Masters practice round: Who's your pick?

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Tianlang Guan, 14, made waves last month when he won the Asia-Pacific Amateur and earned an invitation to play in the 2013 Masters. This week, while playing in the company of some of the world's most elite at the Emirates Australian Open, Guan received an invitation of another sort – the chance to play a practice round at Augusta National in 2013 alongside two-time Masters champion Tom Watson. We asked GolfChannel.com writers which Masters champ would they most like to play alongside in a practice round at Augusta National, and here's what they had to say.


By REX HOGGARD

With a monsoon of respect to living legends Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, if the purpose of a practice round at Augusta National is to learn the intricacies of the current layout, not the version from yesteryear,Phil Mickelson is the preferred partner.

Although the legendary two-ball has a combined 22 green jackets compared to Lefty’s three, no one has played the former nursery better since the club “Tiger-proofed” the layout before the 2002 Masters than Mickelson, not even Woods.

Prior to Tom Fazio’s handiwork, which included extended tee boxes on half the course’s holes, Woods dominated the layout, winning in record fashion in 1997 and again in 2001. Since the changes Woods is 2-for-11.

By comparison Mickelson has won all three of his green jackets since the changes, recorded eight top-5 finishes and has shown a willingness to share his accumulated knowledge on the venerable layout. Just ask Keegan Bradley, who slipped up to Augusta National the week of last year’s WGC-Cadillac Championship for a “learning” round with Mickelson.

Mickelson has become something of a mentor on Tour for the likes of Bradley and Dustin Johnson and it would be difficult to find a better guide for an 18-hole crash course on the game’s most exacting test.


By RANDALL MELL

Put me on the first tee with Jack Nicklaus.

It’s all about the education in a practice round like this, so give me four hours with the greatest player ever. Give me four hours with the guy who has won more major championships and more Masters than anyone.

At 72, Nicklaus may no longer be able to captivate us with his shot making, but he still captivates us with his insight and opinion. He still ranks as one of the most compelling interviews in the game. You get Jack Nicklaus in an interview room today, it’s still a full house.

I like to use a yellow highlighter when perusing transcripts from PGA Tour media interview rooms. When Jack’s the subject, I’m practically highlighting everything. Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy can deplete a highlighter fast, but nobody today ranks with Nicklaus in that regard. There are usually four or five story ideas coming out of one Nicklaus interview, or at least four or five stories that can be built around something he said. His opinions still matter as much as anyone’s in the game. He still dominates that way.


By WILL GRAY

Gary Player.

Selecting only one former Masters champion with whom to play a practice round is a difficult choice, but also a great problem to have. Topping my list would be the Black Knight.

My thought is this: I only have a precious few hours inside the ropes at Augusta National, and as a result, I’d be looking to maximize my experience. Player’s ability to combine Masters memories, golf tips and general life stories would potentially be unmatched, as I’m sure I would be overwhelmed with the quality as well as the quantity of his recollections and advice. Part practice round, part fireside chat, part life coach seminar, I’m confident that I would benefit greatly from a loop with the nine-time major champ.

An opportunity to walk the fairways at Augusta National with Player, where every tee box and green would elicit a story or memory from his vast database of personal experience, would be remarkable. And if nothing else, I’m sure that after the round, I’d walk away with a new fitness plan to employ – likely heavy on the crunches.