Tuesday, April 5, 2011

2011 Masters Rundown



The first major of the PGA Tour kicks off this week with the Masters Invitational at Augusta National Golf Club.

The thing about Augusta National is that if you follow it for awhile on TV, you begin to feel like you really know each of the golf holes on the back nine. However, once you step on the grounds you quickly realize that your feel is quite a bit off.

Augusta National is one of those few things in life that is extremely hyped and still manages to exceed your expectations, like the first time you go to Vegas or Tokyo or what I would imagine it would be like to hang around Babe Ruth or to see the Pyramids in Egypt. That may sounds like hyperbole, but honestly it’s not.

For starters, Augusta National doesn’t even feel like a golf course. It feels more like a gigantic state park or something like the Vanderbilt Estates, but even more manicured. Go there on Monday thru Wednesday and you will be amazed at how much green grass there is and a good game to play with your buddies is to see if you can find a patch of dirt anywhere on the course. You’ll be lucky to do so in the practice rounds.

The course is far hillier than it looks on TV. Things like #18 looks like a tiny shoot thru the trees, but it’s actually a fairly decent sized opening. Put it this way, if a Tour golfer hits an average driver off that tee, they’ll have no problem with the trees. But things like #10 and #11 feel like they almost go directly downhill. The trees, particularly the Eisenhower Tree are nothing short of magnificent.

The last time I went to Augusta I was a little tired and decided to lay down by a tree in the shade on #15. Eventually, I accidentally fell asleep. When I woke up I was a little embarrassed. But that was until I looked around and saw about 6 other guys asleep next to a tree.

When you get there you will see a bit of a southern debutante thing going on there, very much akin to the Kentucky Derby. For a NY’er like myself, I really don’t find much appeal to that sort of thing. But Augusta and the Masters are truly an international experience for the most part because anybody who likes golf, cannot help but be curious about experiencing Augusta.

I would not only highly recommend going to the Masters at least once if you’re a golf fan, but for the non-golf fan as well. If they have any appreciation for the beauty of the outdoors, they assuredly have never come across a place like Augusta National.

And to top it off, everything at Augusta is very affordable. $2 Pimento cheese sandwiches, $1 bottle of soda, $12 visors, $15 golf shirts, etc. Even the tickets are very affordable, just getting your hands on them is difficult.

All that being said, the past couple of years of the Masters has disappointed me a bit because the course has now turned into a bomb-n-gouge venue. What I used to really dig about the Masters is that the committee was always on top of the latest advancements of the game of golf and usually made a well informed decision on how to approach potential problems. For instance, years ago when the US Open courses were becoming notorious for not having the greens hold on any shot from the rough, the Masters Committee decided to the effect that a properly compressed golf ball with an iron that lands on the green should hold that green, regardless of whether or not it’s hit from the rough or the fairway. To me, that made perfect sense of how to handle that situation.

Of course, the Augusta diehard fans have said that Augusta was always about the long ball (not true) and that the course was designed after St. Andrews (not quite true) and that St. Andrews was about the long ball (not true). I think too many people have forgotten that many of Augusta’s past champions were shorter hitters of the ball like Nick Faldo (3-time winner), Ben Crenshaw (2-time winner), Jose Maria Olazabal (2-time winner), Bernhard Langer (2-time winner), etc. To me, one of the strong points of Augusta used to be that for the most part, any golfer’s style of game can work there. The bomb-n-gouge player has the advantage on the par-5’s. The short knocker who putts well has the advantage on the greens. The ballstriker can take advantage of the long approach shots and the delicate wedge approaches.

But now it’s become a ‘hit the ball as hard as you can off the tee because if you’re long enough, you can hit it past the trees. With that, here’s my rundown of the players and their chances.

BOBBY JONES FLIGHT

These guys are all amateurs and really don’t stand a chance of doing much other than making the cut:

David Chung
Jin Jeong
Lion Kim
Hideki Matsuyama
Nathan Smith
Peter Uihlein



Uihlein is the son of Wally Uihlein, CEO of Titleist. I will give him the nod because of his father he’s probably played Augusta a few times and has a feel for the greens.


CHARLES COODY FLIGHT

This is the flight of past champions that are really too old to do anything and they know it, but it’s the Masters…so why not play?

Ben Crenshaw
Sandy Lyle
Larry Mize
Mark O’Meara
Jose Maria Olazabal
Craig Stadler
Tom Watson
Ian Woosnam

Woosnam is a perfect example of why Augusta was never a bomb-n-gouge course. When he won his Green Jacket, he would aim dead left on #18 on each round. He was a long hitter back then and knew that he could easily carry the left fairway bunker and since there was little rough over there, he would have a fairly simple shot into the green, despite missing the fairway by 40 yards and that would take the trees on the right hand side out of play. The very next year the Masters Committee moved that tee back to ensure nobody could bomb-n-gouge like Woosnam did.

Out of this crew, I think the top guys will either be Watson, Stadler or Olazabal. Olazabal seems to be playing a bit better. Watson, as shown by last year’s Open…still has plenty of game.


FUZZY ZOELLER FLIGHT

These are rookie Masters players. The rookies typically don’t do much outside of somebody like Zoeller, who won a Green Jacket in his first Masters

Charley Hoffman
Rickie Fowler
Jason Day
Martin Laird
Mark Wilson
Gary Woodland
Jeff Overton
D.A. Points
Arjun Atwal
Kevin Streelman
Jhonattan Vegas
Hiroyuki Fujita
Peter Hanson
Gregory Havret
Kyung-Tae Kim


Out of the group, I like Charley Hoffman the best. Long hitter, can hit it high and with a draw. Then Ricky Fowler and then Jason Day and Martin Laird. I really liked Laird about 3 weeks ago, but even though he won Bay Hill, he really struggled in the final round (75).


THE DEFCON 1 FLIGHT

Here’s something that is a stupid pet peeve of mine. When people say something is bad, they refer to it as ‘DEFCON 5’ in reference to the movie War Games with their missile defense system. It’s actually DEFCON 1 that is the worse. DEFCON 5 is no threat at all. These guys are at DEFCON 1 as they are playing pretty awful right now.

Carl Pettersson
Angel Cabrera
Lucas Glover
Bill Haas
Jerry Kelly
Mike Weir
Kevin Na
Trevor Immelman
Jason Bohn
Ricky Barnes


THE VARSITY PRINCIPLE FLIGHT

When I spent 9 painful years of my life in Atlanta, the first thing the locals will tell you to do is to go to a fast food joint called ‘The Varsity’ which is in Midtown, across from Georgia Tech. You hear all of the rave reviews about it and how great it is supposed to be. Then you get there, wait 30 minutes in line and get an awful burger and soggy French fries. They do make a good milkshake, but wildly disappointing nonetheless. It’s like the anti-Augusta National…something that is so hyped that not only does it not live up to the hype, you cannot believe there was any hype surrounding it whatsoever.

That is what a lot of living in Atlanta was like, something was supposed to be great and you get there and it’s not great, but really awful. Thus, my friend Johnnie and I termed it ‘The Varsity Principle’ (it only applies to things in Atlanta).

Anyway, this is the flight of golfers who everybody thinks is playing well, but really are not and I expect them to miss the cut this week.

Hunter Mahan
Anthony Kim
Bo Van Pelt
Camilo Villegas
KJ Choi
Rory Sabbatini
Steve Marino
Luke Donald


THE TREVINO FLIGHT

As great as Lee Trevino was, his game was the exact opposite of what fits in at Augusta. Hitting low fades and being of average distance off the tee and a mediocre putter, as great as Lee was..that ain’t Augusta. My instincts tell me the same about these guys

Stewart Cink
Geoff Ogilvy
Stuart Appelby
Sean O’Hair


THE ROBERT PAULSON FLIGHT

Named after the character from Fight Club when Edward Norton tells him he’s too damn old to join. These guys are good, but they are too damn short off the tee to win. Unless the weather becomes a factor, these guys may contend, but I don’t see them winning

Zach Johnson
Steve Stricker
Alex Cejka
Ian Poulter
Matt Kuchar
Ben Crane
Heath Slocum
Miguel Angel Jimenez


THE OLIVE GARDEN FLIGHT

I don’t mind the Olive Garden, but it’s not something I’m overly excited about. Rather, non-plussed about the situation, much like these guys.

Ryan Moore
Ryan Palmer
Ernie Els
Justin Rose
Retief Goosen
Louis Oosthuizen


THE FOREIGN PLAYERS I DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT FLIGHT

Pretty self explanatory

Ross Fisher
Yuta Ikeda
Hiroyuki Fujita
Anders Hansen
Peter Hanson
Gregory Havret
Robert Karlsson
Kyung Tae-Kim
Francisco Molinari
Eduardo Molinari
Carl Schwartzel
Henrik Stenson


THE MISSING PIECE FLIGHT

Guys that I actually think could win if they can have a pretty good week with their weakest part of their game and have some breaks go there way.

Robert Allenby
YE Yang
Aaron Baddeley
Vijay Singh
Adam Scott
Fred Couples


THE LLOYD CHRISTMAS FLIGHT

‘So you’re telling me there’s a chance.’ – Lloyd Christmas

These guys don’t hit it long off the tee, but they are playing quite well right now and have some things going for them (particularly putting) that can work in their favor and maybe, just maybe…there’s a chance they can win this thing.

David Toms
Jim Furyk
Brandt Snedeker
Graeme McDowell
Tim Clark


THE TIGER WOODS FLIGHT



Well, because he deserves a flight for himself. I think Tiger will play better this week. It appears that he’s finally made the changes to his grip. I believe he started making the changes on Friday at Bay Hill and did get better Friday, Saturday and Sunday with his ballstriking. In the past couple of years under Haney, Tiger excelled because he was a superb from the Danger Zone (approach shots from 175-225 yards) and was a great putter. However, his driving would constantly hamper him because he would miss by too big of a margin and find himself in the woods where he couldn’t use his iron play to get the advantage against the rest of the field.

I think all of the stuff he’s experiencing now with his swing was going to happen sooner or later because that was the direction it was headed in as far back as 2007. In fact, I tend to believe that the ballstriking issues and his divorce were more of a coincidence than anything else.

I think for him to get past Nicklaus’ all-time major victories, he had to make swing changes and had to get it so he could become a solid driver of the golf ball (if not a really good driver of the golf ball). Personally, I think his backswing is far better and I see great improvements in his downswing from Dubai which was just a few months ago.

With that being said, it takes time to make those changes and the biggest hurdle is usually trusting those changes. I don’t think Tiger is there quite yet. Then when you focus your efforts towards your swing, that usually means less time to the other parts of the game. I think Tiger doesn’t win this week, but I think he makes the cut, probably has one really good day followed by a disappointing follow up round and finishes in the top 20.


GIVE IT A RUN FLIGHT

I don’t think these guys will win, but I think they make the cut, perhaps get in the lead early on Saturday and have a nice showing

Davis Love III
Paul Casey
Ryo Ishikawa

I think Ishikawa is the best of the three. Casey has had some rough showings in Majors, but he’s a bomber who putts well which fits into Augusta. If he had a more stable past in the majors, I’d give him better odds.


SECOND TIER FLIGHT

I think these guys have a chance of winning, but something tells me that they are not playing as well as I think they are:

Lee Westwood
Alvaro Quiros
Bubba Watson

Westwood seemed to lose some steam once he was the #1 ranked player in the world. It seemed like he just wanted to be the #1 ranked player and do what was necessary to keep that ranking. Sorta like the pro wrestling heel who becomes the champ and then has the storyline of carefully picking and choosing his opponents. Quiros is a bit unpredictable. He’s got the length to dominate, but just when you expect big things he tends to disappoint. Watson didn’t impress me the last 2 days of Bay Hill. He’s such a timing and hand-eye coordination player that it’s tough to count on him and I don’t think he’s a good player under pressure.


TOP TIER FLIGHT

Phil Mickelson
Dustin Johnson
Padraig Harrington
Martin Kaymer
Rory McIlroy
Nick Watney

Mickelson has been doing pretty well statistically this year, but his putting has killed him. Last week at Houston, he started putting pretty decent and then won. That’s really the way he can win most of these tournaments…just putt decently and avoid the hazards and woods off the tee and Mickelson is hard to beat. Johnson is probably the next American golfer superstar if he’s not there already. He needs to get over last year’s US Open and PGA Championship (I don’t care what anybody says, terrible ruling). Harrington has gone under the radar this year but is playing quite well. Kaymer hasn’t gone under the radar. He’s played okay stateside this year but has been phenomenal across the pond. To me, my top 2 picks are McIlroy and Watney. I think both have games designed for Augusta although I probably trust McIlroy off the tee and on long approaches more, but Watney more with the putter.







3JACK

5 comments:

Nick Chertock said...

Epic post Richie, I don't know about putting AK and Luke Donald in the Varsity Principle flight, but we shall see. Tiger's swing is starting to come together I think, great DTL view from Bay Hill there.

Ronnie Martin said...

Good stuff, but Kuchar is arguably the hottest player on Earth the last 16 months. It helps to have some length for sure but he's gotta' be up there. I also think Bubba's creativity is what sets him apart. That and his ADD ;-)

Talking about guys not playing well. Kaymer's form has been shaky since he's been in country. I'm starting him in my Yahoo league but only for posterity. I also like Lefty and DJ.

One thing though. Although I think DJ got jobbed at WS, he knew he effed up. When he grounded his club his body language gave him away. It's also pretty common knowledge out there on tour that he knew he screwed up the second he did it. Still the PGA should shoulder most of the blame.

Matt D said...

I like Kuchar and DJ. Mickelson will be there Sunday afternoon.

Just not sure if DJ is quite ready to win on the biggest stage just yet. If he does get over the line it will confirm his status as the best American player out there.

DJ's going have to get something happening with the putter. When he finished second at Cadillac a few weeks back he only made 3 or 4 putts outside 10 feet all week.

Best of the unknowns/rookies - Kim Kyung Tae from Korea. swings it just great.

andrewnorrby said...

HArrington is my goto guy. Just wish he had kept the beard! #fearthebeard!

I actually think Luke Donald has a achance too, Mickelson of course and Bubba Watson.

I think Tiger could miss the cut and my second long odds bet is for Sergio to be donning a green jacket on Sunday evening!

Anonymous said...

Very clever, Rich. Nice job.

I don't put quite the weight on current form. Any more emphasis on that we're going to call you Alex Miceli. JK.

Nick Watney will be leading after Saturday night, not Sunday.

Sunday's a whole new ballgame at the Masters.

I don't care about length as much. Just give me a putter. Putter and guts.

I'd take a Stricker or McDowell. Ryder Cup tested. Someone like that.