There’s a major tournament going on this week, not merely a reemergence. If You-Know-Who misses the cut on Friday, they’ll still give out a green jacket on Sunday. Here are a few of the people and topics to pay attention to while waiting for Masters.com to deliver the 1:42 starting time:
Ernie’s on a roll: Ernie Els comes into the Masters having won two events in Florida before slipping a bit in Houston last week. They were his first wins anywhere in the world since 2008, an unlikely drought for a player with his game and experience. He has three major victories – two U.S. Opens and a British – but has never won at Augusta in the major that always seemed perfect for him. If he finally gets the victory that Phil Mickelson took away from him in 2004, it will be enormously popular among fans and golfers alike.
Speaking of Lefty…: Events of the tabloid variety have let Mickelson come into this Masters under the radar – a pretty good description of his results in seven events so far this year (19, T-45, T-8, T-24, T-14, T-30, T-35). Phil may keep a smile on his face, but he has to know he needs another major; Wide Left at Winged Foot put the monkey squarely on his back again. As he stood on the seventy-second tee at the 2006 U.S. Open, he was about to win his fourth major in his last ten; since that unfortunate weekend, he’s zero-for-thirteen.
Speaking of Monkeys…: The mantle of Best Player Never to Win A Major now sits uneasily on Sergio Garcia’s shoulders. His putting stroke makes Augusta National an unlikely place for a breakthrough; he’s missed the cut in three of the last five Masters, breaking par in only one of his last fourteen rounds there. Can he finally win one? How about two majorless veterans sitting at two and four in the World Rankings, Steve Stricker and Lee Westwood? Stricker’s late-career renaissance is a happy story, as is Westwood’s return to prominence; a major title for either would be an overdue surprise.
Young Guns, Anyone?: Tour winners this year include Anthony Kim (24 years old), Camilo Villegas (28), Hunter Mahan (28), Dustin Johnson (25) , and Bill Haas (27). Will one of them take another step forward? And what about the Even Younger Guns, Rory McIlroy (20), Ryo Ishikawa (18), and British Amateur champion Matteo Manassero (16, the youngest player in Masters history)? Making the cut will be a victory for the latter two, but McIlroy could be a serious contender for the big prize (and Dustin Johnson’s a good choice if you need a sleeper for your pool).
Reverse the Curse: South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen braved fifty years of history by winning the Par-3 Contest. No such winner has ever gone on to win on the big course. He’s in the first group off the tee Thursday, as is Australian Nick Green; no Aussie has ever won the Masters either. Two reasons to check out the early scores on your office computer.
Seems Like Old Times: David Duval’s surprising runner-up finish at the U.S. Open put him into the Masters field. He hasn’t played the tournament since 2006, hasn’t made the cut since finishing second in 2001. Can he provide a redemption story for the ages? He’s played well at Augusta before (results from 1998 to 2001: T-2, T-6, T-3, 2). Kenny Perry returns to the scene of his disappointment last year, when he lost in a playoff to Angel Cabrera. And Fred Couples, healthy and thriving on the elder circuit – three wins and a second in four events – along with three-for-three made cuts on the PGA Tour, has always been a favorite of the gallery patrons.
Devalued Euros: No European player has put on a green jacket since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999. Winners since then have represented Fiji, South Africa, Argentina, and Canada, in addition to the U.S. Look for this to be the year, with the winner coming from among England’s Paul Casey, Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, and Germany’s Martin Kaymer.