Blog 107, 4/5/11 - It's Masters Week!

mastersOkay I'm not there yet. At the precise moment I'm still in room 910 of the Best Western Atlanta Airport East having arrived late last night in a thunder storm of Biblical proportions. After entering the room, I immediately collapsed on to the bed and fell fast asleep in my clothes. At 1.15am I was woken by the loudest bang I have ever heard and, a little disoriented, went to look out the window to see what had happened. As soon as I opened the curtain I was blinded momentarily by the brightest light I have ever seen. It was both awesome and a little unnerving.
The storm eventually passed at about 5am and now I am looking out the window at a gorgeous blue sky which, I understand, will remain in place throughout Masters week. The tournament has been hampered in recent years (last year was an exception) by unseasonal weather - frigid temperatures mainly. But the forecast for this week suggests the sun will be out every day and temperatures will reach the low 80s. After a typically cold, wet, windy, snowy and altogether inclement five months in Bellingham, it is nice to see the sun again. I can confirm to fellow Bellinghamsters it is still big, round and orange/yellow and says it might be making it up to Whatcom County by the end of May.

Luke Donald
So, who's going to win this week? Before the weekend, my money (I have a few Dollars invested) fell squarely on the shoulders of Luke Donald. The Englishman made his debut at Augusta in 2005 and finished tied for third. Since then, he's had another top ten and missed two cuts, including last year when he shot 74, 75. He's played four times in America in 2011 finishing in the top ten three times. One of those high finishes was, of course, his impressive victory at the WGC Accenture Matchplay Championship in Arizona where he needed only 89 holes to win his six matches. Donald is short off the tee by Tour standards (272.5 yards - 181st), and his Greens in Regulation stat isn't an awful lot better (63.3% - 145th). But somehow, he is second in scoring average (69.31), seventh on the money list with $1,807,000, and 13th in the FedEx Cup standings. He's also ranked fourth in the world which is frankly incredible given how far behind most of his contemporaries he is off the tee.
But as Mike Weir (2003), Zach Johnson (2007) and Trevor Immelman (2008) proved, despite Augusta National being lenghtened to over 7,400 yards, you don't need to average 300 yards off the tee to score well. What Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson all proved, in fact, is that familiarity (and experience) at Augusta breeds confidence. I think Luke Donald has sufficient experience at Augusta now, and is rolling his ball so beautifully, he will be a major factor.
Then again, he could miss the cut. Betting on golf always was a bit of a mug's game what with 156-man fields (the Masters has far fewer) and golf But nowadays, it has become something of a lottery with so many exceptional players capable of winning any tournament for which they are entered.
Seriously, of the 99 players in the field this week, you could make a case for 60 of them (some stronger than others admittedly). Throw out the amateurs (six in the field with last year's US Amateur champion Peter Uihlein favored to do the best) and a few past champions (although you wonder if Fred Couples could win again, or even 61-year-old Tom Watson who opened with a 67 last year) plus a debutant or three, and a couple of players invited on the strength of their play on their home tour but who probably don't really know what to make of Augusta National, and you are left with...well, a lot of players who have the talent to win.
Can he win a fourth?
Another man I was all but discounting until recently was Phil Mickelson. Yes, Lefty has won here three times already and is the defending champion, but part of me was beginning to wonder if we might ever see him take a quality field down by ten shots or more ever again. Apart from the very occasional flash of brilliance, Mickelson had been losing ground over the last 12 months to younger, healthier players. Yes, it would have been foolish to suggest he was washed up, but with his wife and mother's on-going battles with cancer, his psoriatic arthritis, the young guns getting better all the time, and $60 million in prize money safely stashed away, it would have been perfectly understandable had he slowly faded away. But then he shot 63, 65 on the weekend in Houston last week, rose back into the top three in the world and is once again a bright dot and very significant beep on everybody's radar.
Brandel Chamblee said something interesting on the Golf Channel this morning when he talked about how winning on the PGA Tour effects that player the following week. Does the man who finished first lose an edge of hunger while the runner-up feels there is some unfinished business and therefore in a better position mentally than the player who beat him? I would imagine that Mickelson, while drawing on all the good swings and putts he made last week, will already have stored the win away somewhere deep, and be consumed with winning his fourth green jacket.
Donald, Mickelson, who else...who else...? Ah yes, Tiger Woods. Even though he hasn't won a major since the 2008 US Open and on the PGA Tour since the 2009 BMW Championship, Woods has been the bookies' favorite for months, installed initially at 6-1. Now I'm seeing 8-1 and even 12-1, and actually some oddsgivers have Mickelson at 13-2 making him a slight favorite. As a 14-time major champion and four-time winner of the Masters, Woods is the caliber of player who gets offered at short odds (mind, he did start some majors back in the day at even money) despite weak recent form, and it's easy to see why the bookmakers have been hedging their bets. And don't forget Woods came back from his self-imposed four-month exile last year to finish tied for fourth on eleven-under-par.
But I just don't see it. He's possibly the best player of all time, able to hit shots and produce scores beyond what even most other professionals could imagine. But can he win the Masters, or indeed any major, when still so uncomfortable with the swing changes he's been making? Okay, 'uncomfortable' may be the wrong word; he may well be growing more and more confident with the alterations Sean Foley has been suggesting. But from what I've seen lately, there are still too many poorly-timed swings and wayward shots for him to get the better of so many other good players this week.
My 1-2-3 then - Luke Donald, Phil Mickelson, and Anthony Kim who will win a major one day soon, realize he likes it, and decide to drop the party scene in favor of becoming one of the best golfers of his generation.
Here are the pairings and tee times for the first two rounds.

Steve Swank reports there was an excellent turn-out for last Saturday's four-man Cha Cha Cha at Lake Padden which was highlighted by a hole-in-one by Steve Eggert at the 12th (congratulations Steve). Results here. In his email, Steve fails to mention that he was part of the winning team which shot a Gross 143. Steve's teammates - Eggert, Dean Carpenter and Gary Bring.
Next up on the Men's Club schedule is the Spring Field Day on Saturday April 16th. This is the first of the year's six majors and the first event used for the 'Pro Graphics Challenge' for which three of the holes from each of the six majors will be used to make up your 18-hole gross score at the end of the season. $150 first prize for Gross and Net divisions at this weekend's tournament. Call the pro shop on 360-738-7400 to make a tee-time.

In other news, I was surprised and disappointed to receive an email from Ben Harvey at Shusan last week, telling me he had resigned as the head professional and would be moving onto a managerial position at the Red Wing shoe store on Telegraph Rd. Ben states that Gary Bloom is now the man to contact in the pro shop and queries regarding pending orders should be made to him. I worked with Ben a few times on instructional pages for this web site and always had a good time. Good luck with the move Ben.
Also, Western's Dylan Goodwin won his third Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) Player of the Week award for last week's performance at the Grand Canyon University Spring Invitational at Palm Valley in Goodyear, AZ., where he finished sixth.


Add comment

Security code