AUGUSTA, Ga. – I’m done. I literally can’t preview this week’s Masters Tournament any more. I’ve written about four-time champion Tiger Woods lying in a comfortable position at home. I’ve written about three-time champion Phil Mickelson dying to get into a comfortable position on the leaderboard. I’ve written about aging veterans and bright-eyed first-timers. I’ve written about trees that are alive and trees that are dead and what the grass looks like where the dead trees used to be. I’ve made predictions, then made predictions about my predictions. And if I have to do this any longer, I’m going to start making predictions about those, too.
Now It’s your turn. I’m tapping out. Time to leave the confines of the press room for a leisurely stroll across golf’s coolest campus. But I’ll leave this final preview column in your capable hands. As my editor often advises: Don’t screw it up.
This year’s Masters is bound to be one of the most __________ (exciting/boring/Tiger’s not playing, so I refuse to acknowledge its existence) editions of the tournament in recent years. It will begin with honorary starters Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player on Thursday morning at exactly __________ (7:40 a.m. ET/whenever they damn feel like it).
Expect the golf course to be playing __________ (extra long, because of the early-week rain/fast and firm, because it’s dried out by now/harder than advanced trigonometry, because it’s Augusta National). And don’t be surprised if __________ (Angel Cabrera/Fred Couples/my EA Sports avatar) is in contention early, because he always plays well here.
But there are also 24 __________ (rookies/first-timers/nobodies) competing this week. This is because of the __________ (parity/randomness/freakin’ snoozefest) that has occurred on the PGA Tour so far. I mean, even an __________ (unheralded/unassuming/unknown … like, seriously, I’ve never heard of him) guy like __________ (Joost Luiten/Stephen Gallacher/Sergio Garcia) could potentially __________ (win/contend/ruin my Sunday).
More than likely, though, the final round will be all about the __________ (big names/players who have won before/guys they won’t stop showing on TV, even though they’re way out of contention). Among the players who can overtake Woods for No. 1 in the world this week are __________ (Adam Scott/Henrik Stenson/Jason Day/TIGER IS THE GOAT AND NOBODY WILL EVER OVERTAKE HIM EVER AND IF YOU DON’T AGREE WITH ME YOU’RE A HATER!!!).
The oddsmakers’ favorite is Rory McIlroy, who was __________ (leading/having a heart attack) going into the back nine three years ago, when he promptly hit a tee shot __________ (left of the trees/left of the cabins/left of Georgia). After a down year in 2013, he appears ready to challenge again because __________ (he’s comfortable with his Nike equipment/he’s secure in his love life/he’s ridiculously good at golf). If he wins this week that will give him three __________ (legs of the career Grand Slam/more majors than Sergio).
Hopefully, the defending champion, Scott, will be in contention again, because he’s so __________ (classy/talented/good-looking that even my wife won’t mind watching all weekend). I heard he served __________ (Moreton Bay Bugs/ants or something/Fosters, mate!) for his Champion’s Dinner, which must have made __________ (Arnie squirm/Jack laugh/Gary insist on knowing the caloric intake).
As for another past champion, Phil Mickelson has a chance to win his fourth title this week, which would tie __________ (Arnold Palmer/Tiger Woods/Greg Norman during his nightly REM sleep). Funny story: During a Tuesday practice round, he lost a $1 wager to a patron when he __________ (couldn’t get up and down from the second cut/picked the Cubs to win the World Series). If he wins again this week, let’s hope in this celebration he actually __________ (jumps a little higher/jumps a little/jumps).
Let’s also hope this week’s tournament isn’t marred by __________ (rules controversies/rules hilarities) like last year. As you probably remember, 14-year-old Guan Tianlang was given a penalty for being __________ (too slow/too young/too close to John Paramor) and Woods was given a reprieve from an incorrect drop because Augusta officials __________ (invoked Rule 33-7/wanted ratings).
Times have certainly changed here over the years. Augusta National now has __________ (female members/wireless Internet/a few attendees who will yell “Baba Booey” before getting yanked off the course). But some things remain the same. We’ll always refer to spectators here as __________ (patrons/lucky stiffs) and instead of tickets they’re called __________ (badges/eBay bonanzas).
It will all come to a culmination on Sunday, when the player with the lowest score will be given __________ (a green jacket/a lifetime membership into golf’s most exclusive club/a reason to finally call his high school girlfriend and gloat). We don’t know who that player will be, but he’ll undoubtedly be __________ (emotional/relieved/on Letterman the next night).
One thing we do know? Once again, this week will be a tradition unlike __________ (any other/the first three months of this boring season/the one where we watch Tiger win majors).