By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
With the Masters, Golf’s first big major, starting Thursday, the field has never been more wide open. Padraig Harrington is looking for his third straight major championship. Tiger Woods is competiting in his first major since winning the U.S. Open before surgery. Phil Mickelson is looking for his third green jacket in five years. But who has the best chance and taking the PGA Tour’s first major of 2009? Let’s break it down:
Tiger Woods: He’s won one of the last six majors, and is coming off of major reconstructive surgery, yet no one is betting against Tiger, and neither am I. He came back from a five hole deficit to win at Bay Hill two weeks ago, showing the competitive spirit that makes him so tough. Any concern of rust from the surgery should be well in the back of anyone’s mind after his Bay Hill performance, and even Tiger says he feels like he’s back to normal. What does this mean for the rest of the field? Tiger is back, he’s hungry, and he wants another Green Jacket.
Phil Mickelson: Lefty started off 2009 on fire, winning twice, but fell flat at the Houston Open, missing the cut with a 9-over 153. Considering the last two times he won the Masters he finished top ten in the Houston Open leading up to it (1st in 2006, 10th in 2004), this does not bode well. Augusta is set up for lefties, and if Mickelson can regain his form that makes him so dominant, he could easily sneak past the rest of the field. That, or he’ll collapse from over practicing. Either way, Mickelson will be exciting to watch, as long as he doesn’t duplicate his Winged Foot performance from the 2006 U.S. Open.
Padraig Harrington: He’s won three of the last six majors, including two in a row, so there is a little pressure on Harrington to complete his “Paddy-Slam”. There is also some pressure to join an elite group of golfers. Should Harrington win his third straight major, he will be the third person to do that, joining only Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods. It has been seven months since Harrington has tasted glory, and in seven PGA events this year, his best finish was 11th. Needless to say, there is plenty of attention on Harrington’s quest, even with all the other stories at the Masters.
Trevor Immelman: The defending Masters champion, who won with an 8-under 280 in 2008, has had a quiet period since. That would be due to his struggles since the championship, with his best finish being 10th in the PGA Championship. However, he struggled in 2008 leading up to the Masters, so maybe the consistency is in his favor. Nevertheless, with the focus on Harrington, Mickelson, Woods, and others, Immelman could quietly sneak past the heavy hitters and walk out with a victory again.
Sergio Garcia: His best finish so far in 2009 was 13th, and he struggled mightily last week at the Houston Open, finishing 77th thanks to an 81 on the last day. He is regarded as an amazing golfer, being known as the best player to have not won a Championship. The Masters might be a tough one to end that streak, as he has missed the cut the last two years. He has not finished top ten since 2004, when he finished tied for fourth. He has trouble converting short putts, and unless he can find his short game, his best chance will be playing through the weekend.
Geoff Ogilvy: He’s already claimed two titles in 2009, winning the Mercedes-Benz Championship and the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. The Houston Open warm-up netted him a sixth place finish, so Ogilvy has momentum in his favor. He’s made the cut in the Masters all three times, but has yet to break the top ten, with a 16th place finish in 2006 his top performance. However, Ogilvy is easily one of the most complete players on the tour, and has just as much potential as anyone else on the course.
Retief Goosen: The 2007 runner up does his best when leading up to the Masters, and this year was one in the same, with his win in the Transitions Championship and his third place finish in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Before last year’s 17th place finish, Goosen finished top five from 2005-2007, so he is ready to make the leap. The two-time U.S. Open Champion definitely has the talent, but in this year’s pool, Goosen might have to settle for another runner up title.
Rory McIlroy: The 2009 Rookie du Jour, McIlory has already risen to number 17 on the Official World Golf Ranking. This is his first Masters, and no rookie has won the major since Fuzzy Zoeller did so in 1960. He’s coming in with some momentum, finishing in the top twenty in all of the events he’s played in so far, including finishing fifth in the Accenture Match Play Championship. He’s young, at 19, but is showing the poise of a rookie that could make some noise.
There are obviously many other quality professionals who have a chance at winning the Masters, including Vijay Singh, Justin Leonard, Ernie Els, among others. However, writing about 100 people would be slightly difficult. Instead, these were just a few names we might see atop the leaderboard throughout the week.