The 76th Masters is arguably the most anticipated major in recent memory. With Tiger Woods back on his game and Rory McIlroy hungry for redemption, who's the favorite for the week? GolfChannel.com editorial director Jay Coffin and senior writers Jason Sobel and Rex Hoggard face off on who they think this year's champion will be.
By JAY COFFIN
AUGUSTA, Ga. – When picking someone to win a golf tournament you want to take a player who gives you the best chance on Sunday, someone you know will be in the hunt no matter what happens.
Tiger Woods is that person.
This is Woods’ 18th Masters, which is difficult to believe. Throw out the first two that he played as an amateur (he tied for 41st in 1995 and missed the cut in 1996) and he’s finished worse than eighth only three times. A tie for 22nd place in 2004 is his worst finish, but he hasn’t finished worse than sixth in each of the past seven years.
Even if Woods didn’t win the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago, he’d still be the pick this week because the numbers don’t lie. That he did win at Bay Hill just makes the pick stronger because Woods is more comfortable with his game now than at any point over the previous 30 months.
It would be a mild surprise if neither Rory McIlroy nor Phil Mickelson are in contention come Sunday. It’d be an absolute shock if Woods isn’t there.
By JASON SOBEL
AUGUSTA, Ga. – You know the game is engaged in a unique situation when the world’s No. 1-ranked player is a veritable underdog at one of the year’s biggest tournaments.
Entering the Masters, much of the prognosticating and speculating revolves around Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, which allows Luke Donald to sneak into Augusta National Golf Club under the radar.
While he may have ascended to the No. 1 position without winning a major championship, Donald didn’t do it with smoke and mirrors. He’s been the game’s most consistent player over the past 15 months and has easily established himself as the most proficient from 100 yards and in – an important characteristic at any tournament, but especially imperative at Augusta.
Donald currently ranks first on the PGA Tour in the “strokes gained – putting” statistic after also leading that category for each of the last three years. Green jackets are won with the flatstick and it’s undeniable that he wields a hotter one than anybody else in the field.
There’s a special sense of anticipation surrounding the Masters, considering Woods, McIlroy and Mickelson have all shown solid form in the early part of this season, each winning a tournament already. Well, so has Donald – and he just may add a second title come Sunday.
By REX HOGGARD
AUGUSTA, Ga. – On paper this isn’t a fair fight, but then picks are based more on gut feelings than getting the facts straight.
Nearly every betting house has Tiger Woods tabbed as this week’s Masters’ favorite, ignoring – however conveniently – Rory McIlroy’s body of work over the last 12 months.
Forgotten in the post-Arnold Palmer Invitational euphoria is the Ulsterman’s temporary climb to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking, a run that included three worldwide victories, 17 top-5 finishes and his first major championship.
That eight-stroke U.S. Open romp should give McIlroy the edge over Woods and all others this week. Following his Masters’ meltdown McIlroy scored the ultimate bounce-back victory with his eight-stroke Congressional walkover in June.
And if there were any ghosts lingering from his back-nine collapse last year he seemed to stare them down last week during a scouting trip to the home of the Masters.
“I had a quick glance on the way past walking down the middle of the (10th) fairway last week,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully I’ll do the same thing during the week this week.”
Through three rounds last year McIlroy was dominant on his way to a four-stroke lead. Even after posting a 1-over 37 on the front nine on Sunday he was still a shot clear.
The gut may say it is Woods’ week, but the facts point to McIlroy.