The Masters is the world’s favorite professional golf tournament, conducted annually the second week of April over one of God’s most magnificent pieces of art. When the azaleas and dogwoods are in full bloom; when the wind is swirling through the majestic pines, switching directions with every toss of grass; when the world’s best golfers struggle to catch a breath while playing Amen Corner – it’s time to push winter to the back of the closet.
The overriding story of this year’s Masters has been the man who is missing. Perennial favorite Tiger Woods underwent back surgery three weeks ago and will probably miss most of the spring and summer.
So what does his absence do to the list of favorites? Here are my five picks in the 2014 Masters.
Jason Day – I think this TaylorMade-toting Aussie would be a betting favorite this week if it weren’t for an injured left thumb that has sidelined him since his Match Play championship in the desert in late February. But he says it’s fine. And if that is the case, look for him to be right there on Sunday afternoon. He has a second and third in the Masters the past three years, and has made a habit of contending in the majors.
Matt Kucher – Sure, he coughed up a four-shot lead in the final round of the Houston Open last week, losing in a playoff to Matt Jones. But the point is, the Georgia Tech grad was right there, and that has been the case much of the season, with six top-10 finishes in nine starts. His even-keel temperament plays well over the rolling fairways and slick greens at Augusta.
Patrick Reed – They say Masters rookies have no prayer of winning this title. There are just too many subtle nuances on many of the holes, angles and bounces that are learned only through years of failure. However, Patrick Reed isn’t your typical rookie. For one, he has already won three times in his brief career, including twice in 11 starts this season. More importantly, while competing on the golf team at nearby Augusta State University he played Augusta National many times, giving him a leg up on the other younger guys seeing it for the first time.
Adam Scott – Why not? The defending champion is probably the best player in the world right now, and has three-straight top 10 finishes at Augusta, including last year’s thrilling sudden-death victory over Angel Cabrera. The only hang-up could be his putter, which has a tendency to go frigid from time to time, as it did in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational three weeks ago.
Lee Westwood – Don’t ask why. He has shown no reason for giddiness this PGA Tour season, ranking 112th in the FedEx Cup standings with only two top-25 finishes in nine starts. This is just a hunch. He plays well at Augusta, having wracked up four top 11 finishes the past four years. And this Englishman is due to win a major. Is this his week?