Johnson’s successor, Billy Payne, has gently restored the design principles that made Augusta National golf’s premiere stage. Back-nine scoring certainly was abundant in 2010, which led to a riveting duel between two of the game’s best players.
Phil Mickelson’s two-stroke triumph over Lee Westwood was made most memorable by the 6-iron Mickelson slashed off the pine straw just right of the 13th fairway, a spectacular act of bravado that showcased the risk-reward factor on perhaps the finest par-5 ever built.
After three straight Masters with a final result shaped largely by the failures of those who didn’t win, the '10 version was a compelling beauty. Although Mickelson hasn’t won since claiming that third green jacket, although he has contended at a tournament of any size just twice since, he enters next week’s festivities as the co-favorite (with Tiger Woods) at odds of 8-to-1. Perhaps the bookies know something we don’t, but on the eve of the year’s first major, it is difficult to envision either superstar rediscovering their brilliance in such timely fashion.
For all Woods has accomplished in his career, he hasn’t won a Masters since 2005 – just before the third and final series of alterations to the course. No question, you have to drive the ball straighter now than before Johnson embarked on his toughen-it-up quest, which was popularly known as “Tigerproofing” when it began after Woods’ victory in 2002. Conventional wisdom told us Tiger would only dominate the Masters to a greater extent after Hootie’s handiwork, but then, few could have imagined him becoming so erratic with his driver, which has basically been the case since 2004.
Unless you’re Angel Cabrera, whose lucky bounce carried him to victory in a playoff in 2009, you can’t win a green jacket from the trees anymore. That said, the 8-1 odds on Woods almost seem preposterous.
Here’s a glance at one thinking man’s favorites – a reflection of the golf’s shifting competitive landscape and the ongoing struggles of the games two biggest names:
Lee Westwood (12-1): He has found his way onto virtually every big leaderboard for the better part of three years, and at some point, he’ll get his hands on that elusive first major. Tremendous ballstriker, not the world’s tightest short game.
Dustin Johnson (16-1): Everybody knows he hits it a mile, but Johnson factors consistently because he holes putts and doesn’t fritter away strokes inside six feet. Do they have a green jacket big enough for those shoulders?
Rory McIlroy (16-1): Too talented not to win a couple of Masters, he owns the most complete game among today’s young giants. Cold putter cost him at last year’s PGA.
Martin Kaymer (20-1): An efficient, workmanlike player who has plenty of length to conquer Augusta National. Winning that aforementioned PGA seems to have vaulted him mentally. Recognition has been good to him.
Mickelson (20-1): One senses a lack of interest this spring, as Lefty has his eyes on the bigger prize. He has arrived at Augusta National in less-than-ideal form before, then won. Nobody on earth holes more mid-range putts. Can spray it around the lot and still hang around.
Ian Poulter (25-1): The shortest hitter among the bunch listed here, he also plays from the fairway more than the rest. A tenacious competitor with excellent big-game instincts. It doesn’t hurt that he makes putts on Sundays, either.
Paul Casey (25-1): Has made steady progress at the majors since melting in the final-round heat at the 2007 U.S. Open. A streaky putter with prodigious length, he also hits a high ball, which never hurt anyone at Augusta National.
Nick Watney (30-1): Swing coach Butch Harmon loves his ability to shape the ball with his driver, and a much-improved putter has turned him into the game’s hot young star. Collapsed with third-round lead at last year’s PGA. From adversity, success often grows.
Woods (30-1): He hasn’t played back-to-back quality rounds in forever, and there are times when he looks nothing like the greatest player who ever lived, but hey, he’s still Tiger Woods. Hasn’t putted well at the majors in recent years. How about a 3-wood off the tee if the driver is misbehaving?