This Masters has all the ingredients to be truly special. Fire up the DVR with drama, brilliance, emotion and memorability in mind.
The high expectations are built on the happy coincidence that many of the game’s top players enter the tournament in splendid form. “It’s been well documented … there are probably 10, 12, 15 guys who have a real shot at winning,” said 2013 champion Adam Scott.
The calendar is another accomplice here. The Masters has a history of producing classic tournaments in years that end in “6.”
The 1956 Masters saw Ken Venturi shoot a final-round 80 to fall a stroke shy of becoming the first amateur winner. Jack Nicklaus became the first champion to successfully defend in 1966, and we all know how memorable the Golden Bear made the 1986 edition. In 1976, Raymond Floyd was a wire-to-wire virtuoso who tied Nicklaus’ then-tournament record of 271. The stunning comeback of Nick Faldo to shock Greg Norman in 1996 still resonates for its sheer shock value. Phil Mickelson’s two-stroke victory in 2006 wasn’t exactly a barnburner, but it did give Lefty two majors in a row and put him on the verge of taking the No. 1 ranking from Tiger Woods when he was in his prime. And Lefty would have, but for that double bogey on the 72nd at the U.S. Open two months later at Winged Foot.
Then again, no sport is more predictably unpredictable than golf. “I don't think [form matters],” Zach Johnson said soberly on Monday. “It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, the American Team is playing really good going into the Ryder Cup.’ Doesn't matter. I wouldn’t read too much into it.”
Well, that’s a cold-shivered forearm to the chest, but of course, the 2007 Masters winner has a point. Numerological pattern or not, a multitude of scenarios—not all of them scintillating—could unfold after this morning’s ceremonial tee shots.
Jason Day (shown) is the bookmakers’ favorite, but the player ranked No. 1 in the world hasn’t won the Masters since Tiger Woods in 2005. But Day should win because he’s putting magnificently and hitting the highest long ball in the game. High trajectory is a powerful tool at Augusta.
No. 2 Jordan Spieth won’t win because the fraternity of Jack, Tiger and Nick Faldo as the only repeat Masters champions isn’t hosting a rush party for new members. Spieth is dangerous because all he has for memories here are second and first place.
Rory McIlroy, World No. 3, should win because this is his 28th major start as a professional, and a green jacket completes his career Grand Slam. Woods needed 15 pro starts to claim all four, Nicklaus 19 and Gary Player 29, so the Ulsterman’s timing is in the right range. But his chances diminish if the wind howls, as forecasted. Rory is more of a fair-weather fiend.
Bubba Watson at World No. 4 won’t win because only Arnold Palmer gets to win every two years repeatedly. He should win, though, because he’s golf’s most creative player.
World No. 5 Rickie Fowler can’t win because the ghost of Clifford Roberts is in no mood for the sartorial combination of orange and green. He could win because he has all the tools.
Henrik Stenson can’t win because he’s already locked into second place.
Scott won’t win because he peaked too soon, with victories at Honda and Doral. He could win because he has tamed the short putter and caddie Steve Williams is riding shotgun.
Three-time champion Mickelson, rejuvenated at 45 years old, has to win this year because winning at 46 is reserved solely for a certain six-time Masters champion.
CBS anchor Jim Nantz once said that, “Augusta has a way of dictating destiny.” Maybe. But when the actors step onto golf’s ultimate stage, they know neither their lines nor the plot—only that one man gets a curtain call.