As is customary in these parts, when the Masters is just a few days away, we focus on the Masters. With that, I'll say, nice win Martin Laird, I'm glad you decided to join us this year. Now, onto Augusta. Nearly all the talk this week will revolve around Tiger and his resurgence, and while I plan to talk about Tiger, I'm going to look at Tiger's presence vs. his play. His presence intrigues me this week for many reasons, but none more than the effect it will have on Rory McIlroy. Remember him? He's the guy who at the end of last season was the unquestioned best player on the planet. Six months later, that honor is again bestowed upon Tiger Woods, and McIlroy is once again the hunter. It's a role that he hasn't played for a couple years now, and I wonder how he'll respond. To be honest, I wonder how the rest of the field will respond as well. It's been quite a while since Tiger entered a major as the obvious pick to win. Many of the players who have feasted while Tiger has struggled have not faced the aura that surrounds Tiger when he's on top of the world. Rory McIlroy has shown the ability to decimate his peers when he's on his game, but can he take down the legend? The one who has no peer when he's on top of his game? It Masters week, and I can't wait to find out.
This week: The Masters
Last Year: Bubba Watson shot a final-round 68 on his way to a playoff victory over Louis Oosthuizen.
Players to Consider:
1. Tiger Woods
It's been a few years since Tiger traveled to Augusta on top of his game. Everything is aligned this week for another major victory, and the only thing that gives me pause is just that, it looks too easy. With Tiger, though, that usually means a victory.
2. Jason Day
Day finished runner-up in his first start at Augusta in 2011, but followed that with a WD last year. That WD came during a tough stretch last season that lasted the entire season. Now that he appears to have his game back, Day should once again find success here.
3. Lee Westwood
I really doubt he's going to win this week, but his record here the last three years is quite impressive. For some reason, it seems like Westwood crumbles under the spotlight, but that doesn't mean he can't pull out another top-3, like he has in two of the last three years here.
4. Phil Mickelson
There are many other names garnering a lot of attention this week, but there's only one player in the field with a better track record here than Mickelson. Mickelson has finished in the top-5 in four of his last five starts at Augusta, including a win in 2010. Phil is also one of the few players in the field who has beaten Tiger at his best here.
5. K.J. Choi
Choi's ball-striking looks sharp entering this week, and if his putter comes around at all, he should be in the mix Sunday. Choi has fared pretty well here as well. He missed the cut here last year, but carded consecutive top-10s in 2010-2011.
Players to Avoid:
1. Rory McIlroy
Quite a risk putting McIlroy here, especially after a runner-up showing in Texas, but I'm still not convinced his game is ready for Augusta. There seems to be this impression that McIlroy has a solid track record at Augusta, perhaps because he held the lead late during the 2011 Masters, but he really hasn't played that well at here outside that one performance.
2. Ernie Els
There was a time when Els was money at Augusta, but those days appear long gone. Els has missed the cut here in three of his last five appearances and has only one top-20. The bottom line is there is too much talent here this week for Els to contend.
3. Dustin Johnson
D.J.'s game appears to be in pretty good shape entering this week, but if history is any indicator, then he'll not be a factor this week. His track record here is respectable, but he's never cracked the top-25.
4. Zach Johnson
Johnson is, of course, a former Masters champ, but he does not have a consistent track record at Augusta. Including his win, Johnson has only two top-20s in eight tries here. His game also appears to be in rough shape entering this week, which rarely works out at Augusta.
5. Martin Kaymer
Some golfers just never get comfortable on this course, and Kaymer appears to be one of them. In fact, Kaymer finally made the cut here for the first time last year. It was his fifth start at the Masters, and it ended in a T44.
YAHOO! FANTASY GOLF
1. Tiger Woods
2. Phil Mickelson
It's not exactly the most unique pairing you'll see this week, but I don't care. This is a must-have duo, which doesn't happen all that often during the season. Woods and Mickelson likely will both find the top 10 this week, if not the top 5.
1. Hunter Mahan
2. Justin Rose
3. K.J. Choi
4. Bo Van Pelt
A lot of big names in Group B this week, but not a lot of great options. Good options sure, but none that I would classify as musts. Choi, Mahan and Rose all have solid track records here, but nothing spectacular, such as a top-3. Van Pelt also fits the mold as he's played well here the last couple years, but again, nothing spectacular. It seems as though many players from Group B fall into the same group (good not great); it's just a matter of picking the right ones this week.
1. Lee Westwood
2. Jason Day
A bunch of former champs in Group C this week, and I've chosen two golfers who have never won here. To their credit, though, each has come close. Another factor is recent play, and both Westwood and Day have played some good golf recently.
Starters Round One
1. Tiger Woods
2. Justin Rose
3. K.J. Choi
4. Lee Westwood
There's no question who's starting round one in Group A this week. There's no foreseeable scenario in which Tiger wouldn't get a start at some point this week, so you might as well start him right away. Choi gets the first spot in Group B off his solid final-round performance in Texas. If he putts well Sunday, he has a chance to win. Hopefully that ball-striking carries over to the first round this week. Rose gets the other start in Group B, he's my hunch player this week, completely under the radar. Tough call in Group C this week, but Westwood comes in with some momentum and has been in a pretty good groove at Augusta lately.
Round Two and Going Forward:
Strange feeling in Group A this week. Under normal circumstances, Tiger would be penciled in for all four rounds, but considering Phil's prowess here, I can't simply ignore him this week and follow only Tiger. This is Augusta, though, and Tiger reigns supreme here; you see the quandary. I expect Choi to play well all week, and if he starts fast, I'll certainly keep him in the line-up Friday. The other spot will be up for grabs Friday. I failed to mention earlier that windy/dry conditions can wreak havoc on the score card, so it is imperative to keep an eye on the weather. I mention that now because if you run into a spot where it was a coin toss, you could use the better tee time, which is often in the morning. Group C is up in the air Friday, as well. Westwood and Day have each shown the ability to get around this course, and I'll likely go with the hot hand in rounds two through four.