My Masters Picks
I have to start this weeks column with the Masters Tournament, one of my favorite weeks of the year. Having attending Mercer University in Macon, Ga., I have a special affinity with the Peach State and its most famous sporting event. Indeed, I was lucky enough to be a patron of the tournament through-out my university years and a couple beyond, but ironically since joining the GOLF CHANNEL Ive not been able to make the pilgrimage. However, I am looking forward to joining Vince Cellini in the studio for our late night 'Live From the Masters' specials. On Thursday youll see my interview with Englishman David Howell, which was shot at Doral ahead of the WGC-CA Championship. To me, Howell is a British favorite at Augusta. He has a solid short game and says himself that Augusta represents his best chance at a major title. With two top 20 finishes in as many appearances at the tournament, hes certainly shown he can perform on the demanding lay-out. During our interview, among other things, he talks about playing with Tiger on Saturday in 2005, during his first appearance in the event.
As for other European hopefuls, Justin Rose is certainly keen to put his back problems behind him, excuse the pun. I watched him for all 18 holes at the Tavistock Cup last Tuesday, and his outward 29, although a touch lucky at times, was extremely impressive. The only worry from Roses point of view is being out of the competitive game for such a long time; his last outing was the Accenture Match Play at the end of February. Hell have his old caddie in Mick Doran on the bag; the pair captured two wins in 2002 before Doran moved to work for Lee Westwood and then Howell. Dorans first steady employer was Costantino Rocca, giving him a front row seat when the Italian was paired with Tiger Woods for the final round of his win for the ages in 1997.
Paul Casey is also one to watch. The Englishman didnt qualify for the tournament last year, so coach Peter Kostis made him watch video of the tournament to inspire a return to Georgia this season. The motivation worked and now Casey is one of my European favorites. His length and scoring ability is second to none; its just a case of putting it all together at the right time.
Henrik Stenson is also a hot favorite. My only worry with him is whether hes had enough experience in the big-time to come through and take the title at a place like Augusta. Realistically, only since his run through the desert swing of 2006 has the big hitting Swede been put on the world map.
And finally, a quick shot in the dark: Jose Maria Olazabal. He wasnt a favorite in 1999; hes not a favorite this year by any means, but he finished tied for third last season, he knows Augusta terribly well, has two green jackets and when the tournament begins, maybe hell turn back the clock and surprise us all.
But theyll all be playing for second, my true Masters tip . Tiger, of course.
Pablo Martin has, for sometime now, been on the GOLF CHANNEL radar. My colleague, Steve Burkowski, who covers the amateur and collegiate games has been singing the young Spaniards praises ever since he stepped onto the scene in the United States a couple of years ago. A student and golfer at Oklahoma State University, Martin is now surely the best amateur golfer on the planet. Somewhat surprisingly, following his victory at the Estoril Open de Portugal on Sunday, he has decided to remain an amateur; although Burkowski told us on our 'UK Golf Central' show on Monday that Martin told him hes planning to forego his senior year in preference to a switch into the professional ranks. Raphael Jacquelin finished second to Martin at Oitavos Golfe. The Frenchman has, in my opinion, one of the smoothest swings on the tour and hopefully he will use this finish to build on his solitary European Tour victory.
Ross McGowan was a front runner for most of the week, but fell away with a final-round 76. I had the pleasure of playing quite a bit of amateur golf with Ross; we were both members at Walton Heath in Surrey for a while before McGowan turned professional and turned his attention to his original home club of Banstead Downs. At 24, McGowan, who only turned pro late last year, was somewhat of a late convert to the professional ranks but with a huge amount of experience as an amateur, including four years at the University of Tennessee. He certainly did his time, as they say. McGowan has a Challenge Tour card this year but relied on sponsors' exemptions to play at Madeira and Oitavos last week.
A Truly Impressel Performance
The first major championship of the year is done and dusted. Congratulations to Morgan Pressel, who I think has developed as a player and a person exponentially since turning professional 15 months ago. Bitter disappointment for Suzann Petterssen, whose double bogey at the 16th cost her dearly. The Norwegian has now had the chance to win for two weeks running but hasnt managed to come through with a trophy. My hope is that Petterssen will learn from these two second places and capture a victory or two before the end the season. Shes battled injuries in her career but now seems to be fit and healthy. The Europeans will certainly need her to be at her most productive for the Solheim Cup in September. Dont forget Catriona Matthew. I think Im right in saying the Kraft Nabisco was not aired in the United Kingdom and so Matthew didnt receive all the camera-time from the American CBS broadcast she possibly deserved. Had her 6-foot par putt on the last dropped we could have been talking about a British major winner. This was only Matthewss second tournament back since the birth of her daughter, so a truly marvelous achievement for the Scotswoman.
On a personal note, may I take this opportunity to wish Renton Laidlaw a very speedy recovery. Renton has been in extremely poor health since suffering a heart attack during an operation for prostate cancer a couple of weeks ago. Hes currently at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. I, like many of you, always enjoy Renton and Warren in the mornings during our European Tour coverage. His style is unique, his knowledge of European golf second to none. Although Rentons family appreciates your well wishes tremendously, they have asked for cards and flowers not to be sent to the hospital at this time.
Tom Abbott will host GOLF CHANNELs live coverage of the Ginn Open beginning at 9 p.m. BST on Thursday 12th April. GOLF CHANNEL can be found on Sky Digital 423.
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