Site: Augusta, GA.
Course: Augusta National GC: Par 72, 7,435 Yards
Purse: $11 million; Winner’s share: $1.9 million
Channel: Thursday-Friday 3-7 p.m. (ESPN); Saturday 3-7:30 p.m. (CBS); Sunday 2-7 p.m. (CBS)
Radio: PGA Tour Radio
Defending Champion: Sergio Garcia
This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The moment for which even the casual fan tunes in. The one weekend where ESPN pretends they care about golf. Nothing says “A Tradition unlike any other” like a crisp April morning at The Masters. The fans get riled up. The players are a conglomeration of emotions: from scared to excited to nervous to speechless.
“The course is perfection and it asks perfection,” says 3-time Masters champ Sir Nick Faldo. The Masters is truly one of the most exciting events in all of sports; and for any non-golf fan, this tournament is really a microcosm of the competitiveness and excitement that the PGA Tour brings each week. All the major players are here. There aren’t any notable exceptions; no one’s fell down a staircase yet. This is the tournament any kid dreams about playing in. Be honest, we’ve all thought at one point or another as we have stood over a 4-footer: “This one is for a green jacket.”
Which Young Gun Will Steal the Spotlight?
The incredible youth movement in golf is fascinating to watch. Almost half of the Top 40 players (16) are 30 or younger. Some of the brightest stars in the game haven’t even cracked the quarter-century mark. Jordan Spieth is a household name, and it feels like he’s been on the tour awhile. He’s 24. It wouldn’t be uncharacteristic for a 20-something to play well at Augusta. Justin Thomas is looking for that elusive first green jacket. Will he get it this year? Or will a lesser-known young gun steal his thunder? Don’t be surprised if someone like Patrick Cantlay or Beau Hossler is leading the tournament going into the weekend.
What About the Veterans?
In general, it seems Augusta is a place you learn the more you play it. This is certainly true considering the average age of Masters champions is 32.5. This is higher than the Tour average winner’s age; showing Augusta is a place for the experienced players.
Old heads Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will likely get most of the spotlight, and deservingly so, but don’t forget about Paul Casey and Zach Johnson. Tiger and Phil’s recent resurgence is beyond impressive, and if either of them finish top five, it’ll be a major accomplishment. Paul Casey has pretty much flown under the radar his entire career. I can guarantee you there won’t be any major storylines about him this week, but that’s why I’m mentioning him. He’s a top talent, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he utilizes his course knowledge to break into the top ten.
Will Tiger win Another Major?
Now, I’m by no means saying this is Tiger’s last chance to win a major, but I’m certainly saying it’s his best in the last couple years. He’s playing great golf right now and he seems to be completely healthy. I am still a firm believer that Tiger will win again. His killer instinct is intact, and if he smells blood at Augusta, we could see him break through in a big way. Even if he doesn’t win this weekend, a positive showing will be a confidence boost for the rest of the season.
As he himself put it: “I’m just here to win.”
Keeping these storylines in mind, let’s take a look at the famed course the pros will be playing this week.
The Course: Augusta National GC: Par 72, 7,435 Yards
If you haven’t had a chance to see a course tour of Augusta, you’re missing out. The Alister MacKenzie design is just a work of art on all accounts. The picturesque tee shots, the perfectly manicured greens, and the general atmosphere is breathtaking and unique. The experience, even watching it on TV, is incredible. The beauty and perfection of Augusta is what makes the tournament so special. It is easily the most well-maintained course on the PGA Tour (and probably in the world). You will never hear a player complaining about course conditions here.
The most well known stretch of holes at Augusta is Amen Corner. A secluded part of the property, it might not be the most inhabited by spectators, but it is the most famous. Amen Corner starts off with number 11, a par-4 just over 500 yards. A treacherous pond guards the whole left side of the green. The tricky putting surface and narrow opening make par a good score here.
The stretch continues with probably the most famous hole of the three in No. 12. The short par-3 measures only 155 yards, but bunkers bookmark the green short and long. Also, any shot that ends up short that doesn’t catch the bunker will roll back into Rae’s Creek. The swirling winds and pesky pin positions make this one of the toughest holes on the course (ask Jordan Spieth).
Amen Corner culminates with the short par-5 13th. This is the hole where players go for broke; it’s so short that most players nowadays can hit wedges and short irons into the green. The picturesque tee shot is the farthest the players will be from fans. Rae’s Creek snakes short of the green but others than that, players should have no problem making birdie. It plays as the second-easiest hole on the property at well under par.
This is probably my favorite tournament of the year to predict. Not because my predictions are better, it’s just genuinely fun to watch and to see how my picks work out. For this week, I’m enlisting other staff members and see how their picks compare to mine.
(For this week I’m only going to do 3 picks since that’s what the other staffers picked)
Players to Watch
This is the pick I am most sure about. He’s my favorite golfer and he’s on a complete tear. Plus, more importantly, he finally won again. That’s huge because he doesn’t have that extra pressure on him. He’s already won here three times. He feels comfortable enough here to play a practice round with Tiger. This is Phil’s tournament, and I really believe Phil has a great chance to win this week.
What’s a better way to assert your position at the top of golf than to win your first Masters in a season you’ve already dominated? That’s what Justin is poised to do this week. Another player who’s on a tear, I really think Thomas can break through this week. He’s ranked 1st in the FedExCup standings and 2nd in the OWGR. He’s finished in the top 10 in his last four starts. Somehow he is flying under the radar, but I don’t think he will be after this week. Expect Thomas to win his first green jacket this week.
Now, this might seem like kind of a strange pick. I haven’t talked much about him, he’s certainly not in the spotlight, and he really hasn’t done all that much this year. Besides all those points, Schauffele is a really great player and criminally underrated. This is the guy that finished 2nd in the FedExCup standings last year and some people probably have never heard of him. He’s a sucker for the spotlight: his 2 wins last year were at the Greenbrier (a highly televised affair) and the TOUR Championship. He also finished 5th at the US Open. If there’s anyone who is going to steal the spotlight, it’s Xander Schauffele.
Cameron Flynn: Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose
Rahsaan Norris: Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia
Michael Condon: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Paul Casey
Guest Predictor (and Golf Expert) Max Schnell: Jordan Spieth, Alex Noren, Paul Casey
-The first green jacket was awarded in 1949 to Sam Snead
-Augusta National has 6 different types of pine trees on the property, easily the most plentiful species.
-The tradition of last year’s winner picking the menu for the champion’s dinner continues this year. Sergio Garcia picked traditional lobster rice and tres leches cakes.
-The Masters goes to a playoff 21% of the time.
-Alister MacKenzie never saw his masterpiece finished; he died before the course opened.
Excited yet? There’s a reason everyone gets hyped for The Masters. The tournament is truly a treat to watch as the top players in the game play the best golf course in America.