Being a resident of the Northeast portion of the country, the Masters signifies the start of spring. Seeing the azaleas in full bloom, that provides the pink, purple and fuchsia backdrop that fills the television screen, can warm even the most arctic climate. Augusta National has been referred to as “Heaven on Earth.” Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts hired Alister MacKenzie to design Augusta National, and in 1933 his greatest masterpiece was born. Augusta National is one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world; African-American members were not permitted until 1990 and Female members were welcomed in 2012, but for one week a year every April, we get to feel like members. It is truly a “tradition unlike any other”
The 2015 Masters tournament has many exciting story lines – Can Rory complete the career grand slam at the age of 25? Can Phil Mickelson win his 4th Masters and 6th major since 2004? Can Bubba Watson become only the 4th golfer to successfully defend a Masters title? How will Tiger Woods play at a place he used to dominate?
Let’s start with Tiger Woods. The former world number 1 for 683 weeks and winner of 14 professional major championships has not hoisted a major championship trophy since June 16th, 2008. Tiger last won the Masters in 2005 beating Chris Dimarco in a sudden death playoff. In the last 11 years, Tiger has had multiple opportunities to win the Masters with 7 top 6 finishes since his last victory. Tiger Woods has owned Augusta National since turning professional in the fall of 1996, with 4 victories and 9 top-10 finishes in 17 starts. But his knowledge and ability to play the course is not what is being questioned, it is what game Tiger will bring to Augusta National. Since beginning the process of changing his swing in the fall of 2014 with new instructor Chris Como, Tiger has only appeared in 3 tournaments, finishing last in his Hero World Challenge event, missing the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and withdrawing during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open. What has been evident in that time period is that Tiger is a shell of his former self. Tiger once had a short game that was compared to the great Severiano Ballesteros, now his short game is more comparable to the 20 handicap club golfers I see on weekly basis. Also, let’s not forget that Tiger’s full swing is nowhere near as sharp as what it needs to be to compete on the PGA Tour. It will have been 62 days since Tiger’s last competitive round when he tees off Thursday. I certainly hope he has been able to clean up his game in that time period, because the game is better with Tiger playing at a high level.
Phil Mickelson did not win his first major championship until he was 33 years old at the 2004 Masters. Since then he has put together a major championship career that has cemented him with the greats of all time. Phil Mickelson’s career has been compared to Tiger Woods since Tiger hit the professional circuit in 1996. They were both child prodigies, college standouts, and great amateur golfers winning countless tournaments along the way. Up until the 2004 Masters, Phil Mickelson was a great PGA Tour player with multiple victories setting him as Tiger’s rival but there was no evidence that he would be able to do it on the Major Championship stage. Then came April 11th, 2004, where Phil Mickelson was playing in the last group and birdied the 17th hole to tie Ernie Els at 8 under par for the lead. Then in heroic fashion, Phil Mickelson birdied the 18th hole to win by one shot and get the major championship monkey off of his back. Since then he has won 5 major championships which is second to Tiger Woods at 6. Phil Mickelson is one of golf’s greatest talents, hopefully he can find the spark that lead him to his first Masters victory in 2004, and bring home his 4th Green Jacket. I certainly know that the Masters patrons would love it.
Bubba Watson is seeking to become the 4th golfer to ever win the Masters title in back-to-back years since Tiger Woods achieved that feat in 2002. In the modern golfing era, it does not seem as though there is a golfer better fit to win at Augusta National than Bubba Watson. At Augusta National the majority of the holes call for a right-to-left ball flight off of the tee, which can be difficult for right-handed players to do today because of the modern equipment. Since 2003 there have been 6 Green Jackets won by left-handed golfers where there was zero before 2003, I believe this was aided by modern technology. Bubba Watson’s go-to shot off of the tee box is a fade which is ideal for Augusta National, combine that with his prodigious length and marvelous shot-making ability makes him a contender for years to come. The only item that holds Bubba back from becoming a consistent dominate force is his attitude. When Bubba can stay positive, there aren't many who can compete with him.
And finally we arrive at Rory McIlroy, the undisputed world number one. Rory is seeking to become the 6th golfer ever to complete the career grand slam at the ripe age of 25. Rory is also looking to win his 3rd consecutive major and 5th overall. In 2012, Rory held the lead of the Masters through 54 holes until his game derailed on the back nine on Sunday. Since then, Rory has refined his game with the aid of his lifelong instructor Michael Bannon and adding Dave Stockton to his team to improve his putting. Rory has become a complete player in the last 3 years while developing his body to improve his strength and endurance. Normally, a player seeking to complete the career grand slam at Rory’s age would be the top story in the game but luckily for Rory, Tiger announced that he is playing. The spotlight may be a little dimmer and allow Rory to fly slightly under the radar.
The 2015 Masters has the opportunity to be one for the ages.