Par 5 Augusta National Questions


Setting the week’s agenda with five questions for the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Masters Tournament ...

Who’s going to make sure youth isn’t wasted on the young this week?

The PGA Tour may be on a twenty-something roll, but the Arnold Palmer Invitational isn’t a great tournament to win if you’re in your 20s and your name isn’t Tiger Woods.

Woods won at Bay Hill four times in his 20s. Chad Campbell’s the only other player in his 20s to win at Palmer’s venue since 1992.

Still, the PGA Tour’s feeling like it’s a younger man’s tour with Gary Woodland, 26, winning the Transitions Championship on Sunday in a duel with Webb Simpson, who’s just 25.

That makes back-to-back weeks that players in their 20s have won, with Nick Watney (29) dueling Dustin Johnson (26) to win the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Going into Sunday’s final round at Doral, the top eight players on the leaderboard averaged 28.5 years old.

With Jhonny Vegas, 26, and Aaron Baddelley, 29, also winning this year, youth doesn’t feel like it’s being wasted on the young.

The average age of the top 10 on this year’s money list is 31.1 years old.

The average age of the top-10 money winners at the end of 2009 was 36 years old.

Who’s the next player with a chance to make the game feel young this week? How about Rickie Fowler? At 22 and No. 30 in the world, he’s the highest-ranked American under 20 looking for his first PGA Tour victory. Fowler has top-10s in two of his last three starts.

Can Tiger Woods find his form before the Masters?

 The betting public thinks so.

Ladbrokes makes Woods a 9-to-1 favorite to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the seventh time. The odds-maker lists him as a 7-to-1 favorite to win the Masters in two weeks.

Woods has yet to contend on a Sunday back nine in his three stroke-play starts this year, but his finishes show signs of progress.

Woods has gone from a T44 at the Farmers Insurance Open to T20 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and T10 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. He’s never won the Masters without winning before arriving at Augusta National.

Can Phil Mickelson find his form before the Masters?

With his 76 in the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship, Mickelson tied for 55th at Doral.

Mickelson has failed to break 70 in eight of his last nine rounds.

Though Mickelson says he’s not overly concerned with any one part of his game, he isn’t looking like a favorite to win the Masters. Then again, he didn’t look like a favorite last year, when he had just one top-10 finish in his seven starts before the Masters.

Who’s going to win their way to the Masters this week?

Seven players have earned invitations to Augusta National, in two weeks, by winning PGA Tour events this year.

Jonathan Byrd, Mark Wilson, Vegas, D.A. Points, Baddeley, Rory Sabbatini and Woodland have punched their tickets to the Masters with wins.

There are 72 players in this week’s 120-player Arnold Palmer Invitational field who aren’t in the Masters but can get there by winning this event.

Next week’s Shell Houston Open is the last call for winners trying to get into the Masters.

What other avenue’s left to get into the Masters?

There’s one other door to Augusta National, but it closes this week.

Anyone inside the top 50 in the world rankings that come out after the Arnold Palmer Invitational gets an invitation to the Masters if he didn’t already earn one.

Matteo Manassero, No. 55 in the world, and J.B. Holmes, No. 59, are the only players among the top 60 in the world who aren’t already qualified. Manassero is trying to make it into his second Masters before his 18th birthday. Holmes is trying to get into his second Masters. He tied for 25th in ’08. They’re both in the field at Bay Hill.


Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell