Stroll Down Magnolia Lane: 10 Things You Can Expect At The Masters 2011
Cue Jim Nantz and the Yanni theme music, The Masters is just a few days from teeing off in Augusta, Ga.
Golf fans around the globe are once again impatiently waiting for the "tradition unlike any other." I, for one, cannot wait, salivating at the prospect of an epic Sunday showdown with two of golf's elite.
Last year, Phil Mickelson persevered through adversity to claim his third green jacket, amidst the turmoil of his wife and mother suffering from breast cancer.
He will be eager to continue his good form after winning in Humble, Texas, at the Shell Houston Open on Sunday. Phil can't wait to tee off at Augusta, where he is very comfortable; and he always seems to play his best when it matters most.
The Masters is never short of compelling storylines, either. Whether it's the best young player in the field, the savvy veteran looking for another run at the prestigious green jacket, or an emotional situation like Lefty from last year. The Masters and CBS always find a dramatic story and bring it full circle.
The Masters is one of the greatest American sporting events, rich in history and tradition. Generally, it is very unpredictable, but here are a few things you can expect to see or hear over the next week at Augusta National.
Lefty Won't Repeat in 2011
Phil had a fabulous Saturday and Sunday, including an impressive birdie streak on Sunday afternoon to catch and beat Scott Verplank and claim the Shell Houston Open. No doubt Phil's Sunday charge will fuel his confidence, and he will feel great heading into Augusta.
Only three men have won The Masters back-to-back: Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods.
Phil has a lot on his proverbial tray right now. With his family's health, in addition to the recent news of his arthritis flare, and a subpar start so far this season with his high personal standards.
Phil would really have to dig deep to finish on top of the leaderboard on Sunday.
The win in Houston was great, and he has won back-to-back weeks on tour before, it would take a miraculous performance for him to win again this week, though.
Phil has won three of his four majors at Augusta, all three coming in the last seven years, which is tremendous. But going four out of eight would be absolutely remarkable.
Sean Foley Will Be a Main Topic of Conversation and Analysis
Not sure if it's good or bad for the tournament (or the broadcast), but I'm fascinated with Tiger's swing analysis and breakdown.
Tiger is in the middle of replicating his stroke from putter to driver, and making it identical. Sean Foley has been granted the daunting task of changing this legendary swing subtly, and trying to diminish Tiger's famous shoulder and head dipping motion in his downswing.
Tiger parted ways with swing guru Hank Haney last season and is now counting on Foley to get him back where he needs to be on Sundays.
There is no parallel in sports to a swing change in golf. It may be the hardest thing to do in all of sports. Realistically, it could take Tiger years to fully perfect this with repetition and muscle memory
Who knows? There's a chance it could never work out, and he and Foley could eventually split ways. That's not a situation I see as highly probable, but nevertheless, it's a possibility.
No Experience, No Chance
There has been a lot of speculation and heavy praise for the young talent of the PGA Tour lately. Rory, Rickie, and Jhonattan Vegas are making great strides in their young careers.
Vegas and Fowler will make their first career starts at Augusta later this week, and I'm wishing them luck, because they're going to need it.
Neither have a realistic shot at the green jacket, its just too difficult. Fowler has played well, but has yet to win a tour event. Too much pressure for the kids of the tour on one of golf's biggest stages.
Fuzzy Zoeller is still the only person to win the event in his first appearance, when he won in a playoff in 1979.
Big Names Will Miss the Cut
Augusta National is unforgiving. Every year, some of the best players in the world enter the season's first major with astronomical expectations. only to head home on Friday night with disappointing rounds on Thursday and Friday.
The course is longer and the greens are like putting on glass. Sergio Garcia usually doesn't play well at Augusta, missing the cut three times in the last six years and finishing 45th last season.
Dustin Johnson also will have to bring his "A" game, as his best finish was 30th in 2009.
Dark Horse / Wild Card Will Emerge
Zach Johnson came out of nowhere to capture the green jacket in 2007. Canadian Mike Weir did the same four years earlier.
Could this be the year another name is thrust into the spotlight from relative obscurity? I don't believe so, but look for someone to step their game up, and contend until Sunday that isn't a household name.
Sir Nick Faldo Will Inevitably Get Annoying
I'd like to start off by saying that I feel this is one of the better tandems in golf commentary.
Jim Nantz's voice is like velvet. Then you mix in David Feherty's humor, and CBS has a phenomenal broadcast.
But with that being said, there's something about The Masters that brings out the worst in Sir Nick (in terms of broadcasting)...
Faldo will find any way possible to draw minor and inconsequential similarities between shots, lies, and putts to his performances during his three victories at Augusta National.
Most notably, his six-shot deficit in 1996 that he overcame on Sunday against Greg Norman that no doubt will be mentioned every hour and a half though the coverage.
Sir Nick: you are a good broadcaster; when you're not making everything about you. Just articulate what you see, without making everything about your glory days in the early- and mid-90's, thanks.
A Veteran Will Contend
Last year, Sandy Lyle played well early on in the tournament, shooting a 69 on Thursday.
How could you forget Tom Watson making an epic run at the Open Championship at Turnberry and losing to Stewart Cink in a playoff in 2009?
That's more than likely not going to happen again, but Fred Couples is more than capable of hanging around on the weekend.
Last week, during an interview on ESPN Radio, Couples said:" I love the course, and right now; I know I can put together four good days of golf."
Americans Will Contend On Sunday
Bubba is in prime position for a legitimate run at a green jacket. So far this season, Bubba's earned almost $2 million and already has a win to his credit, in just eight starts.
He's currently ranked sixth in the world, and would love nothing more than have Lefty present him with the historic jacket on Sunday night. Bubba has never finished inside 20th at Augusta; look for that trend to change.
Hunter Mahan is also poised to have a breakout performance at Augusta. His stroke average is slightly better than Bubba's, and he's made the cut in every tournament he's played in so far this season.
Hunter has a couple of Top 10s to his credit in the Masters; expect that pattern to continue.
Jim Furyk has had success at Augusta, with two top-four finishes in recent history. The 2010 FedEx Cup champion should never be underestimated, especially with the flat-stick.
Anticipate a wild-card American to play well, not one of the typical "young guns" though (pardon me for the stale moniker).
The Masters favors those with years of experience in clutch situations, and players who are mentally tough, not 20-year-olds without a win on tour yet...
Tiger Will Finish Top Five
The statistics don't lie, there is something about Augusta National that brings out the best of Eldrick. For starters, he's won here four times. His experience and clutch shots here put him in limited company in golf's history.
After all the turmoil after the previous Thanksgiving in Isleworth, Tiger showed up at Augusta, (after not playing competitively for months) and it was business as usual. Woodrow was in contention on Sunday, before eventually finishing tied for fourth.
Don't be surprised to see his name somewhere near the top of the leaderboard on Sunday, it's just too strong of a pattern to bet against.
A European Player Will Win the Green Jacket
Martin Kaymer or Lee Westwood have to be the favorites for later this week at Augusta National.
No doubt Lefty will also have something to contribute to the equation after his sensational performance in Texas, but the Europeans have everything working.
Westwood is due for his elusive major, and always contends at Augusta. Kaymer is not only the best young player in the world at 26, he may be the best player in the world right now.
Then you throw in Luke Donald who just beat Kaymer in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Final, Graeme McDowell, Paddy Harrington, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter. It's a freighting thought of European domination, on American soil.
It's no secret the Europeans have strength in numbers, with so much talent and some of the bigger names in the US struggling, one of the aforementioned players ought to be wearing the prestigious green jacket on Sunday. Enjoy the tourney.