U.S. Open

Pinehurst Resort & Country Club (Course No. 2)



Picks sure to go wrong

Masters 2023: Can our astonishingly wrong major picker get it right for a third straight major? Here’s his Augusta pick

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Ben Walton

April 05, 2023

If I may, a moment before we go down this road to perdition, which of course is what my forays into major championship prognostication usually are. Just reading them—let alone writing them—almost necessarily leads to a state of damnation, spiritual ruin and complete and irreparable loss. Which is convenient since complete and irreparable loss is where golf now finds itself. Perched on the precipice of an eye-plucking Greek tragedy of its own making, golf is at once as intriguing and exciting as it’s been in a generation, yet its leaders stand seemingly intent on pointless self-immolation. Like some kind of ouroboros, golf is on the verge of taking this supreme, celebratory moment and literally consuming itself. The game, friends, is at a crossroads, where every left is off a cliff, every right is straight into an unquenchable fire and straight ahead is an unyielding granite wall.

Deep breath.

Like many, I have no solutions at present for the calamitous, bifurcating logic of the proposed ball rollback. Nor do I claim to know of a middle ground that might bring intellectual, moral and fiscal peace between a golf league funded by journalist murderers and another whose future seems to be eagerly embracing a new world order intent on tossing out its foundation of meritocracy in favor of something like Dancing with the Stars. I haven’t a clue as to where the game goes forward from here.

Fortunately, it is Masters week, and like that bar where everybody knows your name, all is right here no matter how wrong everything else might seem to be. The Masters is both a starting forward and a going back. It is the wisdom of our later years as much as it is the great expectations of our youth. It is the friend we’ve always known and the one we’ve only just met. It is all kinds of slow and the right kind of fast. It is as loud as fireworks and as quiet as a rocking chair. It is never anything less than all that we would ever need. And we, golf’s royal we, need it desperately now.

Given that, the pick for the winner of the Masters this year must be a majestically commonplace hero, a perplexingly endearing mix of George Clooney cool and Ted Lasso bonhomie, sweet as a Georgia Peach ice cream sandwich, eclectically as old-school as pimento cheese, a champion we never would have realistically considered and now that it’s been presented to us, can never imagine it being anyone else.

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JD CUBAN

And that’s where I come in … and screw it up with some sort of idiotic analytics that are as much rooted in statistical validity as Pascal’s Wager. (Note: Pascal’s Wager is not, though it could be, how I decided to order the Bento Ramadan 2 at HokBen in Jakarta late one February in 1996. Turns out the chicken curry yaki tastes precisely as it sounds. But I digress.)

Those of you still following along might rightly interject at this point that I indeed actually have been quite successful in overcoming my stupidity to correctly predict the winners of the last two majors, despite failing miserably dozens of times consecutively since the early Boo Weekley years. As it turns out, I am in the midst of my own kind of Grand Slam, having correctly predicted that Matt Fitzpatrick would win the U.S. Open (I based my choice on his obvious similarity to Julius Boros) and that Cam Smith would claim the claret jug (his logos lined up perfectly with those of past Open Champion Zach Johnson).

Now comes the third corner of my personal and massively illogical impregnable quadrilateral. The Augusta Masters, where the field is limited and the course is the same, except when it isn’t, like this year when the 13th hole’s natural beauty has been, er, enhanced in a way that perhaps brings to mind either Holly Sonders or the Primanti Sandwich in either the least or most appetizing of ways.

What I have hit upon in these last two successful guesses is a methodology that I will call eliminatory reductivism, two words that I recently was surprised to learn actually mean something even though I intended them not to. Sort of like milbenkäse imbroglio, which is what you find yourself in as you rush to the pay toilet in Dusseldorf after having consumed cheese made from mite excrement.

Basically, my methodology works like this: Through a series of statistical benchmarks or hypotheses, I gradually trim the field from its Gordita-like starting size to the eventual winner. It’s like a staggered series of cuts, or one of the many failed formats LIV considered along with floating mulligans, $10,000-a-foot pieces of string and the Arizona Shuffle. Again, sounds stupid but it’s worked the last two times so I’m sticking with it, like say sticking with the mock turtle neck, just because, well, you know, the GOAT.

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JD CUBAN

For the Masters this year, because I demand a certain kind of greatness, the initial dividing line was at least one top-15 finish in the previous five Masters. Our champion savior must show that he is familiar with a certain kind of Masters mastery. This cuts the field by more than half. Next, because I want a sort of consistent greatness, that Masters scoring average needs to be under par. Boom, field now down to 19.

Next, the Masters is always about the greens. I can’t have my champion three-putting. So only those with an average number of three putts per round less than the tour average, which is precisely one three-putt every two rounds. (For LIV-only players, I just took their word for it. They didn’t much care. They’ve already been paid.)

Now, we were down to just 12 and to go lower I got to thinking that how the Masters is about guts and precision. And what’s more gutsy and precise than the par 3s on the back nine? They are named Golden Bell and Redbud but might as well be known as Scylla and Charybdis. Give me a back-nine par-3 scoring average of par or better at your last Masters, and you shall pass. Fail, and well, it’s the leftover milbenkäse for you.

Just five remain and one final hurdle. Nothing echoes like a Masters roar and nothing roars at the Masters like an eagle. Only one of the men left standing managed an eagle in his last Masters, and this I shall take as my champion now and forever. His recent record boasts three top-15s at the Masters since 2018 when he defied medical science to hold the early lead despite an ankle swollen to the size of a basketball. His ANGC scoring average is nearly a stroke under par, he three-putts less than most, and like his stare down of defeat and victory, he’s played the back-nine one-shotters in even par.

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Ben Walton

But beyond the numbers, he is the man we all hope we might be, fragile and friendly, humble and yet mighty, flawed and yet perfect in all the ways we would wish for our own son or for the man our daughter might marry. His beginnings are as ordinary or extraordinary as any superhero origin story, he is at once diverse and yet true to golf’s most basic nature. By all acclaim and published authority, he is the nicest man in golf, a word that would be grotesquely inadequate if it weren’t patently true.

And golf so needs a hero all can cheer, a good and righteous champion who inspires a whole new direction while reminding us of the hope and trust that the Masters comfortably, confidently restores in our troubled souls each spring. So please save us from our chaos, Tony Finau.

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Christian Petersen

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