Wednesday, April 4, 2012
3Jack Golf 2012 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. Last year was more of the exception than the rule as Charl Schwartzel, who is not a bomber but hits it a long ways, won the the Green Jacket. It also wound up being the 2nd greatest Master I have ever watched, next to the '86 Masters of course.
BOBBY JONES FLIGHT
These are the amateur players that typically do not do much outside of fighting to make the cut. Cantlay may be the exception this year and nobody is talking about it:
I think Kelly Kraft could give Cantlay a run at low amateur, but I think it's pretty much Cantlay's spot to lose.
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?
Jose Maria Olazabal
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.
Also, if you look at this group, you see a lot of shorter hitters for their era like Olazabal, Langer, O'Meara and Mize.
Out of this crew, I like Langer to finish the lowest of the bunch.
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
Sang Moon Bae
This is a pretty strong group for Augusta as the only players that don't quite fit Augusta are Castano and Bae. Simpson has struggled with the driver this year and Stallings has just struggled, period. Out of the bunch, I think either Keegan Bradley or Kyle Stanley will finish the best.
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.
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.
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
Charles Howell III
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
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.
THE FOREIGN PLAYERS I DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT FLIGHT
Pretty self explanatory
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.
THE TIGER WOODS FLIGHT
I think what we are seeing now is the 'ballstriking' Tiger. He will probably never reach the zenith that he did under Butch Harmon, but I believe his ballstriking (and putting) will be more consistently at a high level. I think it's unlikely he will putt as well as he did under Haney.
In the end, I think he'll be the type that needs to get that 3rd round lead in order to win tournaments because I'm not quite sure his putting and 'magic' will be there for big 4th round comebacks (although he almost pulled one off at Doral this year).
Last year at Augusta was the first time in a long time we started to see him comfortable with the driver in the 4th round where he blistered the front 9 with a 30 (-6) and couldn't keep it going. So, it's pretty scary what he could possibly do now if he can shoot 30 on the front-9 (much more difficult than the back-9) when his knee was hurting, the pandamonium surrounding him, and his swing was far less developed than it is now.
Is he worth the lowest odds in the tournament? Probably not given that people have suddenly had renewed confidence in him and that Rory McIlroy is deservedly the #1 ranked player in the world. I think this time around Tiger has to worry about McIlroy who has been thru the heartbreak and the triumph, has a David Duval in his prime type talent and game and is perhaps the strongest player mentally that Tiger has faced.
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
Cabrera just seems to fit well into Augusta. Last year he led the Masters in fairways hit, which was incredible given he's usually last in fairways hit every year. Given he hits it so long off the tee, him leading the tournament in fairways hit was a big advantage for him. I just think he really gets into playing the Masters.
Kaymer hasn't really done much lately, but the talent is obviously there. I really like Karlsson's game and I think he could surprise people. Ishikawa has struggled with his driver, but hits it long and is very good with the long irons which is a must at ANGC.
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:
TOP TIER FLIGHT
Bo Van Pelt
Mickelson is the most difficult player to predict each year, outside of his driving which generally blows. But, at Augusta you can bomb it anywhere and Phil's putting has dramatically improved so he may be gearing for another Green Jacket.
Van Pelt almost won it last year and has putted great and has been great with his long irons this year and is still the great driver of the ball that he always is.
Even though Luke Donald hits it short, the Master is probably his best shot at winning because he's such a good iron player and is the greatest putter in the world. I think what hurts him is that it plays so much in the hands of bombers that he winds up fighting against a lot more guys who can blindly give it a rip unlike if the course was setup to reward pure ballstrikers.
Rose, Kuchar and Westwood have looked sharp this year. And of course, McIlroy is probably the favorite for those who haven't picked Tiger.
This has the makings for another great Masters with Tiger's play, the young lion McIlroy and plenty of other names that could make an appearance.
Here's my picks:
Phil Mickelson: 11/1
Luke Donald: 16/1
Justin Rose: 28/1
Matt Kuchar: 66/1
Bo Van Pelt 80/1
Value Pick: Kyle Stanley 125/1