It’s Masters week, and where to start? The storylines are so plentiful and dynamic it’s almost impossible to narrow them down.
The eyes of the golf world will be on Augusta, Georgia, for the first major championship of the golf season.
Here are some things to look for:
Where else could you start but with the greatest player of this era showing his best form in years? Woods’ back-to-back top-five finishes last month in Florida marked the first time March of 2013 he’s had consecutive top-fives (that year he was both the Cadillac Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational in consecutive starts.)
It’s been 10 years this June since Woods has won a major championship. He underwent knee surgery the week after that U.S. Open triumph and, while he’s won 14 total tournaments since, his health has really never looked as good as it seems to right now.
Three of the last four years Woods has been unable to even play at Augusta at all. He’s primed not to just to be here but to compete to win it all.
A look through the biggest names in golf shows a bunch of guys whose form is good. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson has a win in 2018. So does Rory McIlroy, a few weeks ago at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. So too, does Phil Mickelson. And Jason Day. And young Spanish phenom Jon Rahm.
And we haven’t even talked about 2nd-ranked Justin Thomas, a two-time winner since his PGA Championship last August, or Bubba Watson, twice a Masters winner, who just captured the World Match Play Championship two weeks ago.
With this many guys playing well heading in, the fireworks seem about to light up.
Ian Poulter has played The Masters 12 times before, but never has his trip to Augusta been quite like this.
At the match play two weeks ago, Poulter thought a top-16 finish had gotten him into the top 50 in the world rankings for a spot in the Masters, only to find out he actually wound up 51st. That meant his only chance was the last chance, to win at last week’s Shell Houston Open.
Amazingly, the Englishman did, outlasting Beau Hossler in a playoff. He will seek to become the first player since Mickelson in 2006 to claim a Green Jacket after a win the week before.
Phil vs. Jack?
Jack Nicklaus’ historic run in 1986, when he came from nowhere to win the Masters at age 46, will forever live in golf lore.
And 32 years later, Nicklaus still stands as being the oldest player to claim a Green Jacket. But Phil Mickelson has his sights set on changing that.
Now 47 years old, Lefty still has the game, as evidenced by his win in March at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship. Mickelson’s record at Augusta is pretty amazing – in addition to three wins, he has 15 top-10 finishes and nine top-three finishes. The risk-reward of the course has fit his mentality and game over the years.
The state of Australian golf seems to have slipped a tad, if you go just by rankings numbers. But make no mistake, a number of Aussies figure to be a factor this week.
At No. 11, Jason Day is the highest-ranked Aussie, followed by Marc Leishman at 16 and Cameron Smith at 45. The lowest of this year’s Aussies, a little surprisingly, at No. 60, is 2013 Masters champ Adam Scott.
Day and Leishman both have made runs here while Smith, the 2017 Australian PGA Champion, is off to a solid start this season in America. And you never count out a former champion like Scott.
Repeating is Tough
It’s been pretty rare for players to win the Green Jacket back-to-back, as Sergio Garcia will try to do after his breakthrough performance a year ago.
It’s quite a list of players who have managed the feat.
Woods won in 2001 and 2002.
Nick Faldo captured his first two of three wins in 1989 and 1990.
Nicklaus captured two of six wins in 1965 and 1966.
And that’s all.
Time for a First-Timer?
Speaking of things tough to do at this tournament, history says you just don’t win in your first trip to play The Masters. In fact, if you throw out the first two years of the tournament, when pretty much everyone was playing for the first time, it’s only been won once by a rookie – Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
The majority of this year’s field wasn’t even born when that happened. So while some may be tempted to pick a guy like long-hitting Tony Finau, or Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele, or rising Chinese star Haotong Li this week, tread carefully.