“Swing Thoughts” is a column that features my disparate thoughts on what is going on in the golfing world.
This year’s Masters tournament marks the 25th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus’ historic performance in his final Major triumph. Coming into the ’86 Masters the Golden Bear had not won a Major since the 1980 PGA Championship. By the second nine on Sunday, Nicklaus was 4 back, and given little chance of catching the game’s new star, Seve Ballesteros. Proving that the tournament doesn’t really begin until the back nine on Sunday, Jack fired a closing nine of 30 to win his 18th and final Major championship.
The importance of Phil Mickelson’s win in Houston cannot be over stated. Phil had not won in his 40s, had played poorly most of this season, and had not won a tournament since last year’s Masters. If not for Tiger’s drought, Phil’s poor play would have been the biggest story of the year. However, all that is history now. After admitting that he wasn’t focused on Houston, but was using it to tune up for the Masters, Mickelson put together an incredible weekend of 63-65 to secure his 39th career victory. Win number 39 ties Mickelson with Tom Watson and Gene Sarazen for tenth all-time. Phil’s distance off the tee was fantastic, he seemed to hit every green in regulation, and his putting was as good as it has ever been. While Scott Verplank put up a good challenge, Phil was too much to handle.
After his commanding performance in Houston, Phil Mickelson has to be the clear favorite to put on the green jacket at the end of the week. One of only four players to have won the Masters after winning the week before the tournament, Phil has proven that he can carry a hot hand into the Masters.
Odds makers put Tiger Woods at 8-1 to win the Masters. Only Phil Mickelson is more highly favored. No one really knows what to expect out of Tiger this week. Last year the Masters was Woods’ first tournament back and he finished in fourth placce. However, at that time he was still working with swing coach Hank Haney. Since leaving Haney, Woods has been working on his new swing with instructor Sean Foley. Results have been mixed, with flashes of brilliance, but no wins and a lack of consistency. Tiger says he has been gearing up for the Masters all year. This week should answer a lot of questions about Woods’ comeback.
Some players to keep an eye on this week could be: Bubba Watson and Anthony Kim.
With the Augusta National lengthened, it favors big hitters. However, the course still demands creativity and shot shaping. Bubba fits the bill on all counts. He is the longest hitter on the Tour, and the most imaginative with his shots. His 300+ yard “dink cut”is a perfect tee shot on many holes that demand a right-to-left ball flight.
Last year Anthony Kim finished in third place at the Masters, fueled by a seven under 65 on Sunday. Defending his title in Houston last week, Kim fired a round of eight under par to carry him into a tie for 13th place. He has rededicated himself to the game, and has shown the potential to go very low.
With all the talk of European dominance going into this season, Europe’s stars have not looked particularly impressive as of late. One European player who may be flying under the radar this week is number 4 ranked Luke Donald. Donald played brilliantly earlier this year in the match play championship, and has had a fantastic week of practice at his home course.
As Jim Nantz puts it, the Masters is a “tradition unlike any other.” The aura of the Augusta National Golf Club is unique in sports. From the club’s founders, Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, to the tournament’s great champions, who can still play in the event, there is nothing in sports like the Masters. Professional golfers play courses in pristine condition every week, but there is no comparison to the way Augusta National is manicured. The drastic elevation changes, the swirling winds, the storied holes and the immaculate greens all add up to the the most exciting week in golf. Enjoy.