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Punch Shot: Most likely to win Masters (not named Tiger)

The Masters
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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods is the favorite to win the 77th Masters Tournament. But who is most likely to prevail – non-Tiger division? writers take Woods out of the equation and offer up another pick to win this week at Augusta National.


If I can’t take Tiger Woods, give me Ian Poulter.

Tiger had his fist pump in his big moments; Poulter has those intense, saucer-sized eyes. If Poulter can somehow summon the spirit that possesses him during the Ryder Cup, we just might see how those eyes go with a green jacket. Poulter was such an indomitable force in Europe’s historic comeback in last summer’s Ryder Cup triumph at Medinah. There’s no reason he can’t get in that kind of zone at Augusta National, where putting seems to matter more, and where Poulter feels confident about his chances. 

There have been flashes pointing to something bigger here for Poulter. There was his seventh-place finish in last year’s Masters. There was his taking the second-round lead in 2010 before falling away to a T-10 finish. There is a growing sense of his comfort here.


My inclination is to take Phil Mickelson, but I’m just not convinced that his putting is in good enough shape. It’s true that he knows these Augusta National greens as well as anyone, and that could pull him out of his funk, but I’ll go in a different direction.

For some reason, I like a dude who has only played here once (tied for 27th place), yet still has a major championship on his resume: Keegan Bradley.

Bradley just looks the part of a Masters champion. Take that Ryder Cup swagger that we saw last year at Medinah and throw it onto the back nine late on Sunday, add in a splash of roars, and it’s an environment in which Bradley could thrive.

You also have to think that he’s learned a lot from Mickelson over the past two years. The two have played numerous practice rounds at Augusta National and Bradley has soaked up course knowledge from Phil like a sponge.

Mickelson may contend but won’t win. Since we can’t pick Tiger Woods, we’ll take Bradley, Mickelson’s protégé.


Some say officials “Tiger proofed” Augusta National in the early 2000s, extending tees and adding more than 500 yards over the decade. We contend the powers that be simply made the course “Phil friendly.”

Since the tinkering began in 2002, Phil Mickelson has won all three of his green jackets, finished outside the top 10 just twice and been a part of the Sunday conversation on all but three occasions.

As Mickelson recently said, the place energizes him, regardless of form.

In some ways the venerable Georgia layout provides a kind of competitive amnesia. It’s a refuge to shield himself from inconsistent play – like this season’s eight-start, two top-10 effort – and inexplicable miscues – like the solace that came with the reality that despite his U.S. Open meltdown in 2006 he had won the tournament that matters the most earlier that year (Masters).

Even Mickelson’s penchant to overthink things seems mitigated at the Masters. That he won the ’06 tournament with two drivers in his bag helps soften the blow that he will play with no driver in the bag this week – at least not technically.

Mickelson is going with a driver hybrid, or glorified 2-wood, this week, but given his record around the former fruit nursery we would pick Lefty to win this week at Augusta National if he was kicking it around with a soup can tied to a stick.