The Masters is only a couple of days away, so that means it's time to sign up for the Pick-6 Majors Challenge (pick any six golfers, total their earnings, highest total wins $1K) and/or sign up for One and Done 2 (pick one golfer per week), which runs from Augusta to the Tour Championship. These are easy, fun, inexpensive games and you can win some big cash. We appreciate your support.
Well, it's finally upon us. The week we look forward to like none other. The signs that spring is officially here. The best players in the world descending upon a Georgia town to contend for one of the most sought-after prizes in sports.
This week these words apply to two events: the men's NCAA basketball championship, played in Atlanta, and, of course, The Masters in Augusta
, just a short drive up the road approaching the South Carolina border. To golfers, the meaning is very clear: Magnolia Lane, Amen Corner, green jackets and pimento cheese sandwiches. There is nothing else I could be referring to.
Unlike recent years, however, there is a clear favorite heading into the week -- or a true No. 1 seed, to continue the March Madness analogy. Tiger Woods is this year's Louisville Cardinals, with three wins in four stroke-play events in 2013, and six wins on Tour over the last 13 months. But even more important come tournament time on the court or on the links, he's got momentum. He's got confidence. He's got the skills. It's all coming together at the right time. The only unanswered question about Tiger is can he win a major when everyone expects him to? The answer 10 years ago was undoubtedly yes. But with his major health, personal and swing issues that have emerged since his last Masters win -- in 2005 -- it's certainly not like getting a 16-seed in the first round. We won't believe he can do it until he does it.
The course has once again received rave reviews from visiting pros, and having covered the event several times now, I can't remember another year when the members/ANGC team have openly spoke about how good of shape the course is in. Avoiding heavy rains -- there's a chance of storms throughout the week, but nothing too major -- the course should play how it's supposed to: firm and fast, with green speeds above 12 on the stimpmeter.
Sticking with the NCAA theme, here are this week's picks, and I'm using the format for our Masters Pick-6 Majors Challenge game -- only my top six picks. Let's get to it:
6. Angel Cabrera / Wichita State.
'The Duck' and Augusta National are a match made in heaven, but a win from Cabrera would be about as unexpected as The Shockers' run to the final four. The Argentinian can sling high draws around doglegs and hit short irons into most holes, and his putting always comes alive on the slick greens. Honestly, it doesn't matter how he's playing when he steps through the gates here; he always finds his form this week somehow. The 2009 champ has five other top-15 finishes at The Masters, and last missed the cut in 2005. He's also coming off a T16 in Houston two weeks ago, so his form is better than it usually is coming into this week.
5. Louis Oosthuizen / Michigan.
I really like Louis this week, and I'm including him on my team… but there are some issues, too. Until last year -- when he lost in a playoff to Bubba Watson -- he hadn't done anything at ANGC. In fact, his best round was a 74 between 2010 and 2011, two missed cuts. It's a lot like the Wolverines: a lot of tournament stink bombs thrown in with some exciting runs and glorious results. His silky smooth, bomber's game is tailor made for ANGC, and with a major under his belt, he can perform on the biggest stages. It's just going to be tough for him to rely on an albatross like 2012 -- he'll have to get his iron game straightened out (drop of 56 spots from 2012 to 2013) if he wants to contend this week. The T10 in Houston two weeks ago was a step in the right direction.
4. Keegan Bradley / Butler.
He hasn't finished outside of the top 10 on Tour since late February, so his game is sharp right now. He hits it long -- 10th in distance -- and birdies all the par fives (ranked 4th on Tour) and 18% of the par fours (40th), so he will have plenty of scoring opportunities at ANGC Like Butler's run to the finals in consecutive years, Keegs came out of nowhere to win the PGA Championship in 2011 and has backed it up with great play since. Another major will come his way soon, and it could very well be The Masters. Finished T27 last year in his maiden visit here, with a second-round 77 dooming him.
3. Charl Schwartzel / Duke.
The 2011 champ has the kind of swing pros drool over -- technically sound, rhythmical, and plenty of firepower -- much like we know the Blue Devils are well-coached and loaded with McDonald's All-Americans. We just figure they'll make a run with all they have going for them. Charl was the first player to win The Masters by birdieing the final four holes, so we know he has the guts to snatch a victory when it's within his grasp. He's also off to a great start in 2013: his worst stroke-play finish was a T22 at the Valero last week.
2. Adam Scott / Arizona.
His last three finishes here: T8, T2 (was unfortunate not to win), T18; for the Wildcats, they always seem to have the game to go all the way but more often than not they have tough breaks or can't get the job done. The Aussie has modeled his swing after Tiger's circa 2000, so it's no surprise he plays the course so well. But he's had great results in his last six majors, with all top-25 finishes, including that memorable loss to Ernie Els
on the 72nd hole at the Open Championship last July. He's also dramatically improved his putting stats thus far in 2013 -- moving up 70 spots in the rankings to become an average putter. He's sixth in driving distance, too, which is like having great guard play in the tourney -- a must at ANGC.
1. Tiger Woods / Louisville.
He's won The Masters four times, but only once in the last decade (2005). He's getting back on his trend of winning on courses where he's done a lot of damage over the years, however: Torrey Pines, Bay Hill and Doral. He's leading the Tour in putting, is fifth in the All-Around category, and has six eagles in four stroke-play events. The only troubling stat I see is final-round scoring average, where he ranks 118th. Of course, he's in the top three in scoring in each of the first three rounds, so he hasn't had to be spectacular on Sundays -- yet. Much like Louisville was all tournament, they were blowing people out until the final four, and when the pressure and competition got ratcheted up, they still had enough to pull through. Even though he's never gone very low on Day One of The Masters, I think Tiger has the potential to blow the field out by Saturday; I would not be surprised if he has a four or five shot lead heading into the final 18 holes. He might need it.
So that's my team for our Masters Pick-6 Majors Challenge. You can compete against me by registering yourself, and we'll be happy to pay out if you finish in the top 10. First play wins a cool grand - yep, $1,000. And it's only $19.99 to play -- enter here!
Others I like: Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Matt Kuchar, Peter Hanson, Richard Sterne, and Henrik Stenson. Phil Mickelson is never a bad pick here, either... and his window might be inching closed. I also think rookie Russ Henley -- who played AGNC every year while at the University of Georgia and grew up down the road in Macon, Ga. -- could perform well.
Player to avoid: Bubba Watson.
Do I expect Bubba to miss the cut? No. But I don't think he'll contend because he just doesn't quite seem like he has his game together yet. His results have been OK -- five top-20's so far in 2013 -- but he hasn't threatened to win. Bubba can turn it on at any given time, but I don't get a great vibe from him this week.
Additionally, I polled my Twitter followers
to see who they thought would win, a 'sleeper,' and if they thought Rory would make the cut. This was done before the Valero Texas Open, and yet every person who response believed Rory would make the cut, and I can't imagine his T2 at San Antonio did anything to change those thoughts.
Photo: USA Today Sports Images