It’s the best golf week of the year. Let’s get right to the ‘Front Nine:’
1. MAGNOLIA LANE IS CALLING
Cue the azaleas. Give us a glimpse of Arnie. Show me the 16th hole.
The Masters is finally here.
It arrives, as always, at the perfect time and with a kaleidoscope of storylines.
There’s Tiger and Phil, both with reasons to believe.
Greg Norman’s back, maybe for the last time.
It’s definitely the last time for Fuzzy Zoeller but it’s just the first time for Rory McIlroy.
Until Thursday, we’ll watch and listen as players and pundits talk about what may or may not happen. They’ll talk about the course set-up and the green speeds. They’ll talk about whether the roars will ever return and if this is the year when an Australian finally wins the Masters.
The patrons will eat pimento cheese sandwiches, pose for photos in front of the famous clubhouse and squeeze every ounce of life from their day at Augusta National.
They’ll cheer when the players try to skip their tee shots across the pond at No. 16, they’ll look at the people talking beneath the giant oak tree just behind the clubhouse and they’ll imagine what it would be like to play Augusta National just one time.
On Thursday morning, the tournament will begin.
And the magic will already be in the air.
2. BESIDES THE OBVIOUS
Everybody tries to pick the winner of the Masters, even the guys playing in it.
The obvious choice is Tiger Woods with Phil Mickelson and Geoff Ogilvy solid back-ups.
But those are easy.
Here are three guys to keep your eye on:
- Paul Casey. He was long overdue to win on the PGA Tour before his victory Sunday at windswept Houston. Casey has major championship talent but needs to show he can hang on Sundays.
- Henrik Stenson. If he should win the Masters, maybe they’ll give him green underwear to go with the green jacket after he stripped-down to his skivvies to play a shot from the mud last month.
- Hunter Mahan. He’s due to make a run at major. This may be the week.
3. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS…
During the Masters – or any other time -- feel free to send them along and I’ll try to answer them as quickly as possible. You can tack them on at the bottom of this blog or send them directly to me at email@example.com.
We’re also planning to enhance our golf coverage on line over the coming weeks so if you have suggestions for regular features you’d like to see, pass them along.
4. WEATHER OR NOT…
Weather is always a factor at the Masters and it could play a significant role this week.
It’s expected to be unseasonably cold and breezy during the practice days, hardly providing the burst of springtime so associated with the event.
By tournament time, however, the conditions are expected to improve with temperatures in the low 70s. Here’s hoping the rain and thunderstorms predicted for Friday stay away and we get a Masters that plays firm and fast with lower scoring than we’ve seen the past two years.
5. FUZZY’S FAREWELL
Fuzzy Zoeller has said this will be his final Masters, the course having become too difficult for him to handle.
This will be Zoeller’s 31st start in an event he won the first time he played it – way back in 1979.
Unfortunately, Zoeller is remembered also for the remarks he made about Tiger Woods in 1997. He paid a steep penalty in the court of public opinion for what was intended to be a joke.
This week shouldn’t – and probably won’t – be about what happened in 1997. It should be about celebrating a guy who understood how much fun golf can be.
6. THE LIST
The players who have led or been tied for the lead after each of the first three rounds of the Masters more than any other. The number of times they won is in parentheses:
- 14: Arnold Palmer (4)
- 13: Jack Nicklaus (6)
- 8: Raymond Floyd (1), Gary Player (3)
- 6: Sam Snead (3)
7. IT MAKES YOU WONDER
In talking to reporters after Michelle Wie’s struggles at the Kraft Nabisco Championship last week (she shot consecutive 81s Friday and Saturday), swing coach David Leadbetter said her driving problems were related to an extra-stiff shaft in her driver.
She started her third round by snap-hooking her tee shot on the first hole out of bound.
The shaft is stronger than many PGA Tour players use. Leadbetter said Wie’s mother, Bo, has insisted on the X-stiff shaft despite her daughter’s struggles to handle it in competition.
Makes you wonder who’s the boss. Or, more likely, we already know.
8. FROM THE LION’S MOUTH
John Daly posted a note on his website recently saying he hopes to return to competitive golf on the European Tour later this month and get back to the PGA Tour in May.
Daly is serving a six-month suspension from the PGA Tour for a variety of transgressions.
In his website missive, Daly mentioned that he doesn’t regularly update his activities because he’s so focused on rehabilitating his body and his image that he doesn’t have time to go online.
He did say he’s lost 40 pounds, which would be evidence of his commitment, something that was seemingly lost forever.
Oh yeah, he signs his note, The Lion.
9. THE LAST WORD
“There’s been times where I’ve missed the cut the week before and won. I made some ridiculous mistakes you can’t make playing competitive golf.” – Phil Mickelson after shooting 77-76 to miss the cut at the Shell Houston Open.