April 08, 2009

Fireside Chats at the Butler Cabin: Official 2009 Masters Preview

Ok, time for the annual Masters preview from the gents over at the Fireside Chats at the Butler cabin podcast. A tradition unlike any other!

Before I turn it over to them, I just wanted to say that I love this time of the year. This is the best week of the sports calendar....the NCAA Championship game, MLB Opening Day, and The Masters. I love how all these sports have timed the annual calendar up to make that happen. The whole week is one big sports extravaganza. Plus, if you're living in the North, there's nothing like seeing outdoor baseball and those azaleas at The Masters. Spring has finally arrived (even though it's about 35 degrees today).

While I love the British Open and the US Open, The Masters is like Christmas morning for golf fans. I'm going to get in nine holes today just to get myself extra fired up.

Without further adieu, Mr. Dave Loggins!! I'll be hitting this one on repeat all week.

Hello Friends. I feel it is best to listen this song by Kenny Loggin’s brother Dave as you read the Masters Preview.

The Founders

Back in 1934, two men named Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts found themselves wanting to serve the game of golf. Golf had been kind to both men and they were looking for something to do in return. What they ended up doing was starting the perfect golf tournament and the perfect way to leave the cold of winter behind and move into the summer and golf season. 35 years later our friend George Harrison penned the perfect song for The Masters when he wrote, “little darlin’ its been a long long lonely winter, little darlin’ it feels like years since its been here, here comes the sun.”

The annual gift from Mr. Roberts and Jones has finally arrived. The last year in the world of golf can best be described as a soap opera. A lot of things have happened since Mr. Immelman slipped his arms into that beautiful green jacket last year, but not much has changed. Tiger is still the best player in the world, Phil is still the second best player, there are a bunch of very talented young and unproven players, and there are a few old war horses plugging along. So put on your green jacket, pour yourself a tall Bloomin’ Boom Boom and lets get ready for four magical days of golf.

The Legends
One thing that has never made any sense to me about the former champions is why none of them live in Augusta. It is my understanding that once you win you are basically a member. I think if I won the Masters I would retire from golf, buy a house in Augusta and play there everyday. Then I would try to befriend Warren Buffet and ask him for stock tips all day long so I could turn the millions I earned from golf into billions. It would be quite a lifestyle.

Gentle Ben (Ben Crenshaw)- A two time champ and wily Ryder Cup captain, Gentle Ben had the one skill that is more important than any other at Augusta, a silky touch with the putter. Ben hasn’t played very well this year so far and if you are 15th on the Senior Tour money list I highly doubt you are going to do well at Augusta. I am sure Gentle Ben will enjoy himself and putt good. I am less sure that he will hit many greens in regulation.

Ray Floyd- At 67 years old, it is probably unrealistic to expect much out of Raymond. Last year he shot 80-74 which is amazing to me. Augusta is probably one of the 10 hardest courses in the world and at 66 Mr. Floyd was 10 over for two days. Amazing how good these guys are golf.

Fuzzy Zoeller- This is it for Fuzzy. 30 years after he won the first Masters he played in in 1979 Fuzzy is hanging up the sticks. I can imagine he will be sitting on that porch and holding court under the tree drinking a few cocktails this week. I only hope he knows about the Bloomin’ Boom Boom. I bet someone told him about it by now.

Bernhard Langer- I was watching highlights of the greatest Masters ever played (1986) and they were showing Langer’s four fans. They all had on visors that said “Langer Likers.” I searched on both google and ebay trying to find one but they probably only made those 4. It was a special day 23 years ago, but anyone who played in the 1986 Masters is not also going to contend in the 2009 Masters.

Larry Mize- I watched Larry play a round last year at the Memorial (more on this later) and he was generally anywhere between 60-80 yards behind his playing partners off the tee and was hitting woods when they were hitting 6-8 irons into the greens. Last year he made the cut in 7 of 16 PGA tour events he played. Almost all the events where he made the cut were either opposite the World Golf Championships, the majors or the week after the majors. This year he is full time Senior tour. I would be very surprised if he shoots less than 76 either round. On a positive note, he does live in Columbus. Unfortunately for him it is the fake Columbus down in Georgia.

Gary Player- He is like the Energizer Bunny. His contemporaries were Jack and Arnie and yet he is his back for one last year. Thanks Gary for all the years. Hopefully sometime in the next five years we will be able to have the greatest honorary starters of all time with Jack, Arnie and Gary.

Tom Watson- Last week on the NBC coverage everyone’s favorite curmudgeon Johnny Miller was actually being complementary to one of his contemporaries Mr. Watson. He was talking about how good a ball striker Tom was back in his prime. It makes you wish you could go back and watch some of those old battles with Nicklaus.

Book Recommendation: If you are planning on reading any more of this preview and you haven’t read Arnie & Jack, I recommend you read it instead. I will also recommend The Match. They are two great golf books that came out last year.

Craig Stadler- There used to be a time when men were men. They ate steaks, drank whiskey and never even considered going to the gym (they also all had heart attacks). It was probably a glorious time. It looks like it on Mad Men. Craig clearly believed in parts of those ideals. Craig was proudly nicknamed The Walrus for years, but unfortunately the walrus body shape is really a dying breed out on tour as the guys go to the workout center rather than the 19th hole when their round ends. That is why I am such a fan of Colt Knost. He didn’t qualify this year, but he is not giving into convention like stretching and exercise. Keep up the good work men and thank you Craig for setting an example for youngsters like Colt.

Ian Woosnam- I don’t know if anyone is watching this but there is a pretty big controversy going on over the Ryder Cup vice captaincy in Europe. Montgomery is the captain of next years team. He announced that Olazabal was going to be the vice-captian and then Olazabal said he wasn’t. This all caused Woosnam to stick up for Ollie. As a fan of Ollie and not Montie I will certainly be pulling for the little Welshman this week.

Sandy Lyle- Regarding Ryder Cup captains, I am not Europeans are doing Sandy a disservice by refusing to pick him as captain because he doesn’t play much anymore. The man was one of the best players in the world for 10 years and now lost his game. I don’t see how that should stop him from being a captain. If Seve came back as the captain would he be lousy because he cant break an egg anymore? Think it over Sam Torrance.

Sandy has made the cut the last two years so don’t be shocked to see him on the weekend.

Mark O’Meara- While his buddy Tiger was busy winning at Bay Hill, Mark was trying to win on the Champions tour. He didn’t win. Even if he had won, playing 3 day events with the baby boomers is not the way to get ready for The Masters.

The Teens
You will be hearing about them this week but there are three potential superstars (who also happen to be teenagers) playing this week. All three have won on professional tours and are probably the first three of the next generation who don’t remember golf without a man named Tiger.

Rory McIlroy- Born in 1989 Rory was seven years old when Tiger turned pro. It is hard to believe he basically doesn’t remember the pre-Tiger era. It is very similar to an article I read this winter about how William Buford (Ohio State freshman basketball player) doesn’t remember Jordan as a Bull. Anyway, Rory is obsessed with Tiger and he knows almost everything about him. I am not sure how the obsession will affect Rory actually trying to beat Tiger, but it reminds me of how Tiger had Jack’s records on his wall. This kid is really good and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win on tour this year. Paddy is showing the way for all the young Irishmen.

Danny Lee- So far he has become the youngest US Amateur champion of all time and won on the European Tour with a field including at least five of the top 50 players in the world. At 18 there is no telling what he is going to do, but we should be able to find out soon because this is his last event as an amateur.

Ryo Ishikawa- I think it is safe to say Ryo is going to be the first person born in the 1990s to play in The Masters. The buzz about this guy has been building since late last year when he won the Asian amateur and it will come to a head this week. He is only 17 and here he is in the Masters. It is hard to imagine that he will win or contend, since no one has won in his first time at Augusta since 1979, but I am excited to watch the kid make his first start.

The Unknowns
These guys are virtually unknown to the public at large. Some for good reason and some will be known soon.

Matthew Goggin- This is a guy to look out for the rest of the year and if you play fantasy golf you should consider picking up Goggin. In the last year Googin’s results have gotten a lot better. I don’t know if it is because he recently moved to Charlotte, but he is playing like a top 30 player in the world right now. I dont think he will be the Australian to win this week but I do expect him to win this year.

Chez Reavie- I don’t really know who was voting at the Country Music Awards this year but it is clear that the people were idiots. Somehow George Strait didn’t win all the awards and Cari Underwood beat Chesney for entertainer of the year. You may wonder why this relates to Chez Reavie. Chez is short for Chesney which is his middle name. I think he is named after the great Kenny Chesney but I don’t know that for a fact. Regarding golf, Chez won last year in a foreign land (Canadian Open) and that is his only top 10 on tour and he has missed 5 of 9 cuts this year.

Drew Kittleson- So far Drew has 3 top 10s out of 8 tournaments this season. This would be extremely solid except these tournaments are all college tournaments. Drew was the runner-up at the US Amateur and currently plays for Florida State. We all know there have been some magical things happen to the amateurs (most notably Matt Kuchar) but if you cant beat college kids you are not going to beat many pros.

Prayad Marksaeng- In the past I have railed against the idiocy of the world rankings because too many guys playing exclusively in Asia were in the top 50. However, this problem seems to be subsiding as more top players are playing in Asia (and Europe) and everyone is playing in all of the world golf championship events. Prayad is a guy I would have been unhappy about being included in the past but he came over to American to play. On Thursday he was leading at Doral and finished 13th. All this said, after Prayad got a special exemption last year and then withdrew, you can be sure that the ghost of Clifford Roberts will be causing his ball to bounce in funny directions and lipping out.

John Merrick- Number 18 at last weeks Shell Houston Open was the hardest golf hole I have ever seen. For those of you who didn’t see the tournament, the hole was a par 4 of 488 yards dead into the wind. There was water left and a bunker right where most players had no chance to hit the green from the sand. On Sunday 57 of the 78 guys who played the hole made a bogey or worse including 4 quads. However, John Merrick used only three strokes to get his ball in the hole. Anyone who can birdie that hole has a chance this week.

Jack Newman- Jack, who won the Publinks to get into The Masters, had a tough start to the week. He is a junior at Michigan State and obviously that basketball game did not go very well. However, I am more worried about his chances for another reason. It is currently snowing in Ohio as I type this. Since East Lansing is about 6 hours north of Columbus I cant imagine he has been able to practice a lot this winter. Of course Jack Nicklaus grew up playing in this weather so maybe he does have a chance.

Alvaro Quiros- Alvaro is the longest hitter on the European Tour and has won three times in the last three years. He is currently ranked 27th in the world, and it sounds like he will become part of the PGA Tour next year if he can (stays in the top 50). I didn’t know too much about him but I read an interview where he said he forgot his hat and belts last week. I immediately appreciated that guy because it sounds like something I would do. Look for Alvaro to make some noise early in the week.

Reiner Saxton- The Golfin’ Dutchmen is making his first appearance at The Masters after he won the British Amateur last summer. I don’t know much about him, but I know Danny Lee beat him in a match last week in the Georgia Cup.

Steve Wilson- Every year the people of Augusta National force me to write about the mid-am Champion. I don’t resent it because the .00005% chance I would ever have of playing The Masters it would be by winning the mid-am. However, there is no chance that a guy who wins the mid-am is going to do anything at the Masters.

Soren Kjeldsen- Soren is hot and by my unofficial count is one of three guys who are coming into the field having won their most recent tournament. I am concerned about him though because he is short hitter and a rookie at The Masters. He is very confident so that might get him somewhere.

Richard Sterne- Sterne enjoyed his debut at the Masters last year so much he set his goal to qualify again this year. Unfortunately, as the best laid plans often do, his plan went awry. It came down to the final two weeks and he needed to win back to back to qualify. Rather than going quietly into the night he won both events. He has also been compared to Gary Player due to his diminutive nature and fire. I am very excited about this guy.

Ross Fisher- Ross caught fire at the end of last year over in Europe and hasn’t slowed down too much. However, he has only played two stroke play events this year in America and neither went very well. I think this guy is an up and comer for the English.

On a sidenote: The English could be in for a wild ride with 7 young players in the top 50 and Andy Murray suddenly becoming the best tennis player in the world. I have so many things to look forward to between now and then but seeing Murray Mound at Wimbledon is going to be amazing.

Louis Oosthuizen- For the true golf nerds out there, waking up Saturday and Sundays and watching the European tour is certainly a treat. Most of the courses are average and the players are not quite as good, but when you have the Scottish accents talking to you it is a pleasure. The emergence of Louis Oosthuizen has made it just a little bit better. His name is pronounced Lou-E OOO-st-hizen pronounced in a quick staccato manner. It is certainly worth the price of admission to hear it announced. Louis played good at the start of the year but hasn’t played as well lately. He also plays mostly in Europe so far. He is a solid young player and lets hope he gets on tv so that we can hear his name, but contending is a stretch.

Wen-Tang Lin- This guy is from China and I really don’t know anything about him, but I want to briefly mention the Olympics since they were in China. I cant believe how much I cared about the Olympics. Everyday that they were going on I would stay up and watch them and then discuss them at work. Now I can barely remember the names of even the biggest stars. How do I always get sucked in to these things like girls gymnastics, volleyball and water polo when I would never dream of watching them on tv in a non-Olympic fashion.

Soren Hansen- I don’t know what happened to Soren’s brother Anders Hansen but I am sure it will hurt his game missing his brother.

The Journeymen
Maybe it is just me or maybe it has something to do with how the Fed Ex cup works but there seems to be more guys in the field this year that are journeymen pros. By journeymen I mean guys who play every week contend once and awhile and maybe even win once every couple years. When all the best players in the world are playing though, these guys have to do everything perfectly to contend.

Briny Baird- Mr. P.F. Changs is playing thanks almost entirely due to the new Fed Ex Cup race. He had three hot weeks that led to him getting into the tour championship and then he got into the Masters because of that. He played good the first couple days last week in Houston, but I don’t expect him to do much this week due to his goofy closed putting stance.

Ken Duke- There are about 10 guys in this field that qualified by finishing in the top 30 of the money list and or playing in the tour championship. Almost all of those guys played 25-30 events, kept plugging along, and made a lot of money. However, I don’t see those guys with a chance to win this week. Ken played 33 times last year finished 2nd twice and made $2.2 million. Not a bad life but the fact is there are some guys who are just much more talented than him.

Dudley Hart- Dudley had by far the best year of his career last year. So far that hasn’t carried over to 2009. I don’t expect Augusta National to be the place he turns it around.

Robert Allenby- Robert continues to be a solid player who rarely contends in anything besides the “non-Tiger” events. Making the cut seems very possible but contending is a stretch.

DJ Trahan- These Clemson Tigers have not really lived up to expectations so far they had coming out of college. They have all been solid but not spectacular.

Kevin Sutherland- The only thing I can tell you for sure about Mr. Sutherland is that he does not use a long putter for the drops, and he does not like people who ask him that question. I learned that the hard way.

Jeev Milkha Singh- Jeev is playing good. He won twice in Asia this Winter and finished 4th at Doral. The most important thing I learned about Jeev this year is he is the son of two famous Indian athletes. His dad Milkha Singh is known as the The Flying Sikh and ran in the 1960 and 1964 Olympics. His mom was a great volleyball player. How this will effect his game this week I have no idea, but I was interested.

Aaron Baddeley- Yep he is now a journeyman in my book. He cant hit it straight or very far but he is a great putter. I also continue to be skeptical of the stack and tilt method of swinging. The only time I remember Aaron being in contention while using the stack and tilt was during the 2007 US Open. He hit everything ball left when the pressure was high.

Billy Mayfair- Billy isn’t playing very good this year but you have to thank him for all he did this year by helping to show us all how goofy it is for grown men to wear jerseys when he put on the Cardinals jersey Friday in Tucson during the FBR open.

The oddest thing about it was he chose to go with Hightower (who was essentially benched) instead of Fitzgerald, Warner or James. Look for me in the Teddy Ballgame Jersey two weeks from now at the Draft party.

Talented but struggling
As much as any sport, guys can go into a slump and struggle for either a long period of time or just a little while. The slump could be caused by injury, the yips, a divorce, a kid, a lack of desire, or some other crazy reason. Whatever it is, these guys are not playing very good right now, but they have the talent to compete if they get it going.

Stuart Appleby- I always seem to overrate Stuart’s chances because he looks like he should be better than he is. This year Stuart hasn’t even done enough for me to overrate him. He has not played well or often this year because he just had a little baby in October. At least that’s why I assume he hasn’t played very well. One would think it would make you want to play more to avoid all the baby stuff like diapers.

Chad Campbell- We share the same birthday so I don’t to be too hard on the guy, but Chad’s game is not very good right now.

Win a date (Todd Hamilton)- It is not a good sign when “Win a date with Tad Hamilton” has a longer shelf life at Blockbuster than your golf career. I am afraid that is where we stand right now. This is the last year of his exemption at Augusta for winning the 2004 British Open so if you are a big fan make sure you get out to see him.

Brandt Snedeker- Len Mattiace, Adam Morrison, A league of Their Own, and Brandt. What do these people and groups have in common? They all cried during or directly following a sporting event. For Adam, Len and Girls baseball things were never the same again. Is Brandt headed in the same direction? I don’t know but he has played in 26 PGA Tour events since The Masters and recorded only two top 10s (both T9). I like Brandt but I have to say I am concerned about his career right now.

Michael Campbell- Michael is playing because he won the 2005 U.S. Open. My hopes for him are not high because he has not actually finished a tournament this year. He hurt his shoulder, probably throwing the football, and so far this year has three withdraws and one missed cut. Without Doug Ford playing I would say Michael is the most likely to withdraw this year.

Jose Marie Olazabal- Ollie has been battling a case or rheumatism and has only played twice this year missing both cuts. It seems unlikely he will in contention this week but I did learn an interesting fact about Ollie. He owns the record for longest putt ever made. He made a putt on the Concord the length of the entire cabin while the concord was in flight. The ball rolled for 26 seconds and counted as a 9.232 mile putt because the plane was moving. I am not so sure about that counting, but after watching all the records Rob and Big (and Rob and Joe C.) broke I think the hardest thing to do is get the judge to come see you.

Bubba Watson- Bubba is an interesting guy for this tournament. He hits it long, works the ball both ways, hits it pretty straight, and isn’t too bad at putting. However, every time I watch Bubba he manages to make an 8 somewhere along the way. He is like a 10 handicap when he gets off track in the sense that he can’t turn a triple into a bogey, and turns a bogey into a quad. That gets very expensive out on the PGA Tour.

The Lion (Vijay Singh)- I am dressed like Gary Player as I write this, it is over for the lion. He had an incredible run for 10 years, but he just got old. The Lion got along very well as an average putter and a great ball hitter for 10-15 years. He doesn’t hit the ball nearly as well as he once did and his putting is even a little bit worse. The lion is probably still going to win at some point this year or the next and if he keeps playing the PGA Tour I could see him beating Slammin’ Sammie’ss record for oldest man to win on tour, but I am afraid he is done as a top 10 player. So long Lion it was a great run.

El Pato (Angel Cabrera)- I don’t know anything about smoking and having lived in a city named after the guy who discovered tobacco maybe I am a little biased. However, two years ago El Pato was playing great and won three times. Then he quit smoking and he has not come very close to winning since 2007. I don’t know if there is any correlation but something happened.

Adam Scott- A couple weeks ago I was playing golf and there was a guy playing ahead of us. He had on a goofy pair of pants, a white belt, a goofy hipster shirt and a good set of clubs. In other words, he looked like he might know what he was doing. Then he hit his drive and it was a low duck hook. This happened all day and every hole he was playing out of the left trees. So we started calling him Adam Scott because he looked a lot better than he played.

Now that Adam Scott has delved into dating Kate Hudson I would say a major in the next 5 years is out of the question. The putting needed work but instead he is at the beach with Kate. Adam seems to be following the steps of another Australian named Greg Norman where golf is about his fifth priority.

Missing the Easter Service
The top 44 and ties make the cut at The Masters. I expect these guys to make it, but will likely be playing early Sunday morning and will be getting ready for home by the time the tournament starts on the back nine Sunday.

Stew Cink- Stew Cink is one of the most “average” players on tour. In almost every statistical category he is just about average. That works out pretty well for him week to week on tour. Unfortunately for him, when the elite players show up, average does not cut it. Another average showing is to be expected but I don’t see him doing more than that.

Steve Flesch- Steve is a poor mans Paddy Harrington. Last year he had two top 10s one was at The Masters and the other at the PGA. I wouldn’t really expect much from Steve based on what he has done so far this year but maybe he is just a majors player. Excluding Monday night, kind of a Michigan State of the NCAA tournament where they always do a little more than you expect on the big stage.

Steve Stricker- Steve Stricker is considered one of the best putters on tour, and he is the first three days and probably Sunday if he is out of contention. If he is under pressure Sunday the ball starts coming off the putter blade right and it gets ugly. I have watched Steve blow 3 or 4 tournaments with a bulky putter. Don’t believe the putting hype.

Ryuji Imada- I don’t know too much about Ryuji except that he is slowly and surely becoming a very solid tour player. It took him 5 years on the Nationwide tour to make the PGA and he has then improved each of his four years on the tour. He hasn’t started out as well so far this year but at 32 I would expect solid play from him for the next 8-10 years. However, since he seems to get better as he gains experience and this is his first Masters I do not expect a lot from him this week.

Oliver Wilson- There are currently 7 Englishmen in the top 50 in the world. Oliver is another one of these guys. However, he hasn’t won on the European Tour or the PGA tour despite many top finishes. I suspect he will be like a young David Duval who once he wins the floodgates will open. However, I would be stunned if it was this week.

The Mechanic (Miguel Angel Jimenez)- Best known on the other side of the Atlantic the Mechanic is a solid player who is one of the leading members of the European Tour. He has had three top 10s in The Masters in the last 9 years and should be a solid bet to make the cut this week. However, no one with a ponytail has ever won The Masters and I don’t expect that to change this year.

The Japanese Cowboy (Shingo Katayama)- As far as I can tell Shingo is the only guy in the field who used the goofy world ranking system to get into the field this year. Usually I am pretty unhappy about it but how can I be mad at Shingo?

Rocco Mediate- It took one of the most memorable and clutch shots in golf history to beat Rocco last June. Unfortunately for Rocco there were very few people who thought that ball wasn’t going to go into the hole, and what the result of the playoff the next day would be. Since then Rocco has played okay but nowhere near what he did at Torrey Pines in June. Much like how Jordan stopped Ewing, Malone, Stockton and Miller to name just a few from winning a title, there is no telling how many guys Tiger will deprive of majors.

Justin Rose- He is looking for his third straight year of leading after the first day of The Masters. He finished second at Dubai but has not finished inside the top 20 so far in five starts here in America. He looks the part but right now he wakes up the memories of Scott McCarron, another first day Masters superstar.

Boom Boom- Unfortunately, this is the last go around for Boom Boom on the PGA tour so if he comes to a tournament near you, enjoy it. I don’t know what else I can say about the man. He has been in contention twice this year and truly gave the fans a thrill. Unfortunately, it was not too be. One time he faced off with the Darth Vader of the PGA tour and the other he blew it himself. Freddie also had a strong internet showing with a youtube clip starring himself and Rafa Nadal. I am a big fan of Roger Federer so this emergence of Rafa has been tough to take. I have always respected Rafa and appreciated that he essentially deferred to Roger even in victory (as opposed to Novak Jerkovic). Now that I have learned Rafa has Boom Boom’s endorsement I am a fan. So thank you Boom Boom.

Regarding his golf game, I truly hope he wins, but I don’t think Freddie is a good enough putter at this stage in his career to truly have a chance. His short jabby stroke on the greens might be okay on slower greens but the devilish greens of Augusta will be too much. Just watch the heart wrenching display from the 14th green of the 2006 Masters if you want an example.

The Shark (Greg Norman)- When he was asked Sunday if he could win this week the Sharks response was, “probably not.” I couldn’t agree more. Even if he gets into contention Sunday we all know how that goes. That said, the man is still one of the most talented players in the world.

Graeme McDowell- Graeme won twice on the European Tour last year. He has played okay this year in Europe. Like most of the players who play mostly on the European tour he has come over to America and played since the match play tournament in February. He has not played well either. Maybe this two and a half month sabbatical all these guys have taken is why a European hasn’t won at Augusta since 1999.

The Famous Mr. Ed (Stephen Ames)- Last year I was sure that the talking horse was on a collision course with a major. Something has happened to his game though and his results are not what they used to be. This is not a Duval-esque collapse just a slight decline. Combined with the sudden emergence of the more talented early thirty and twenty year olds the window for Mr. Ed’s major might have closed.

Rory Sabbatini- You know what they say, “You mess with the bull, sometimes you get the horns.” It looks like Rory learned that the hard way. He was comfortably in the Nike fold and then he started that fight with Tiger and suddenly he shows up wearing some thing called Second Skin. His world ranking has dropped from top 10 in the world to 47th. I don’t know how Tiger hurt his game but I am pretty sure that we know what happened to his Nike sponsorship.

Y.E. Yang- I have said it many times before and I will say it again, if I never leave the greatest country in the world again it certainly wont bother me. However, there are now two reasons I would like to leave, one old reason and one new reason. The first reason is I would like to go over to Scotland and Ireland to play some golf. The new reason I would like to leave is to head over to South Korea to figure out what is going on over there. Ever since the special day August 14, 2003 when I bought the Hyundai Sonata, I have had a special bond with South Korea. As more and more time goes by it is becoming clear they know how to gets things done. First it was the Sonata, then the ladies golf tour, then the Genesis, now they are good at baseball, is the PGA tour next? I don’t know but keep your eye peeled. All this said, I see Y.E. having a hard time at Augusta since he doesn’t hit it that far and is an average putter. It is only a few more years until we get a South Korean Masters winner.

John David Perry (Kenny Perry)- After the nonsense this man pulled last year our friend Kenny asked that we no longer refer to John David as a Kenny. I am sure most of you remember the old commercial that sarcastically said “I want to grow up to be middle management.” I think that was John David in the commercial. I always thought majors were the holy grail of pro golfers. As we all know, once Tiger went out last year it was a free for all at the majors. However, John David decided he didn’t want to play in two of the majors and played 14 holes in the PGA, even though he was the hottest player on tour. You may be asking why, and he kept saying it was because he wanted to make the Ryder Cup (which was clinched in May). John David has proven time and time again that he has little to no interest in winning a major and has proven a few times he doesn’t have the chutzpah to do it either. He will probably make the cut and have a nice solid weekend enjoying the trip.

Paul Casey- We have a family tradition in my family. Every year my dad keeps score in the first round of the Memorial Tournament and every year my mom and I go watch him. This past year the pairing included Paul Casey and Larry Mize. It is always a special day and I end up watching three guys play that I wouldn’t normally watch. Since my dad hasn’t kept score for Tiger, the groups are generally pretty small so I can watch the guys closely. Last year was no exception. Paul’s ball striking was unbelievable and every shot came off crisp. He hit about 15 greens and most of the fairways but he shot 78. It was one of the worst putting displays I had ever seen, including some of my own. I think I counted him having almost 40 putts. I have since done some research and learned that Paul is an extremely streaky putter. He putted pretty good last week, but I don’t know that it will last this whole week.

The Big Easy- I laughed about the three year plan when it was made 2.5 years ago, but slowly and surely the Big Easy is getting his game back. It is unlikely he will ever get back to being compared to Tiger like the “big five” in 2004. However, he has quietly gotten his game back together and is making most of the cuts. He has finished near or inside the top 20 most of the time this year. If you turn your tv on Sunday after church and the Big Easy is on the leaderboard look for him to hang tough. He is still a three time major champion.

The Queer (Mike Weir)- If the Masters was a month ago the queer would have had a much higher place in this preview. A month ago he had finished in the top 10 in 5 of his previous 6 tournaments. Since then he has played four times and hasn’t gotten inside the top 30. I think that he fell apart when he realized that the Columbus Blue Jackets were better than his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.

Ben Curtis- I am not a marketing person and frankly I don’t really understand why many companies make the marketing decisions they do. My all time leader in odd marketing choices is the great Jeff Sluman and Paychex partnership. However, Ben is also a guy whose sponsor baffles me. For those of you who don’t know, Ben is sponsored by the NFL. The NFL used to sponsor Payne Stewart and now here they are with Ben. Does Commissioner Goodell sit in his office and say to himself “We really need to break into the middle aged white male demographic, how can we do it? We should sponsor a good, but not great, tour player.” I am pretty sure that 90% of the people who watch golf and know who Ben Curtis is also watch the NFL and play fantasy football.

Two other very curious marketing decisions made this year. Verizon wireless has decided to go with Clyde “the Glide” Drexler as a spokesman. I didn’t know who it was the first time I watched that commercial. However, Taco Bell took the cake this year by using Daryl Dawkins and Vlade Divac in a commercial. Does anyone who eats at Taco Bell even know who those two guys are? A star from the 80s and a good role player are the guys they have as spokesmen. Anyways, back to the golf.

It Could Happen
These guys are very good and I would not be surprised to see any of them win this week. Only one guy can win though and these aren’t my top picks.

Luke Donald- Luke is playing good right now. He has had a couple top 10s wrote a blog saying he is confident and putting good. I have said it a couple times but Paul Revere said it best, “The British are coming, The British are coming.”

Camilo Villegas (Ka-me-low Vee-jay-gaas)- To be honest I thought Camilo was just another Adam Scott, a man who cared much more for the clothes he wore than what he shot. Then last fall when golf season for the common man had ended and football season had begun, Camilo started winning. He won two of the biggest tournaments on tour last fall and came pretty close to winning the Fed Ex Cup. He has continued to play well this year. I am still not 100% sold, but I am getting very close.

Carl Petterson- My former Raleigh neighbor has not been playing very well so far this year. He is a very solid player though who has done well at Augusta before. I think he might surprise some people.

Boo Weekly- Boo is such a goofball and good interview that it seems to get lost that he is a very good player. He hits the ball extremely well and putts it too. You do have to question the desire of a guy who has stated on numerous occasions that he is only trying to make enough money to retire so he can hunt and fish. That is actually a normal plan most people have at their jobs, but when other guys are actually trying to win the tournaments you have to think it is a disadvantage.

The Scientist (Robert Karlsson)- If you are wondering who the 9th ranked player in the world is and you guessed Robert Karlsson you are correct. The Scientist, as he is known in Europe, is the Swedish Vijay Singh. At the tender age of 39 he is playing the best golf of his life and won the Order of Merit last year. He doesn’t play that often in America but he played well in all four majors last year. He has played in America the last three events so he is probably over the initial shock of being able to eat good food and have ice in his drink. I look for him to play solidly this week.

Justin Leonard- I really don’t know what to think about Justin. Here is a guy who won the US Amateur (in Muirfield), won a major at 25, made one of the biggest putts in Ryder Cup history and should have won the 2004 PGA, yet he has never been one of the elite players. This year he has played pretty good and is ranked 26th in the world. Convential wisdom is Augusta National is too long for him to contend but he would fit the mold of an Immelman, Weir, Johnson type winner. If the wind blows give him a chance.

Trevor Immelman- Even though he has a great name I don’t see much of a chance for Trevor to win this year. In the history of the Masters there have been 3 guys who have won back to back titles. Two are the best two players ever and one is a six time major champion who now resides in the announcers booth. Aside from that, Trevor has not played very well this year outside of South Africa, which isn’t doing much good for him in Georgia.

Hunter Mahan- After he made the putt on 17 at the Ryder Cup I really thought Hunter might come out hot to start the year. It hasn’t happened that way but he is starting to trend the right way and finished 6th last week. He has too much talent not to start winning and contending more.

Jim Furyk- Could he find his game this week? Sure. So far this year though Jim has been nowhere near his top form so I have no reason to think he would be substantially better this week. He has one good finish this week and it was largely the result of a back nine charge after he was out of the tournament at Doral. He is too good for me to surprised if he plays good, but it would raise my eyebrows a little.

Tim Clark- If you were not convinced of the power of Tiger you should have been in Raleigh the day after Tim Clark, an NC State alum, beat Tiger in match play this year. Tim is the all-time money leader on tour without a win, has played for two President Cup teams and finished second in the 2006 Masters, but the only thing most people (at least the ones who call sports talk radio) knew about him was he beat Tiger in one match. He has the game to win and has played well at Augusta before but the list of guys who have made The Masters their first win is short.

K.J Choi- One year ago, I was certain K.J. was going to win a major within the calendar year unless Tiger kept him from it. Now I am less sure but he still has the game. However, as I have discussed in previous years, people who try non-conventional putting methods are trying them for a reason, and it is not because they are putting so good conventionally. Every guy on tour is a very good putter but some guys are great and some guys are only very good. I am afraid K.J. is only very good. For him to have a chance this week he needs the wind to come up and maybe some bad weather so getting the ball to the green becomes tougher and more important than getting it in the hole once it is on the green.

Andres Romero- Every time I look at pgatour.com I make sure to check out the adventure Andres had that day. No one makes more bogeys or worse and nobody makes more birdies than Andres. Depending on the weather and other factors, I could see Andres making a big run on the back with 5 or 6 birdies to win (like he almost did two years ago at the British). On the other hand he could make 5 doubles on Thursday and shoot 82. That’s the beauty of Andres.

The Top 16
As always the top 16 and ties make next years Masters.

16) Marty Kaymer- The “Langer Likers” have had to wait awhile for the next great German golfer to come along. Fortunately for them, he has arrived in the form of Mr. Kaymer. I have very high hopes for the young man of only 24 years and so far he has done nothing to let me down. He won twice on the European tour last year and has played solidly if not spectacularly so far this year including a second at Abu Dhabi as Paul Casey held on to win. Germany, welcome back to big time golf.

15) Sean O’Hair- For three days during Bay Hill Sean was the best player in the world. Then came Sunday and he had to look Tiger in the face. For the first six holes he looked like he had forgotten the game. To his credit he hung tough on the back nine for awhile and then hit a solid shot on 16 that came up just a little bit short and Tiger made a great putt on him on 18. Sean is a guy to look out for this year and in the future.

14) Sergio- Of all the things that happened in golf last year Vijay and Sergio both making 40 foot putts on the same hole in a playoff at the Barclay’s was the most unlikely. I am not the biggest fan of Sergio’s but over the last 18 months he has become one of the best players in the world. Every major he seems to be hanging around the lead all week and has a total of 14 top 10s in majors. Eventually he probably will win one. However, he hasn’t played very well the last few weeks or the past few Masters so this isn’t going to be the one for him.

Looking ahead, as we head back to the Black for the US Open in June it would be a great story if a more mature Sergio went back and won at the site where he acted like the biggest baby of his often baby acting career.

13) Lee Westwood- For years people have promoted Lee Westwood as a potential sleeper in every major that got started. However, the pundits have moved onto some other guys they love and Lee has gotten better. As many of you remember Lee played the final round at last years US Open with Tiger and had a putt to join the now famous playoff between Tiger and Rocco. He has played solid this year and coming off of a tie for 11th last year I look for Lee to have another solid showing.

12) Dustin Johnson- The Bengals are learning the hard way that football players from Coastal Carolina are not the way to get to the super bowl. However, Coastal Carolina is a great place to play golf and Dustin Johnson is proving that to us. In only his second year on tour Dustin has won twice and is already inside the top 50 in the world.

11) Padraig Harrington- Here we sit halfway home to the Paddy Slam. When Tiger went down last June it was really three men who became stars the rest of the summer. The media was hoping that some young guys would step up and AK23 and Camilo did for the most part. No one thought that Paddy would rise and become the second best player in the world (at least in my rankings). However, the Irishman with the high pitched voice won two majors in a row. I don’t really know what to think about Padraig because he has not played very well this year but he didn’t play particularly well last year other than the two majors he won. The man is solid as a rock and I wouldn’t be at all surprised when I turn my tv on Sunday afternoon to see Paddys name right on the bottom of the first page of the leader board waiting to make a charge.

10) Zach Johnson- Two years ago when Zach won the Masters I was happy for the guy. He is from the Midwest, represents an accounting firm on his shirt, and went to college at Drake University, the same school as a friend of mine who hosts me during the Memorial each year. This all changed during last years Memorial. I had been out on the course and arrived back to my friend’s house just as Zach was playing that hole. My friend said, “put on this Drake shirt and go cheer for Zach when he walks off the green.” Of course I thought this was a good idea and complied. So I walked over to the first green and as Zach walked off the green I started to cheer for him yelling, “Go Drake, Yea Bulldogs” and so on and so forth all wearing the Drake shirt. One would think a man who went to a college of 3,200 students in Iowa would be pumped to see a fan so far from the school. Apparently Mr. Johnson was not amused as he walked right past me. Stunned I turned to my friend and we decided to walk up the second hole with Mr. Johnson. There were somewhere between 3-6 fans around the second green so I got right up by the ropes where the players walked off and got ready to high five this Drake legend while wearing a Drake shirt. After the players finished on the next hole I again started with the yelling and cheering for Drake. I knew Zach would at least give a nod. However, as Zach walked over he put his eyes on the ground and kept walking right past me. My heart wasn’t broken but what if that was a little kid? God might be on Zach’s side but I am not.

9) Pat Perez- Many people who know me may be surprised to read this but over the last 2 years or so I have become convinced that it is much more likely that a man will become successful if he is married than if he is not. If you are looking for evidence look no further than Pat Perez. Everything I had ever read about Pat was he enjoyed a party as much as the next guy. He was always very talented but never won. Then he got married last winter and suddenly he is playing much better and has a win under his belt. He is likely not allowed to go out like he used to and it is probably good for his game.

8) Nick Watney- Every week of 2009 you turn on your television (or internet) and there is Nick Watney’s name on your leaderboard. He has played great all winter with a win in San Diego, a second at Doral and a 4th at Bay hill. Johnny Miller described him as looking like a deer in headlights no less than 10 times during the final round at Doral but he hung tough with Fat Phil all day. It is good to have a young American playing so good.

7) Retief Goosen- Retief Goosen made the fashion statement of the year on tour this year when he did his best to dress for “To Catch a Predator.” He has also turned his game around this year. Retief has won in both Africa and America so far this year and has historically been quite strong on the lush green fairways in Augusta. I hope Retief wears those sunglasses but I am almost certain we will be seeing him teeing off late on Sunday.

6) Not so Fat Phil- If this is your first preview one thing you can be sure of is you wont be reading many positive words about the man who plays left handed. So I reluctantly acknowledge that Phil has lost a decent amount of weight the last couple years and when the U.S. Open returns to Bethpage Black (The Black) this year his boobs wont be bouncing around in a turtleneck like they were in 2002. All that said, Phil is still the jerk he has always been and nothing proves it more than what he did at Riviera this year. The great Boom Boom and Phil were in the final group and dueling down the stretch. Phil was all over the map and Freddie was looking good. They arrived at the 16th tee tied. Freddie had the honor and teed off first. He hit a nice shot about 15 feet from the green. Then Fat Phil clearly asked him something and I suspect that the question was “what club did you hit?” This is clearly a violation of the rules, but Boom Boom being the nice guy that he is told Phil the answer. Phil then proceeded to get lucky and hit a good shot to 3 feet. Freddie missed and Phil made to take a one shot lead and that was it. Phil went on to win and Boom Boom was left knowing he was the better man.

Due to Boom Boom’s generosity Phil is now playing very good (although a little inconsistent) and should really be a factor down the stretch. He might even be leading on Sunday. However, he will step up to the 16th tee and he won’t know what club to hit. Freddie won’t be there to tell him and a certain bogey or worse will follow.

5) Steely (Henrik Stenson)- The man of steel is on his way to becoming a staple in the top five of the world rankings. So far this year he has played six times on the PGA and European tours combined and has three top 3’s. Additionally he finished 3rd and 4th in the last two majors of 2008. Yet the only thing most know about the man is he hit a shot in his underwear at Doral. If the man of steel is wearing green Sunday night don’t be surprised and get ready for the Swede to enter the race for second best player in the world later this summer.

4) Ian Poulter- I could not possibly be higher on Ian. Even though he didn’t end up winning he showed me all I needed to see last year during the British Open. He then followed it up with strong showing at the Ryder Cup. I have just one apprehension for Ian and that is the clothes he wears. I have a theory that the golf gods have a certain type of wardrobe they prefer out of their golfers and it is a more traditional look than Ian usually embraces. My personal feeling is the golf gods like checkered or solid colored pants and a collared shirt. The two most glaring examples of the golf gods penalizing people for their brazen disregard of the dress code is the career of David Duval and the 2007 US Open. In regards to Mr. Duval he was the one who started this mock neck, no collar trend, and the golf gods haven’t ever let him live it down. The 2007 US Open was without a doubt Tigers to lose. He got the lead in the final round and I expected him to cruise to the title like he always does. However, he was wearing the worst shirt Tiger has ever worn and the golf gods spoke. Angel Cabrera should have thanked Nike’s goofy golf fashion department for that title. So if Ian wears reasonable clothes all week look out. I would not be surprised at all if he wins the U.S. Open or British either. Especially the British Open where the golf gods have a little more liberal wardrobe policy.

3) AK23 (Anthony Kim)- I have been a fan of AK since 2005 and I see no reason to change that stance now. AK has not had a great start to the year, but I think he has been getting ready for the breakout we expected. AK could be the guy to challenge Tiger for the next ten years. For that to happen, someone is going to have to be cocky and good. Hopefully this is the guy. It would be special to watch.

2) Tiger- In my book until Tiger wins more than 18 majors he will be considered the second best player of all time. I am sure for some he is already considered the best player and to some it will take more than that. Early in his career, one of the criticisms of Tiger when compared with Jack is his lack of seconds in majors since Jack had 19. It seems in recent years Tiger has set out to break even that record. I could talk all day about the man who will one day be considered the best this game has ever seen but if he gets off to a good start on Thursday the field is in serious trouble. If he lays back and tries to not to shoot himself out of it Thursday and then lurks up the leader board all weekend he can be beat.

1) Geoff Ogilvy- I have been a fan of Mr. Ogilvy since I watched him in the 2004 U.S. Open hitting pitch shots for hours at the range. I became an even bigger when he was involved in one of the more amusing U.S. Open finishes in 2006 even though he was just sitting calmly drinking a Fosters watching the Mickel-slam fall apart before our very eyes. Since then he had played solid. Then all of the sudden the calm Australian started winning this year and looks poised to take over as the world’s second best player. No Australian has ever won at Augusta but that has to end sometime and I see no reason why it wont be this year.

Final note to my hosts this weekend- When Geoff wins we will go to Outback eat bloomin’ onions, drink Fosters and eat Aussie chicken.


Matt said...

Standing ovation for that preview. Good stuff.

For the record, I took Stenson (40-1) and Poulter (80-1). I also couldn't resist throwing a few bucks on Boo (125-1)

If Poulter pulls it off, you can guarantee I'm getting a pair of these. Preferably the pink plaid ones.


Matt said...

Great preview. For all you Masters fans, "The Making of the Masters" is a pretty good read.

The Kim-McIlroy-Ishakawa pairing going off last today is interesting, I'd be interested in following that group.


Jimmy said...

Kenny - Larry Mize called. He wants you on the bag as a walking locker room material motivator. Stuff your 76+ in a sack.