Wednesday, April 9

My 2014 Masters Preview

Rory McIlroy seems destined to win a Green Jacket. (internetsense)
I CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S MASTERS EVE. I just got home from a trip to California and figured I better get up to speed fast when asked to go on the radio to preview the Masters.

Some things don't change. Augusta, for one. Pristine fairways and greens. Big, undulating, screaming-fast greens. But no Eisenhower tree in the 17th fairway. It's dead and gone. And no Tiger in the field. He's recovering from surgery. Woods's quest for a 15th major will have to wait.

So who can win on this slice of golf heaven? Who will win?

Throw a dart at the names. The Masters is wide open. That's the way it looks to me. New players are winning week in and week out on the PGA Tour. It's not that much different at Augusta. First-time Masters winners have won six of the last seven. Phil Mickelson is the only recent champion (2010) with multiple victories.

But Mickelson probably doesn't agree that the 2014 edition of the Masters is wide open. The other day he said the greens are at Masters speed, which, according to Lefty, means there are less than a dozen potential winners. Maybe. Or maybe Phil is playing mind games.

So, okay, maybe the Masters isn't utterly wide open. Former Masters champions Ben Crenshaw and Larry Mize won't slip into the Green Jacket again. But there are more than a Mickelson dozen who could make the trip to Butler Cabin on Sunday evening.

In advance of my radio segment at 4:06 p.m., I looked over the names on the odds list ... Adam Scott ... Rory McIlroy ... Phil Mickelson ... Jason Day ... Matt Kuchar ... Sergio Garcia ... Dustin Johnson ... Bubba Watson ... Henrik Stenson ... Justin Rose ... Brandt Snedeker ... and on and on and on and on.

My head started to spin. How do you handicap the Masters, or a major, for that matter?

I jotted down a few thoughts, a Masters criteria of sorts: Who's hungry? Who's playing well right now? Who's ready to win?

Nick Faldo put it another way. The three-time Masters winner said he likes guys with "mental strength." Who are Nick's mentally tough guys? Jason Day, Matt Kuchar and Patrick Reed are three he named.

Here are my thoughts on a handful of players:

Adam Scott - I don't expect him to repeat. Too hard. Only three have done it. Their names are Nicklaus, Faldo and Woods.

Rory McIlroy - He's as good a pick as anyone because I think he will definitely win a Green Jacket. It's only a matter of time, or, perhaps, a matter of days.

Phil Mickelson - A three-time Masters winner who you can never count out as long as he's healthy. Keep an eye on Phil.

Matt Kuchar - Kooch might be more dangerous and more ready because he didn't win last week at Houston. Does he have the mental fortitude?

Jason Day - I like him, but I also think the long layoff because of the thumb is not in his favor.

Bubba Watson - Sort of like Phil. All things seem possible with Bubba, whether good or bad.

Dustin Johnson - A lot of people seem to like DJ, but he hasn't had good finishes at Augusta and I wonder about his putting.

I'm just scratching the surface. There are many other players, including up-and-comers such as Reed, Jordan Spieth, Harris English and more. It's an impossible business. Handicapping the Masters, that is. Picking a winner. A bunch of yakkity yak. The talking is about finished. The Masters starts early on Thursday morning.

I do know this: There are plenty of sublime ball-strikers in the Masters field, but the answers will ultimately come on the greens. The winner will have to putt well. Bet on it.

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