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Thursday, April 10, 2014
I don't set alarm clocks. I wake up when the sun comes up. In recent days, I have awakened to the sound of birds chirping. It happens that way every spring. In my house we call them Masters Birds because, like the leafing of the trees and the opening of the dogwoods and azaleas, they are a sure sign that The Masters Golf “TOONAMENT” has arrived.
The Masters is the most unique golf tournament in the world. For the beginners, it is the only of golf's four majors held at the same course. Even the causal golf fan knows the back nine at “Augusta” or “the National” as the diehards call her. Steeped in tradition, founded by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, designed by the famed Scotsman Alistar Mackenzie, its physical beauty is equalled by a mere handful of courses around the world. Her fellow elite courses are different, just as the green of Augusta is different. But this week is not about beauty, it's about professional golf at the highest level. The best in the world playing upon a course designed to test the best.
Here are my picks for the 2014 Masters.
1. Tiger Woods. For the first time in his professional career Tiger will not participate because of a pinched nerve in his back. Oddly, this would have been the first year that he was not the prohibitive favorite. Had he played, I would not have picked him.
2. Phil Mickelson. Mickelson holds three green jackets, but he too has not shown form to date. He also recently withdrew due toinjury but played better at Houston last week. He is still a favorite.
3. Adam Scott. Last year's champion has been on form and is one of the top favorites but in Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill tournament, Scott faltered on Sunday after having a seemingly uncatchable lead at the start of Saturday. Still a major contender.
4. Henrik Stenson. Stenson had a break out year last year and won the Fed Ex Cup. His form also has been below par so far this year. He has not done much at Augusta.
5. Jason Day. A month ago he was my favorite to win, but he has had a thumb injury and has not played for a number of weeks, presumably to be ready and healed for Augusta. Still a threat.
6. Justin Rose. The Englishman, now Floridaman, won the U.S. Open last year for his first major.
He too has had injury issues earlier this year but now says he is 100 percent healthy.
7. Rory McIlroy. The young Irishman had both arms in the green jacket a couple of years ago until a back nine Normanesque collapse prevented him from fastening the buttons. Coming off a 65 on Sunday at the Houston Shell Open. Trending up, as they say.
8. Matt Kuchar. Kuchar is a Georgia Tech man, as was the great Bobby Jones. He had success at Augusta many years back as an amateur and is at the top of his game coming into the tournament. Two weeks ago, he was my pick but he has blown leads and lost two weeks in a row.
9. Dustin Johnson. Johnson played golf at Coastal Carolina and is now courting hockey legend Wayne Gretzky's daughter. Johnson can hit it further than I can see, but he is a “head case.” If he ever wins a major, The Masters would be the likely choice. Trending down.
10. Zach Johnson. The 2007 Masters champion, this Johnson is the exact opposite of Dustin. A short hitter can never win at Augusta (unless you are Zach Johnson). Tremendous short game. Always in the mix.
1. Patrick Reed. Reed has been the hottest golfer in the latest few months. He led Augusta State to two NCAA titles. He has off course issues, including his self-proclaimed declaration of being one of the top five golfers in the world. I think Reed will make some noise this week.
2. Brandt Snedeker. No one wants to win The Masters more than Sneds. He's not really local but played at Vanderbilt and just seems like an adopted hometown son. He's come close twice and faltered. I personally would like him to see him win.
3. Jason Dufner. Dufner looks like a little kid who has wandered off from a school field trip onto a golf course. Don't let his low key demeanor and dip fool you. The Auburn man can play. He is a current PGA Champion.
4. Bubba Watson. If anyone wanted to bring the Dukes of Hazzard TV show back, Bubba and Dufner could be Bo and Luke. Bubba is a big crowd favorite for many reasons: he's a Dawg, he has a General Lee Dodge Charger and he's a Bubba. He's also the 2012 Champion with the famed 155 yard duck hook wedge on Hole 10.
1. Ian Poulter. Poulter has replaced old timer Doug Sanders in the category of sartorial splendor. He has made pink a men's color on the golf course. When he is zoned in, he is a tremendous streak player. See the last Ryder Cup. He is not playing well of late, however.
2. Graeme MacDowell. I first watched GMac play in Augusta at Forest Hills when he was at UAB. A past U.S. Open champion, he has the ability to don the green jacket.
3. Charl Schwartzel. Quiet and unassuming, this South African won in 2011. We haven't heard a lot from him since then, but he is the type to sneak up and win.
1. Jordan Spieth. Spieth played his way on the tour out of Texas. He has been on the leaderboard of almost every tournament and it's just a matter of time before he gets his first major.
2. Harris English. English could also fit in the locals category as he also comes from UGA. Tall and powerful, he has the look of golf pro and a game that could lead to success on Washington Road.
My final pick for the 2014 Masters: Rory McIlroy. Don't call me if he misses the cut!