74th Masters Tournament Preview

April 7, 2010

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The 74th Masters that tees off on Thursday will, in all likelihood, be the biggest major championship in history.

Tiger Woods, perhaps the greatest player of all time, will make his long- awaited return to the PGA Tour on Thursday. Ratings for ESPN’s Thursday broadcast will rival Luke and Laura’s wedding just because we want to see if the machine that is Tiger can block all of this out.

It was the day after Thanksgiving when the world of professional golf changed. All we knew was Woods was in serious condition after an early-morning car accident. Once we knew he was fine, speculation began. We were right on most everything.

Woods took time off to repair not only his family, but his now punchline- worthy reputation. He’s back at Augusta, a place he’s donned the green jacket four times.

It’s a controlled environment, both with regard to the galleries and the media. Our Founding Fathers would be so proud.

But, it’s really the golf we’re concerned about.

Woods is a killer on the course. He makes every putt he needs to and is the greatest closer in the history of the sport. Few smiles are seen from Woods, unless of course he does something that even amazes himself.

He’s a machine, a golfing, winning killer robot. But on Thursday, we will see if that major championship cyborg can do the unthinkable. That would be win the Masters after such a long absence.

Woods won’t hear it from these galleries. The Augusta crowd is a respectable one. After no competitive golf in almost five months, can Woods come out of hibernation and win his fifth Masters?

Some, including the odds-makers in Vegas, believe he can. Woods has four green jackets and is perfectly set up to win the Masters every time out. If you believe he can put everything in his life to the side, then you believe he will be the one smiling in Butler Cabin Sunday evening.

If you don’t think he can block it all out, then you think he’ll contend, but definitely not win. There is this, of course: After leg surgery in 2008 that cost him half a season, Woods came back and won numerous events and it only took him two months.

With fans and detractors on hand, Woods is the show. Finally, the tour faithful won’t have to answer Tiger questions. He can avoid them all on his own now.

It’s a shame for someone like Ernie Els. The Big Easy is the only player with two wins thus far in 2009, yet all the focus is on Tiger. Ernie never won the Masters. His closest brush with the green jacket was in 2004 and Phil Mickelson took the jacket on the last hole.

Els is on form in a big way. His putting has been expert in 2010. Problem is, Ernie hasn’t made the weekend at Augusta since 2006. Els should be the favorite right now, with a few lagging just behind.

One of those players is Tiger. It’s Augusta National and Woods should be on a short list of contenders until his physical skills abandon him.

Another on that list is Mickelson. He’s finished inside the top 15 every year except two since 1995. That’s a staggering record and despite a poor 2010 so far, Mickelson can be counted on to have a good Masters.

Two others guys who have great Masters records would make for interesting stories had it not been Tiger’s return. Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer are past champions. While that’s not newsworthy, the fact they are the two best Champions Tour players is.

Couples has won three in a row on the over-50 circuit and Langer is the two- time defending Player of the Year. Success breeds confidence and no one could be more confident than Couples. He’s won three times on the Champions Tour and finished as runner-up the one time he didn’t win.

Yes, Couples and Langer are successful on the elder circuit, but does that equal victory on the PGA Tour, let alone the Masters? Hard to say, but both believe they can contend, so it’s fair to think they could contend.

Anyone can contend. The Masters has become that. Mike Weir, Trevor Immelman, Zach Johnson and Angel Cabrera have all won and it’s doubtful those names were in the office pool.

This year’s Masters is unpredictable. Can Tiger do it? What will happen? Who knows, but everyone will be watching. That is the only predictable thing about this year’s Masters.


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