It is hard to remember a time when we stood on the brink of a more exciting Masters. This may be the one we never forget.
First of all, we have the return of Tiger Woods to Masters’ form. Fresh off his win at Bay Hill and confident in his ability to control his golf ball and his putter, there’s an exuberance in him that matches our own.
If Tiger’s about, can Phil be far behind? Phil has sort of settled in to how much he loves this tournament – he’s won it three times – and after his 2009 victory, he has assumed the aura of a Yoda-like sage. You win this one three times, you know a little something.
Hunter Mahan uses the same coach as Tiger, Sean Foley, and just won in Houston in a very steady, “player-like” way. He has a newly fitted putter that won him the Match Play in Tucson and all seems right with the world.
Rory McIlroy gets a chance at redemption. After last year’s debacle and resurrection at the U.S. Open, he’s mentioned in the same breath as Tiger as a favorite. And who would bet against a kid with a natural swing like that. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able just look at your target, look at the ball and swing? And know that it would be right on plane and fast and free and go right where you were aiming? McIroy can do that.
And what about the defending champion, Charl Schwartzel? This guy only reeled off four straight closing birdies to snatch the trophy last year. And being the Masters champion has helped him immeasurably. At the Match Play Championship, he sat in the interview room as the Masters champion, not some guy who hoped he could do it again.
And we have Schwartzel’s countryman, Louis Oosthuizen, winner of the 2010 British Open. He played very well in Houston until he inexplicably fell apart in the home stretch. Can he get it all smoothed out again?
And, oh yeah. We also have the World No. 1 player in Luke Donald. He has already notched a win this year at the Transitions Championship in Tampa…in a four-way playoff. Who was that masked man?
Has there ever been such a feast of exemplary players all tuned up and readily capable of winning?
How about long-hitting Kyle Stanley, humiliated in San Diego and vindicated the following week in Phoenix. With a soggy Augusta course, carrying the ball a long way will be a real advantage.
And then there’s Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA Championship winner. How does a guy win the first major he ever played in? And how about the scrappy playoff at Riviera? Bill Haas ended up winning, but Keegan was fiercely into it to the end.
Steve Stricker is one of the best putters on Tour, won at Kapalua, T38 in Honolulu and then went hunting for a couple of weeks. How about the Tour’s “Golden Boy?” He had a T8 at Doral.
Nobody’s talking about Mark Wilson, winner in Palm Springs and a semi-finalist who took out Westwood for third at the Match Play. With five wins under his belt, three of them over twelve months, this guy is a serious, natural, tidy player who no longer obsesses over his swing.
And Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open winner has recently come back into form with a gritty 2nd to Tiger at Bay Hill.
And these are just the easy ones to pick. In this small, elite field, anyone could make a freewheeling run to the top of leaderboard for a period of time. But the question is, can they hang on through Sunday’s back nine?
And that’s what makes the Masters the Masters, this year in particular.
Let’s hope the weather cooperates so we can finally begin to see the drama play itself out.