Hey there readers! Please welcome back featured columnist, Mike Dunton with his Masters’ Prediction Special!
As we head to Augusta for The 2014 Masters, the course will be missing a few of it’s biggest stars. Thanks to a February ice storm, Augusta is missing the famous Eisenhower Tree, named for our Commander-in-Chief himself because he would hit the damn thing countless times. Instead of improving his golf play, he begged and plead the Augusta National Board of Governors to take it down but was repeatedly denied. Just think about that for a second. The President of the freaking United States of America requested the removal of a tree and he was denied. Talk about a tough room to crack! Now, thanks to Mother Nature, the tree is gone and the look of 17 is a lot different from the tee box and the fairway.
Also absent in 2014 is this guy named Tiger. Eldrick’s back has gotten the best of him and golf’s biggest star is missing golf’s biggest weekend. This is a tough one for me to swallow. Tiger is the reason I am a golf fan. The Masters without Tiger is like the Heat in the NBA Finals with Lebron on the shelf due to injury. Golf will survive this period, it has before, but there is something weird about this one. Tiger is exactly 12 days older than me so knowing that he can’t play because of a sore back makes me start to think, “Maybe I am not as young as I think I am”.
Not to worry, golf fans! Remember the true stars of the Masters is Augusta National and that green jacket. Those who dare to take on the course are almost a side story to the beauty of Amen Corner, Hogan Bridge, Magnolia Lane, and all of the architectural wonder.
I have run my own Masters’ Pool for ten years now, so The Wayniac feels I am somewhat the golf expert (even though The Wayniac is reigning champ of the 2013 Masters Pool). As we prepare for this year’s Masters, I have compiled a list of 9 players to know for 2014. Three are my favorites to win, three are some under the radar guys to keep an eye on, and three are going to disappoint you. (Side note: if you have never done a Masters pool, do one. It makes the weekend so much more fun to watch. As I said earlier, ask the owner of this blog himself. He and I have had some intense head-to-head match-ups the past few years and it’s because of our involvement in my pool, not to mention the growing number of side bets we have had going over the years.)
My 3 Favorites:
I am a Tiger fan. I started following his rise in ‘96, then became a Tiger-holic in ‘97 and have stuck by him for the long haul. I may not agree with his personal decisions but what athlete hasn’t let fans down because of decisions they have made off the field of play? So, without my standard “Tiger Woods to win the Masters” pick, I think these three guys are next in line to put on the enamored green jacket.
The defending champ has a great chance to repeat this year. Scott’s past four years at Augusta have been an amazing run: he has finished in the Top 20, including a Top 5, a Top 10, and finally his first major. Scott not only knows the course, he now knows how to win here. His game is perfect for Augusta. He’s a steady ball striker who can hit it long but always seems to find the fairway. What propelled Adam to victory last year was his putting. Remember the two putts from that amazing finish last year? The green Jacket propelled Scott’s whole ‘13 tour: he finished 3rd at the Open Championship, 5th at the PGA Championship, won the Barclays, and finished in the top 15 at the Tour Championship. His mojo has continued right on into 2014, as Scott is most recently coming off a 3rd place finish at the Honda Classic. Scott is rolling and there is no reason to believe he won’t be in contention to repeat when Sunday arrives. That’s why he’s my favorite. Vegas agrees posting Scott as the odds on favorite at 10-1 to win it all.
Jason’s game is perfectly suited for Augusta. He goes long off the tee, has a solid short game, and is fabulous with the putter. Day’s 2014 season has been quite impressive. He won the World Cup of Golf in November (which counts for this season under the new PGA schedule), then finished 2nd at the Farmers Insurance, and won the WGC Accenture Match Play. He recently had a cortisone shot in his thumb, which could explain his 64th place finish at the AT+T Pro Am. There is not much reason to worry, however. Day does not have to hit his driver to handle Augusta. He is long enough off the tee that many times he can hit a 3 Wood or even a big iron and be just fine. That may help the thumb throughout the weekend and give Jason a true chance at winning. Vegas has him sitting at 12-1, but if not for his thumb, he’d probably be at 10-1 with Scott.
Tiger’s new go to partner in team events is coming off of back-to-back Top 10 finishes at Augusta. He needs to eliminate his inconsistency to make a legitimate run for the title. Last year’s up and down rounds of 68, 75, 69, 73 kept him from claiming the jacket. If he can get those two big numbers down, then we may be looking at Kuch’s first major victory. What a story it would make, don’t you think? The Georgia Tech alumni and the local boy makes good story of the weekend as “Koooooooch” resonates throughout the galleries. Kuchar has had a strong start to his 2014 season. Had it not been for two sick shots by Matt Jones this past weekend, Kuchar would have a win under his belt, but he settled for second. He has 8 top 10 finishes in his first 12 events including a victory at the Franklin Templeton Shootout. Kuchar’s game is steady, which is why Tiger enjoys playing with him so much. He is not going to get too up or too down and that will help at Augusta where every hole is as much a mental grind as a physical one. Kuchar’s previous 2 years of success may be helpful enough to get him on top of the leaderboard on Sunday. Then it is just a matter of him staying there long enough so he can sit down with Jim Nantz in Butler Cabin. Vegas has Kuchar at 12-1 odds so maybe they think it’s his year, too.
Watch out for these 3:
I don’t think any of these next three are going to win this year but it would not be altogether shocking if they did.
Sure, the guy already has a green jacket. Yes, his spot in the champions locker room is secure. Yet, people always seem to forget about him. Johnson’s 2014 season has been up and down, highlighted by one of the most amazing hole outs I have ever seen against Tiger at the Northwestern Mutual Open. What Johnson loses on his driving distance he makes up for in his short game. Perfection around the nightmarish greens is a necessity at Augusta and anything else could eat you alive. Johnson possesses that capability with his short game. It seems odd for me to have him here, especially with his past two performances at Augusta (T32, T35) but that was then and Johnson is in the now. His game is peaking just in time for Augusta and the weather appears to be dry which helps Johnson off the tee with more roll out for his shorter drives. Watch out for Zach Johnson to bring back that 2007 form and contend throughout the weekend. Vegas will pay you well with his 25-1 odds.
This guy is the Duke to my UNC. I have never really been a big fan of Sergio and the 2013 Players Championship did nothing to help him. In reality, unfortunately, the “Bull” has some mojo going at Augusta. The past two years he has a T12 and an 8th place finish. Sergio has played in six 2014 events with a finish of no worse than 16th. His physical game has it all to win Augusta. The big question that surrounds him is if he can get his putter rolling. Pay attention to Sergio in the early holes on Thursday. If he makes some lengthy birdie/par putts it may be the confidence he needs to contend on the weekend. Of course, you always have to watch out for the one bad shot that sends his round into a downward spiral and Augusta has plenty opportunities for those. Somehow, Vegas has Sergio with the same odds as Zach Johnson, Henrik Stenson, and Brandt Snedeker at 25-1 — that’s some good company.
Here’s a name that you will probably hear a lot this weekend and rightfully so. The guy had a tremendous 2013 season with victories at the Deutsche Bank Championship and the Tour Championship. He also had Top 5 finishes at the Players Championship, The Open Championship, and PGA Championship. There were some inconsistencies that left him off my favorites to win, especially the missed cut at the Honda Classic and a 54th finish at the Shell Houston Open. But I think Augusta suits his game. He is a big game player. His ball striking ability is a point of jealousy with other players on the tour but what draws me to him most is the way he zones in on the golf course. I feel like nothing distracts this guy and that is huge at Augusta National. The roars echo through the pines and if you can block everything out around you and focus on your next shot, it’s a huge advantage to your game. Stenson has had some difficulties here in the past and has never finished higher than 17th but I expect a top 10 finish this year. That merits him some conversation as a potential winner. Vegas lumps him in there with Sergio and Zach Johnson at 25-1 odds.
3 Guys who will disappoint you:
If I am betting on this tournament (and who isn’t?) I am staying away from these three despite their World Golf Ranking or recent play.
“Dude, what are you talking about? This guy won the US Open on one of the toughest courses we have seen.” So what? It’s a pretty simple analysis really. Rose plays well at Augusta but never great. His best finish is 5th and that was 8 years ago. I am not saying he is going to miss the cut but I bet that a lot of people have him finishing a lot higher than he will. Rose has a great game (honestly, he always has) but I just don’t have confidence in him winning this major this year. I may be wrong but I am here to give you my opinion on this year’s Masters. Rose is also not lighting the world on fire in 2014. He most recently missed the cut at the Arnold Palmer invitational. If he is wearing the green jacket on Sunday night I will be shocked. Vegas has him at 25-1 odds which are too high in my book.
I swear, I don’t hate England or her golfers. In fact, behind Tiger, Ian Poulter is probably my favorite on the tour. But we are talking about The Masters, folks, and his play at Augusta is not the same as his play at the Ryder Cup. Ian missed the cut last year and his highest finish ever at Augusta is 7th in 2012. For some reason Poulter has a hard time mustering that Ryder Cup magic on the Augusta greens. Maybe it’s the fact that the crowd is a little too stuffy for his electric personality. Perhaps he is playing against a course and not against the USA. Whatever the reason may be, Poulter has a hard time managing the Masters. I would love for Poulter’s first major to be a green jacket. (Can you imagine the matching pants he wears next year?) I also wanted my Delaware Blue Hens to win the NCAA Tournament, but some players are just out of their realm on bigger stages. One additional thing against Poulty here is the fact that every year in the Master’s pool I run, my father-in-law picks him on his foursome. He’s like the SI jinx: every year without fail his big name pick misses the cut or does not play to his potential. Poulter has been that guy the past three years. Not sure who my father-in-law has chosen yet but if Poulter is on his team count him out. Vegas must know this little fact as well. They have him at 50-1.
Listen carefully: Phil is no longer the Phil we have come to love. Unfortunately, he is old. He recently withdrew from the Valero Texas Open with a pulled muscle, his second of the year after he pulled out of the Farmers Insurance Open. Phil has played in 9 tournaments on the 2014 season and his highest finish is 12th this past weekend at the Shell Houston Open. More glaring to me is last year’s Masters finish, T54th. Phil has always played well in even years at Augusta. All three of his green jackets were in 2004, 2006, and 2010 — even years. He has 3 other top 5 finishes, all in even years. But, I am not buying into it this year. The pulled muscle scares me but Phil’s inconsistency scares me more. Most of all I just don’t buy he has that Phil magic anymore. He may shock me and get Phil’s Phriends amped up on Sunday at the turn. Until I see it I am not putting any stock in him or his shaky putter. The boys in Vegas and I are at opposite ends as they have him at 12-1.
So there you have it. There is really no telling what is going to happen when this kicks off on Thursday or who will be clearing space in their closet on Sunday. We do have some certainties though that will happen. Arnie, Jack, and Gary will be hitting ceremonial first tee shots early Thursday morning. Jim Nantz will reference Tiger at least 5 times during the broadcast. We will need a ruling on a drop or an entry point to a hazard. Wind will change club selection at 12. And, the winner will receive a green jacket. Certainly, we will all enjoy the first major of the year. After all, it is a tradition like no other.