and Bubba Watson, won five titles in a ten year stretch. They can fade or slice the ball around those doglegs and can do it better than the right handed players who have to hook the ball around those corners. There is an old saying in golf, "You can talk to a slice, but a hook doesn't listen." Long hitting left handers have a distinct advantage.
One overlooked trait that is vital to success at Augusta is a world class chipping and pitching game. All the players on the major tours have good short games, but at the Masters the grass conditions and slope of the greens put extra pressure on this delicate fine touch element of the game. The grass is cut very close so the players have to sweep pick their pitch/chip shots. A downward hit, which works well on most golf courses, only will give inconsistent results at the Masters. Great players like Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer just can't consistently pitch it close and therefore unless they have a career best ball striking week, they can't win on this course. Ricky Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson have serviceable short games, but it is not their strengths. For them to win, and each can, they must have their long game operating to their maximum. Jordan Spieth is my strong pick to win this week. I believe he has the mental toughness to overcome last year's collapse. I think he has something to prove and will accomplish it. Dustin Johnson has to be a favorite. He has been so impressive the last two months. His putting and short game have improved to the point that they will not be a major deterrent to his winning. He would be my close second pick. Rory, Jason, and Ricky want this badly. If Rory and Ricky are having a great ball striking week, they could break through, but both are not good enough putters or pitchers to consistently get out of trouble if their long games are a bit off. Jason is fighting injuries and hasn't played a full schedule, which is not the way to prepare for this tournament. It would not be a surprise to see another Bubba Watson or Phil Mickelson win, because they have the game and love for the course. Hideki Matuyama has the game to win, but the pressure on him is very great because all of Japan is scrutinizing his every breath. Would love to see a Matt Kuchar or Patrick Reed make a run at the title. If they do win, I see it as someone else losing it then one of them winning it, similar to Danny Willett appearing out of nowhere to win last year. Maybe this will be the year for Justin Thomas, Brendan Steele, Brooks Koepka, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Daniel Berger, or Ryan Moore to make a statement and become a star.
That's what is so interesting about the Masters. It has become more than a tournament. It is now the golfers beginning of spring. It is like a Rorschach test for the best golfers in the world. Their winter long preparation is now being put to the ultimate test for all of us to see in one of the most beautiful and menacing places in the world. The world will be watching and enjoying this year's addition to Masters history.