Before we preview The Masters, I want to relay that Rotoworld will be rolling out a pair of new features in the next two weeks. Beginning this Friday, April 6, the first of two recurring features will publish. It will become a standard reference tool for you throughout the season. I’ll share more about the second feature next week. Keep an eye out for both.
Inside the Ropes
The Masters Tournament
Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Georgia
Par: 72 (36-36)
Average green size: 6,435 square feet
Stimpmeter: Not listed but usually 13 feet or greater
Water Hazards: 6
Course Architect: Alistair MacKenzie and Robert Tyre Jones Jr. (1933); Tom Fazio (2001)
Notes: Bentgrass greens; Perennial ryegrass fairways and rough (second cut)
Purse: est. $8,000,000
Winner’s Share: $1,440,000 (2011) and 550 FedExCup Points
Defending Champion: South African Charl Schwartzel defeated Australians Jason Day and Adam Scott by two shots to win his first major.
Date: April 5-8
Welcome to the first major of 2012.
No Australian has ever won The Masters.
Charl Schwartzel last year joined Trevor Immelman (2008), Zach Johnson (2007) and Mike Weir (2003) as the only first-time major champions since Jose-Maria Olazabal in 1994. Olazabal won his second Masters in 1999. Experience rules at Augusta.
Only all-time greats Jack Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1989-1990) and Tiger Woods (2001-02) have defended their championships at The Masters.
Ten of the 15 winners this year on Tour won when they were ranked in the top 50 OWGR.
Eight of the 14 different winners this year on Tour played in the 2011 Tour Championship. (Hunter Mahan has won twice.)
After 15 tournaments this season, the young guys are leading the old guys, 9-4-2. The young contingent, Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24), Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan (29) TWICE, Rory McIlroy (22) and Justin Rose are flying the flag for the young ‘uns.
Mark Wilson (37), George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34) and Tiger Woods (36) are the four in the middle.
Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41) are the “old” guys who have hit the winner’s circle this year.
Hunter Mahan is the only multiple winner on Tour in 2012.
So What? So Let’s Dance!
Bobby Jones’s masterpiece set in Augusta, Georgia is one of my favorite places on Earth and I’ve only been there once. On this Monday last year, I walked down Washington Street in hopes of finding ticket for Monday’s practice round. As a former Dead-head, this was no problem. I hit the front entrance and I’ll never forget anything about that day.
There are three things that will stand out the first time you walk the grounds of Augusta.
One, it’s green. Kelly green. Emerald green. You name-it green. And that was after a poor fall and winter weather-wise in 2010-2011. The perennial ryegrass looks like Astroturf and I spend part of the day walking it barefoot like a child. It’s that immaculate and manicured.
Two, it’s hilly. Not on a couple of holes but throughout the entire course. The elevation changes sometimes are hard to see on television but there are plenty of blind shots and yardage adjustments that have to be made to be successful. The walk up to one green alone stretches your calves out for the rest of the day. The walk down to six green makes sure you keep your balance as you cruise down-hill. Oh, and don’t run. Ever. I didn’t because I’m no longer an athlete but I saw plenty of grown men being asked in the nicest way to slow down. How cool is that?
Three, it’s fast. If the weather is right, the greens are perfect and are slicker than...never mind. I’m not taking the chance to not be asked back again. The greens are bentgrass, lightning and undulating.
So who wins? I’m looking for experienced iron players with premium short-games for this week. If the player’s iron play is loose, they will be punished. Augusta National has too many humps, bumps and run-offs on and around the greens. If players are loose with those iron shots, they’ll be forced to chip, bump-and-run or flop themselves into getting up-and-down. Experienced players also prosper here because they know when to step on the gas and take advantage and they know when to make pars and get out. Although scores can be in mid-teens-under-par, knowing which holes to just try and survive is important as well. And they know how to read the greens. The more rounds you play, the better feel players will have lining up and executing putts. Judging the speed is almost just as important as finding the line and estimating the break.
In honour of Jack’s six jackets, I’ll give you my six best projections for this week:
Tiger Woods: He’s never been CUT here. He’s won a few times (four, second-most all-time). He’s healthy. He’s coming off a win his last time out. He was T4 last year and was injured. He’s no longer injured. In 17 career starts Woods has 12 top 10’s. Next.
Rory McIlroy: McIlroy showed last year that he was ready for prime-time after beginning Sunday with a four-shot lead. We all know his 80 that afternoon fueled his fire for future successes. That future ended up being the next major, the U.S. Open where he won comfortably at Congressional over Jason Day. That future now comes full-circle at Augusta in 2012. He now will face a fit and in-form Tiger Woods. He now will face the course again in tournament play that brought him to his knees on Sunday one year ago. In three events on Tour this season, McIlroy has finished second, first and third. This is McIlroy’s fourth-career start at Augusta and his best finish was T15 last year. This is shaping up to be one of the best Masters in years.
Phil Mickelson: He’s only been CUT here once (1997). He’s won a few times (three, third-most of all-time). He’s healthy. He’s coming off a T4 his last time out. He was T27 last year as the defending champion. In 19 career starts Mickelson has 13 top 10’s. If these three are leading or within 2 shots of the lead going into Sunday, the internet, Twitter and television will definitely explode.
Luke Donald: And NOW we get to the world No. 1 player! Donald also won his last time out in a four-man playoff at Transitions. The week before that he finished T6 at WGC-CC at Doral so you his game is peaking at the right time. Donald has taken the last three weeks off to hone his game to attempt to conquer his first major. His record at Augusta is excellent with T4 in 2011 marking the third time in seven starts that he’s hit the top 10.
Justin Rose: His instructor, Sean Foley, has called him the best iron player around. That’s lofty praise from the same guy who has Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan in his current rolodex. Wait, do they still make rolodexes? Anyhow, Rose has been fantastic in GIR and birdie or better on par three and par fours. This season he’s WON at WGC-CC and was T5 at Honda. His record at Augusta is six-for-six cuts made including T5 in 2005 and T11 last year. I’m definitely not going against any Sean Foley pupils either.
Bo Van Pelt: Van Pelt has quietly had one of the best non-winning starts to 2012. He’s teed it up seven times and has hit the top 10 in four of those starts, including his last four stroke-play events. His name is plastered over all the scoring categories, putting categories and driving categories. His T8 finish here last year was excellent and that was coming off a slow start in 2011.
There’s no rough at Augusta, only the second cut.
Keegan Bradley: Sure, he’s only in his second year on Tour and playing in his first Masters, but Bradley can’t be overlooked this week, experience or no experience. He’s nine-for-nine this season in cuts made. His last three stroke-play events are T12, T8 and T4. He was also P2 at NTO in February. He won last year in his first ever major at Atlanta in the PGA Championship so I’m convinced he’s not bothered by too much out there.
Lee Westwood: In his last eight majors (he’s played in seven) he has two seconds, T3, T8 T11, T16 and CUT. That’s impressive. The world No. 3 has been quoted as saying his short game is now in shape to contend and win at Augusta and that he’s toned down his flag-hunting in exchange for being patient. He should know better having played 12 events here. After CUT in 2005 and 2006, Westwood has made five straight weekends with second in 2010, T11 in 2011 and T11 in 2008 being his best finishes.
Steve Stricker: Anytime putting is a premium in a golf tournament, Steve Stricker has to be included. Part of me is still shocked that he hasn’t won a major yet after his resurgence. He’s posted T11, T30 and T6 in his last three at Augusta. Stricker’s played this course before it was Tiger-proofed and after and he knows one thing is constant: he must make putts to contend and that’s what he does best. Stricker’s season has been stop-and-start due to persisting neck issue. His T36 last week at SHO was his first event since WGC-CC. We’ll see if he knocked the rust off last week.
Jim Furyk: After being knocked out in the first round of WGC-Match Play and being CUT at Honda, Furyk rallied for P2 at Transitions and T11 at API in his last start. In 15 events, Furyk has made the cut in 13 and has hit the top 10 four times. Furyk has the course knowledge and the accuracy. His putter will determine if he wins his second major this week.
K.J. Choi: He’s made the cut in all four full-field events he’s entered in 2012 but his best finish is T24 at NTO. At Augusta he’s finished T8 and T4 his last two times out and his hit the top 10 in three of nine career starts. His best finish is third in 2004.
Hunter Mahan: Last week’s champion at SHO is trying to join Sandy Lyle in 1988 and Phil Mickelson in 2006 as the only winners who won the Masters after winning the week before the tournament. Mahan has had mixed success here in his last four trips. He was CUT last year but T8 in 2010 and T10 in 2009 while also being CUT in 2008. His other appearance was T28 in 2003. Mahan is the only two-time winner on Tour this season. Leave him out at your own peril.
Bubba Watson: The new father might have too much on his mind this week but the way he’s been golfing his ball, he might be too leave out. When asked Monday what it would mean for him to win The Masters, he got choked up and left the interview, according to Twitter. Watson’s game in 2012 has been nothing short of excellent minus the winning. His last two stroke-play events have resulted in second at WGC-CC and T4 at API. Bubba only has one round in the 60’s in three appearances (made all three cuts) at Augusta but his recent play is too hot to ignore.
Trevor Immelman: The 2008 champion has four other top 20 finishes here on top of his win including three straight in the top 20. His last time out at API he finished T11. Immelman also finished T5 in 2005 and has played nine times here so he’s comfortable around this part of the world.
Webb Simpson: Another first-timer making this list, I know, I know. Every-other-stroke-play event in 2012 has resulted in a top 10. Simpson’s driving won’t be as big an issue here but his putting might be. Simpson has struggled with putts inside five feet this season and last but his iron play and birdie percentage is worth the gamble this week.
Ian Poulter: Poulter got off to a sluggish start in 2012 which included a bout with pneumonia leading into the WGC-CC at Doral. He looked to have shaken off those effects with a third-place finish his last time out at API. Poulter has played Augusta seven of the last eight years and has solidly made all seven cuts in that time. That record is too good to stick him the dark horse category. Poulter’s putting should keep him in contention this week.
Angel Cabrera: The definition of Horse for Course. Since his win in a playoff over Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell in 2009, Cabrera has finished seventh last year and T18 in 2010. In his career he’s played 12 times and has hit the top 10 in five of those appearances. In six events on Tour this season he’s made the cut a whopping two times but did finish T21 last week after an opening 65 at SHO. If it’s April, Cabrera’s game comes out of hibernation and his season begins.
Charles Howell III: THIS will be the year, right? In his last four starts on Tour he hasn’t been worse than T26 or better than T16. After missing The Masters the last three years CH III will have a renewed appreciation for opportunity and he’ll take advantage this week, right? The Augusta native is the hometown favorite this week.
Johnson Wagner: Regular readers know that the Year of the Moustache is rolling in 2012. Wagner has only played Augusta once (five career majors overall) but anyone who can get it rolling with the flat stick always has a chance around here. He’s played ten events and has a WIN and three other top 10’s. His lack of major experience is what kept me from ranking him higher this week.
Henrik Stenson: He has a terrible record here only making three of six cuts but he’s had a quiet, steady start to 2012. He’s played four stroke play events in 2012 and has finished no worse than T21 with his best finish being T3. You want a long shot? You got a long shot.
Hideki Matsuyama/Bryden MacPherson: Matsuyama won on the Japan Tour as an amateur last November and was low amateur here last year. MacPherson won The Amateur Championship in 2011. Gotta keep an eye on the next generation!
Based on their recent play here and on Tour, I’m going to pass on these four this week.
Stewart Cink: He’s been CUT in three of the last four majors and in his last three appearances at Augusta. His last five starts on Tour have resulted in CUT, CUT, T70, T36 and T67.
Sergio Garcia: Garcia has been tagged as one of the best players never to win a major and I believe that streak continues this week. Since his T4 in 2004, Garcia has not finished better than T35 in seven starts. He’s been CUT in three of those starts. I agree his game has been improving since last fall but he’s a stretch in this field.
Martin Kaymer: He’s working with fellow German and two-time champion Bernhard Langer this week in his practice to try and improve on his four consecutive CUTS at Augusta. I’m not into breaking streaks as you know from reading this column. Kaymer’s only two events in the states this year are T9 at WGC-Match Play at T20 at Doral.
Zach Johnson: Outside of his win in 2007, Johnson has missed the cut three of six events and his best finish is T20 in 2008. Johnson’s last three stroke-play outings have been steady T11, T46 and T17 but I can’t buy this week.
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: The Masters
Group 1: Tiger Woods
Group 2: Bo Van Pelt
Group 3: Jim Furyk
Group 4: Angel Cabrera
Ned said, “…
Ned Brown is a long-time contributor for Rotoworld Golf. He’s had documented success in Yahoo!’s game for years. Even if you’re confident in your selections for that game, give his insight a read. Now, Ned also provides us with his Golf Channel fantasy game selections as well!
Full Disclosure: I am NOT Ned! He’s smarter and better looking!
Phil Mickelson: Mickelson won earlier in the year at Pebble Beach and last week he showed he was in form with T4 at SHO. Mickelson was won here three times and has 13 finishes inside the top 10 in 19 career starts.
Luke Donald: Donald regained his world No. 1 ranking his last time out winning in a playoff at Transitions. He has finished in the top 10 three times in his career including T4 last year.
K.J. Choi, Jim Furyk, Adam Scott and Nick Watney
Rory McIlroy: McIlroy has been in top form going back to the end of last season. He finished in the top five in 11 of 12 worldwide events. He was dominating Augusta last year until his back-nine meltdown. I wouldn’t worry about that this week.
Tiger Woods: Woods finally broke his two-and-a-half year victory drought with his win at API. Everyone and their cousin will be using him in the Yahoo! game this week. You could try and fade him but that’s probably not a good idea…
Hunter Mahan: I’ve commented a few times this year that Mahan has taken his game to the next level. He won last week at SHO and his recent history at Augusta is good. He’s hit the top ten in two of his last four starts here with T8 in 2010 and T10 in 2009.
Justin Rose: The fourth spot could go to any one of a dozen players this week. I’m going with Rose based on his victory a few weeks ago at Doral and that he played better at last year’s Masters than his T11 would indicate.
Lee Westwood, Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter, Jason Day and Bo Van Pelt
Charl Schwartzel: The defending Masters champion was on a roll last month with T5 at Honda and T4 at Doral but after that he proceeded to miss the cut at Transitions and last week at SHO. I’m still going to roll with him despite his recent rough patch.
Angel Cabrera: It’s been a very slow start to the season for Cabrera but he looked good at SHO last week finishing T21. He has a nice record at Augusta, hitting the top 10 five times in 12 starts including his playoff victory in 2009.
Padraig Harrington, Martin Laird, Johnson Wagner, and Edoardo Molinari
Ned's Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: The Masters
Group 1: Phil Mickelson
Group 2: K.J. Choi
Group 3: Jim Furyk
Group 4: Angel Cabrera
The analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton co-hosted a one-hour live chat with GolfChannel.com's Ryan Ballengee on Tuesday. They broke down the field at The Masters and answered all your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to replay Tuesday’s chat.