Preview –The Masters Tournament– Augusta National Golf Club – Augusta, Georgia –
With the 80th Masters teeing off Thursday, the game’s best players assemble at Augusta National for the first major championship of the men’s season.
The event features the sport’s best prize – a Green Jacket and an historic place in golf immortality. The storylines are aplenty with Rory McIroy gunning for the Career Grand Slam, Jordan Spieth trying to defend his title and lefties – Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson – trying to continue their traditional run for the jacket at Augusta.
Let’s not forget about the Aussies.
Jason Day, No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, eyes his first Green Jacket. He won the last major – the PGA Championship – to finish off 2015’s season of dramatic major competitions. And, he is coming off back-to-back triumphs (winning at Bay Hill
and the WGC-Dell Match Play). And then there’s Adam Scott, a former Augusta champ. He is also peaking at the right time with two big victories this season on the PGA Tour including the Honda Classic and WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Traditionally, a right-to-left ball flight along with accurate approach shots are keys to winning at Augusta. High-ball hitters are also typically rewarded. But to tame the Alister Mackenzie/Bobby Jones design, players better have their putting sharp this week. Add in the prospects of rain conditions, a soft and long golf course could create some extra drama down the stretch Sunday.
Mickelson is trying to tie Woods and Arnold Palmer with four green jackets. He has amassed 11 Top 5s at Augusta tying him with Woods for second behind Jack Nicklaus’s 14 Top 5s.
ESPN has television coverage Thursday and Friday, while CBS Sports handles the weekend. “Live From” the Masters is featured all week on Golf Channel.
- Spieth (18-under) set a bevy of records in his run to the championship and Green Jacket including total number of birdies. He was the first wire-to-wire
champion in nearly 40 years and tied the lowest all-time score with Tiger’s 1997 tally. He was four clear of Mickelson and Justin Rose. McIlroy shot 66 in the final round to place fourth alone followed by Hideki Matsuyama at 11-under. Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan and Charley Hoffman logged Top 10s.
FANTASY: Mickelson is usually a lock at Augusta with double digit Top 10s at The Masters. He has yet to win this season, but has threatened a number of times. Lefties have won seven of the last 1o Masters, so take both Mickelson and Bubba Watson. Bubba is trending with a win at Riviera and a runner-up at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Florida. Consider veterans, who know the course like Zach Johnson and Poulter, who has six Top 25s in his last eight Masters. For other international gems, take Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen – both have been in great form lately.
BETTORS: At 5 ½-to-1 odds, Day is the betting favorite at Las Vegas’ Silverton Casino and why not coming off back-to-back wins. He also has near misses at Augusta and finished off last year with the PGA Championship. For better return and value, consider Scott (9-1) and Mickelson (15-1). For a past champ, take Zach at 30-1 odds and Schwartzel at 42-1. He battled Rory to the 18th hole in their WGC-Dell Match Play quarterfinals duel, so his form is good. Maybe-it’s-finally-his-time pick: Sergio Garcia at 50-1.
The last four of the five Masters champions have come from behind on Sunday to win. Experience plays an important key at Augusta.
Other Masters News:
- Big names missed this Masters include Woods, Fred Couples and Jim Furyk — all hampered by injury.
- The last player to win The Masters in his first appearance at Augusta was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. Jim Herman, last week’s winner at the Shell Houston Open, earned his bid to Augusta less than a week ago. He is among those trying to
match Zoeller’s feat.
- Late reports said Spieth cracked his driver Wednesday at Augusta. Things are getting more difficult for the “Rusty-One” who is trying to win back-to-back Masters titles something that has only been accomplished by Woods, Nicklaus and Nick Faldo.
- The headliner group Thursday might be McIlroy, former FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas and former World No. 1 and former U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer. The trio tee at 2:01 p.m. local time. Rory is looking to complete the career Grand Slam with a victory this week.
- With less than 90 players in the field, only the Top 50 players and ties will play the weekend at Augusta. Anyone inside 10 shots of the lead also makes the cut.
- The best group in the morning wave Thursday is probably at 9:37 a.m. local time featuring Oosthuizen, Jason Dufner and Patrick Reed.