With just days until the opening tee shots are struck for the 2014 Masters, the golf world is growing ever more excited for its own recognized official opening of spring. Whenever you hear that instantly recognizable piano theme and see Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer strike the ceremonial opening tee shots on Thursday morning, you know that the warm weather months and long daylight hours of summer cannot be far behind.
If the 2013-2014 PGA Tour schedule to this point is any indication, this year’s Masters will be a wide-open fight. Usually, by this point in the PGA Tour season, one or more of the top players in the world has rounded into form that would indicate he is a favorite. But Tiger Woods is a question mark due to a back injury, Phil Mickelson has not shown any good form to speak of, Adam Scott has taken a number of weeks off early in the season and Rory McIlroy…
…well, Rory is the closest of these players to major championship-winning form, but he took a significant step backward this past Sunday after building a two-shot lead through three rounds at the Honda Classic. After struggling but staying ahead of the pack through the first nine on Sunday, the Ulsterman developed a case of the lefts, missing a number of key shots that sent him five over par through 17 holes. Nevertheless, after a spectacular five wood at the last, he had a 12-footer for eagle to win, but had to settle for a birdie and, ultimately, a loss in the ensuing four-man playoff to Russell Henley. McIlroy’s playoff record: 0-4. Though the result was a lot better than last year’s where McIlroy played a horrible first nine holes on Thursday and then stormed off the course, citing a toothache, it has to be a big disappointment for him.
So who might we see near the top of the leaderboards down Magnolia lane come April? Here are a few names:
Jason Day: The 26-year old Aussie is now #4 in the Official World Golf Ranking, after vanquishing Victor Dubuisson—finally—in the World Golf Championships – Accenture Match Play Championship in February. He has a relatively short but effective track record in the major championships—six top-ten finishes in 13 starts—including two top-threes in the Masters. He stands as good a chance as any to claim the year’s first major and a career-bolstering victory on a course he clearly likes playing.
Victor Dubuisson: Speaking of the 23-ywar old Frenchman, he flashed some other-worldly short game skills at the Accenture Match Play, and he is also known as a long driver of the golf ball. Those are arguably the two most important skills for championship golf at Augusta National Golf Club. It will be his first Masters, but you never know…
Jimmy Walker: Walker is the top player on Tour in the 2013-14 season, with three victories in the first eight events of the year. He has a solid all-around game and his confidence is clearly high, but a major is a different animal. Still, he is a good candidate for a maiden major championship victory as well.
Rory McIlroy: Don’t mistake our disappointment with his lackluster Honda Classic finish with low chances of taking home his first Green Jacket in 2014. With two major championships already, he is clearly unafraid of winning on golf’s biggest stages. Plus, he would dearly love to erase the sting of his 2011 final-round collapse in the event.
No matter who takes down the first major of the year in 2014, it is bound to be a great show, as always.