This is about finding out who else, if not Woods, is in the mix heading into the Masters.
We havent yet reached The Players Championship so I realize that a Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen or Ernie Els win could shake us up a bit when it comes to handicapping the field for the Masters. But here we are and those three have played a combined total of 18 events and have zero wins.
Again, we havent hit the Players Championship yet, but if you would have told me that two months ago, Id have been very, very surprised. So, at this point, something tells me that this years chase group if you will, might not include the usual suspects.
Nobody wants the Masters more than Ernie Els. Hes dreamed about it since he was a kid. Hes been open about his love for a green jacket since the days in South Africa when he watched Jack Nicklaus win it time after time.
Rooting for Els to get one is the easy story. But are you sold on Ernie? In three PGA TOUR start hes 65th in money with $238,036. He does have a win and two second place finishes on the 2006 European Tour calendar. From 2000-05 Els has only one finish worse than T6 at Augusta. How much stock do you put in that, versus his 2006 campaign?
Singh has more majors in him ' no question. But lets be real. Hes been the guy leading the chase group for the last few years. And ever since Tiger reclaimed his top ranking at the 2005 Ford Championship at Doral, Vijay hasnt been as big a topic. Hes been second best, but no guarantee to take Tiger to the wire. From 2000-05 Singhs Masters record includes a win and four other top 7 finishes. Thats tremendous. His worst in that stretch is T18. Vijay is 8th on the money list this year with $1,237,969 in six starts. Vijay is too good not to be counted into the conversation, but he hasnt wowed us yet this year. So do we put him as a lock to be there late on Sunday?
Phils Masters record is amazing. From 2000-05 he matches Vijay. Phil has a win and four other top 7 finishes. This year hes 15th on the PGA TOUR money list with $761,827 in six starts. Last year at this point, Mickelson had two wins and a runner-up finish at Doral. He then won at the Bellsouth to make it three wins before the Masters (proof that someone can still get us squarely in their corner.) Has Phil been Phil yet this year? No. Should we make him a favorite yet?
Goosens played just twice on the PGA TOUR this year after a bit of a long layoff. Retief has made $328,000 in his two PGA TOUR starts or $164,000 per event which isnt bad. Hes played three non-WGC European Tour events since the 2006 schedule began but his win at the South Africa Airways Open happened back in December. Can he win before the Masters? Sure. Hes won the Bellsouth before (2002). But for all his great success he only has six PGA TOUR wins. His Masters record is stronger than most - a 2nd, a T3 last year and two T13s in between. Go ahead and pick the Goose.. but were looking for sure-fire winners not just contenders.
So heres the thought that Im having right now with regard to things heading along this Southern Swing ' maybe this is the year we get another Mark OMeara or Jose Maria Olazabal. Or maybe a Mike Weir-like champion.
Each man, a proven winner, but not exactly the man you expected among a list of favorites in that particular year to slip on the green jacket.
OMeara had actually won twice the year before on the west coast and was still in his prime having won tournaments in 1995, 1996 and 1997 before his major double-dip in 1998.
Weir had two wins in 2003 prior to winning the Masters.
So, Ill give you a list of names that might just have as much chance to contend with Woods as the likes of Els, Singh and Mickelson. Because ' at this point ' Im not so sure they dont belong on the list of possible contenders along with them.
BEST OF THE REST
We could go on, but what about Jim Furyk or Adam Scott? Chris DiMarco hasnt been forgotten. David Howell, or Sergio Garcia? Or Luke Donald or even Tom Lehman?
Did you think Bart Bryant would win last years Tour Championship? Hes in the field for the first time at the Masters.
My point is that I just cant buy into the big boys right now ' unless his name is Tiger Woods. Woods is always the greatest threat to win at Augusta.
Im not saying he will win it. But what I cant do is tell you that anyone else is a lock to make him win it with his best.
Were just a month away. And it seems to me that beyond Tiger, this Masters is a wide open affair, and I dont think Im going out on a limb to make that statement.
By the end of the The Players Championship, things can completely change, but right now, if Woods doesnt bring his Augusta best, we might just have ourselves a Zach Johnson in the winners circle.
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann