The great news for golf fans is a new season is underway.
While the “official” 2016 PGA season began last fall, (Is the PGA looking at the same calendar as the rest of us?) our favorite touring pros are teeing it up in California and Arizona before kicking-off the “Florida swing” the last week in February at the Honda Classic.
For many golf fans, and the world’s best players, the real season begins in early April in Augusta, Georgia. The Masters is unique in that it always hosts the year’s first major championship. While the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship rotate between venues, the year’s first major is always held at Augusta National Golf Club. After years of watching it on television, many of us know the course hole by hole.
The Masters loves its traditions and peculiarities. Instead of rough off the fairway, Augusta has a “second cut.” Instead of fans, Augusta has “patrons.” From the pimento cheese sandwiches wrapped in green paper to the stately, ancient Augusta pines and azaleas that line Amen Corner, the Masters lives up to its brand – a tradition unlike any other.
As we prepare for the 80th Championship, let’s handicap the field and analyze which players have the best chance of slipping into a Green Jacket the secondSunday in April.
If you look back at the last six tournaments (2010-2015), you will see a list of common names who find their way to the top of the leaderboard – some are familiar, others will surprise you.
Two-time champion Phil Mickelson has three top 10’s in the past six years. Four-Time Champion Tiger Woods also has three top 10’s during this stretch. 2013 winner Adam Scott has three top 10’s and so does American Matt Kuchar.
Other names are a bit more surprising. Ian Poulter has three top 10’s. Poulter has been a huge star on multiple victorious Europe’s Ryder Cup teams, but hasn’t done much in the majors during his career.
Leading the pack, with four top 10 finishes in the past six years is Englishman Lee Westwood. For years, Westwood has been one of the top players in the world and a fixture on European Ryder Cup teams. An accurate driver and consistent iron player, critics contend that a weak short game is what’s prevented him from winning a major. If any course demands a great short game, it’s Augusta National with its incredibly slick, highly contoured greens. Westwood’s four top 10’s at the Masters in the past six years argues that his short game is a lot better than people contend.
Two names absent from the list are the past two winners of the event. Bubba Watson won the event in 2012 and 2014. It’s been feast or famine for Watson at the Masters. Those two wins are his only two top 10’s in eight career starts.
Two-time major winner Jordan Spieth has a very small, but impressive body of work at Augusta. He’s played in only two Masters, recording a tie for second in 2014 to go along with his victory last year.
Spieth has obviously taken his game to a different level. His two wins, a runner up and a tie for 4th place in last year’s four major championships was a performance for the ages – really only equaled in recent history by Tiger Woods’ 2000 campaign (three wins and a 5th place) and 2005 season (two wins, a 2nd place and tie for 4th).
Chipping and putting are so important at Augusta National and Spieth is simply better than anybody in the world right now at these two disciplines.