Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
It would be fair to say that the return of Tiger Woods and Tiger’s chances at Augusta are getting the most attention at this year’s Masters. What non-Tiger storyline are you most excited about?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Probably the likelihood that Ian Poulter will shoot 81-82 on Thursday and Friday, thereby finally putting to rest the debate that’s been haunting the golf world for over a decade: that is, who IS better…? Tiger or, as Poulter claimed years ago, Poulter? The other non-Tiger storyline I’ll be following intensely: with the recent spike in pimento cheese commodity pricing, what is the possibility that Augusta will hike their world famous sandwich price, by as much as a nickel? And what effect would that have on ticket sales? And finally, now that Trevor Immelman’s back in town, why aren’t people talking about HIS chances for another green jacket on Sunday?!
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Non-Tiger story would have to be all the players peaking right now: Phil, Bubba, Rose and Rory. And honourable mention: Spieth, DJ and maybe even Fowler. But, out of all these players though, Phil intrigues me the most.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: As always the answer to this question would take several books. I don’t think I’ve seen a more ‘open’ contest. There are more than a dozen players who could win and that might be the biggest story-line. I am growing tired of the Masters always featuring a Tiger comeback of some kind! What I am most excited about at this Masters is the weather. We’ve had a reasonably gentle winter but not like we had about 15 years ago when we played year round. We haven’t had snow for weeks but the temperatures are still cold enough to prevent playing golf. Let’s have a great tournament and then see some warm temperatures.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I want to know what Spanish-style food Sergio Garcia will be serving up for dinner. He hinted that the menu would be Spanish-themed last year after winning his first green jacket and I want to know exactly what he was referring to. Will there be croquettes, paella, pulpo a la gallega, or even some pisto? If so, it might just be the best champions dinner the players have seen in years.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’m generally excited about all of the top names that are in form this week, making it the most anticipated Masters in recent memory. Let’s hope it lives up to the hype, with two or three top names battling it out on the back nine on Sunday. A Tiger/Phil final group would make for the most watched golf event in history no doubt. One can dream!
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It’s sad to say. I have been vitally and sometimes tangentially, yet intrinsically part of the ‘media’ for decades. Over those years, the herd has run over me many times. Again this time I am not wasting innocent pixels on Eldrick hype. What is exciting is a possible geriatric statement by Poulter or Phil or Stenson. That’s exciting. This could be the year — based on 3 of the last 4 events — that maturity rules, at least on the course if not the press box.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I’ll be closely following two non-Tiger storylines: which of the world’s best players is going to crash and burn on Turn 5 and who’s going to write this year’s Cinderella story. With all of the world’s highest ranked players in top form for the Masters, it’s likely many of them will be crowded on the leaderboard come Sunday but inconceivable that they all get there. Every year one of them writes himself off as a big disappointment. (Stay off the stairs DJ!) The Cinderella story is equally intriguing. Last year Sergio penned the script with his unexpected first major victory and you can go back through the years and pick many more – Nicklaus in 86, Crenshaw in 95, Weir in 03, as a few examples. This year, Phil Mickelson vying to become the oldest Masters winner and McIlroy seeking the final leg to his personal Grand Slam are the early nominees to produce a tear jerker ending.
Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley has just called and asked you to re-design one hole at Augusta that you think needs a change. Which hole is it and what would you do?
Deeks: To be honest, and to risk personal hate mail, I’d re-do the 9th green. It seems very unfair to me that a well-executed wedge shot can land on the green, then roll back down the hill about 90 yards… and sidehill putts with a 90-degree break can do the same. I know, I know, survival of the fittest and all that, but I think that green needs clown faces and windmills in its current form. (By the way, if Fred Ridley calls when the Masters broadcast is on, I will not take the call.)
Loughry: My response: what’s wrong with you Fred? But if anyone mentions any hole on the back nine, we need to talk. Although 17 might make this list, especially with the loss of the Eisenhower tree. But I wouldn’t touch the back nine; it always provides an amazing finish. I’d modify the 4th hole, that monster par 3 that just doesn’t seem to fit. It’s definitely the worst par 3 on the course, no character at all. I’d shorten up the hole (I know, crazy eh?) and make the green smaller. But I think they leave it as is because it helps protect the scores from being too low.
Schurman: I hope the Golf Gods aren’t reading this because the very thought of someone like me attempting to re-design Augusta is nothing short of sacrilege. However, the one hole that makes me wonder is #5. It seems the bunkers on the left are a bit out of character. For some reason, the entire hole feels like it’s on a different property. What I would do is accept a contract to fix it free of charge. All I’d want is full membership for life, which would give me enough time to come-up with something.
Kaplan: I wouldn’t change a single thing about the golf course. Augusta National is perfect the way it is right now. However, if you put a gun to my head and forced me to change one thing, I’d put a few extra bunkers around the 5th green to add some more challenge to the approach shot.
Rule: This is a tough one because there aren’t many weak holes at ANGC. Some have criticized Fazio’s changes over the years, and rightly so, as it has taken away a bit from the original MacKenzie/Jones design, but something had to be done given how far the pros are hitting the ball. The one change I’d like to see is rolling the ball back so the top guys are hitting it 280 yards and then put the course back to the way it was in the early years, as much as possible. If I was asked to change one hole, it may be 17, by eliminating the front bunker, taking it back to the way it was, when players could run the ball onto the green, so it they’re off line on their tee shot, they can still hit a great recovery shot onto the putting surface.
Quinn: It’s about time the call finally came through. The old saying was the Masters begins on the back 9 Sunday. It usually does get exciting with the building crescendo of those fabulously exciting holes — 11, 12, 13, 15, 16 — but too often comes crashing to a halt on Nandina — the round and excitement destroying par 4 17th. The green is too unforgiving for a 440-yd uphill hole. But, it was originally designed without that massive bunker in front. I get rid of that bunker that requires a high soft shot into an unreceptive and unnecessarily undulating surface and restore the option of a run up shot. Simple. Let the excitement keep building. You’re welcome Freddy.
Mumford: Generally speaking I’ve liked the changes made to Augusta over the years but what they did to No. 7 is a travesty. Today it plays as a mid length par 4 through a chute of trees to an elevated putting surface surrounded by bunkers. It’s a tough drive so many players use less than driver off the tee, leaving them a short iron to the heavily contoured green. BORING! The hole was much more exciting in its old form. It was much shorter and the landing area was wide open. Players could drive left or right to set up the best angle to attack the pin and were left with short wedge shots; some pin positions offered a real chance at eagle. But misjudge the spin or the landing area and three putts were in the equation. One year I sat behind the seventh green for hours and watched players work the intricate green. These days they usually play it pretty safe when they reach No. 7 and that’s a shame.
Weather permitting, someone will be getting a new green jacket on Sunday night. Who is your pick to win the Masters; who’s your sleeper pick and how do you see the tournament unfolding?
Deeks: I picked Henrik Stenson as my what-the-hell choice last week, and I’ll stick by that. Of course, that bet is null-and-void if Henrik happens to crack a smile at any time on the weekend, thereby indicating he’s enjoying himself, which would be the kiss of death for his chances. As my sleeper pick, I’ve gotta go with Fred Couples. Wait… is Doug Ford playing? Not the ’57 champ… I mean the Ontario PC leader… if so, I see him blowing a 10% lead and Kathleen Wynne quietly making pars up the middle and slipping on the green jacket on Sunday at 7:00. I do NOT see Tiger winning. And, call me crazy, but I don’t see Danny Willett either. Anywhere.
Loughry: Justin Rose is my pick. He’s playing well and plays Augusta National well. Tiger is my close 2nd pick. If he can just hit the damn driver half decent or avoid hitting it altogether, he’ll be right there come Sunday. Imagine a back nine charge with roaring crowds and Tiger roaring – seriously who doesn’t want that? PS – I also hope there is an odd number who make the cut so I can see how Jeff Knox does. Do yourself a favour if you have no idea who he is and Google him and his previous Masters outings.
Schurman: My pick is Justin Rose. His record is good there and last year he stood by watching Sergio win, which I think he wanted to see as much he wanted it for himself. My long shot is Thomas Pieters. He has played well at the Masters, has excellent length, hits solid irons and putts OK. On the sentimental side, I have two; I’d love to see Rory wear the jacket but I’m afraid the more success he has the sooner he will disappear and I’m a big Ian Poulter fan. Wouldn’t we all enjoy a 12 way tie with a shootout on #12 tee?
Kaplan: A few weeks ago, I was on the Justin Rose train. But with Bubba Watson playing his best golf in years right now and the natural advantage that Augusta National offers to lefties, I’d have to be foolish not to pick the booming southpaw. My dark horse picks are Brian Harman and Patrick Cantlay. Cantlay hasn’t missed a cut all year and seems like he has both the game and the grit to succeed at Augusta National. Harman, too, has been hot all season with seven Top 10 finishes already. Plus, he’s a small lefty, like myself. How can I not pull for him?
Rule: I’ve been saying that Dustin Johnson is my favourite to win the green jacket this year, and I’ll stick with that pick, I think he can overpower the course and is due. As for a long shot, I like Ryan Moore. He had his first ever top 10 at Augusta last year, and has had a couple of solid finishes in 2018, so why not!
Quinn: As mentioned at the last sitting round the Table, Rory wearing the green would be skookum (West Coast for just about as good as it gets). If it has to come down to it (Jaysus, he can’t hit a cabin and miss the cut!) a duel in the glomming with DJ, the other best driver of the ball, would make for a Sunday to savour. No more Larry Mize Masters, this one has the best top 20 in memory, so please, in the spirit of Hootie (Johnson not the Blowfish), no weird accidental tourist winner this year. But don’t be surprised if Alex Norén plays the role of the dark horse. He’s long, a great ball striker in the Swedish tradition, and a fine putter who’s been playing really well.
Mumford: With all the big names in top form, I don’t see a longshot taking home the green jacket. Sorry, no Danny Willetts this week. I think it comes down to a battle between McIlroy and Justin Thomas with the Northern Irishman getting the Butler Cabin treatment on Sunday night. If there’s a sleeper pick out there, it just might be Hideki Matsuyama.