Okay Ladies, it's that time of year again. Even here in the 38 degree malaise that is West Michigan, I'm spending the week dreaming of all things green and yellow, of azaleas blooming behind the 12th green, of the Tuesday night Champions Dinner, and of how I can structure my weekend so that I have 6 hours to watch final round coverage with limited interruptions. Yup, it's MASTERS WEEK!!!
I've done this the last couple of years, including last year's well-received "B's Peeves - Masters Edition," which included my take on several things from marital infidelity to what does and does not qualify as "food." This year, I'm in a pretty good mood, what with a happy and healthy baby, a loving wife, a good job, a new Niece (other post- I'll let AET tell the story), and the coming start of golf season. So no Peeves today, it's just a straightforward Masters Preview. Now, without further adieu:
The Champions Dinner:
Avid Masters fans know that the defending champion is traditionally responsible for hosting an evening of all living Masters champions at Augusta National on the Tuesday night before the tournament starts. The tradition started in 1952 with Ben Hogan, who invited all of the former tournament champions to dinner at th club with one strict stipulation: "wear your green coat."
In 1980, Sandy Lyle broke the tradition of everyone ordering off the standard Club menu (steaks, fish, chicken, etc) and served a traditional Scottish Haggis from his homeland. While the haggis went over like a turd in the punch bowl, the tradition stuck. Since then, Vijay Singh brought Thai Food in 12 courses. Angel Cabrerra brought Argentinian meats to grill and Argentinian Wines to pair (yes, please!). Nick Faldo served fish and chips, Ben Crenshaw flew in Texas BBQ Brisket and sausages, and Tiger Woods served cheeseburgers, french fries and milkshakes after he won when he was 20 (ie- no booze).
This year, Lefty paid homage to one of his golf idols from his younger days. When Phil was 17 and playing as an ameteur in his first PGA Tour event, he was paired with Seve Ballesteros for a practice round and they struck up a lasting friendship. Seve (also a Masters Champion) is at home in Spain this year battling cancer in the brain and other areas. The Champions Dinner last night featured salad with sherry vinegarette, gazpacho, paella, beef tenderloin with manchego cheese and Spanish tortilla (egg and potato baked in cast iron) and something called "Spanish Apple Pie." Not sure what the apple pie was about, but my biggest beef (get it?) with the menu was that I wasn't invited. A nice tribute to a nice guy, and it sounds like a hell of a dinner.
(Paella is a party on a plate)
The Par 3 Contest. Every year at 12:30 on Wednesday, Augusta National holds a Par 3 contest for competitors. It is now covered by ESPN live each year, so it has gained momentum. Many players bring their kids or wives to be the caddie, and everyone seems to have a good time. There's frequently a hole in one, and all generations get involved. My DVR is set. Side note- no Par 3 Contest winner has ever won the Masters in the same year. People have gone on record to say they purposefully tanked on the last hole just so they wouldn't win the Par 3.
(Aaron Baddelay and his Caddie/Wife with their Baby)
(The "Triad" of Jack, Arnie, and Gary Player at last year's Par 3)
(Jim Furyk and his little ones)
On to the picks:
Peter Uihlein. Reigning US Ameteur champion who is a Junior at Oklahoma State. Good friends with fellow Cowboy and PGA Tour phenom Ricky Fowler (per Fowler's Twitter feed), this kid has plenty of game and can take advantage of the short par 5's, especially #13, which is essentially a long Par 4 for the big hitters.
(Uihlein after winning the USAmeteur)
Side note on the ameteurs - Another candidate was Lion Kim. Kim is a senior at the University of Michigan (GO BLUE!!), and captain of the Wolverine golf squad. He's in the Masters by way of winning the American Public Links tournament. When asked about his name, he replied "I'm sure my parents got the idea [for the nickname "Lion" instead of his given name of Jun Min] from Tiger Woods...but I know for a fact that they didn't name me Lion Kim thinking I would be the next Tiger Woods. Trust me, they're smarter than that." All I read in that is oh crap. I'm old enough that there's a college senior playing in the Masters who is named AFTER Tiger Woods. I remember when Tiger went pro...
But I digress.
Feel Good Story of the Week:
Tough one. There's no real Freddy Couples/Greg Norman story line this year. The Lefty dinner selection is nice, but the only real candidate for a FGSoW would be if Tiger finally lets his guard down and speaks frankly with the media (which he won't do), or if an Ameteur contends for the title. Since I just threw out my Peter Uihlein pick above, I might as well go with that for FGSoW
Phil Mickelson- This guy seems to love Augusta as much as anyone, and on the heels of a win last week in Houston, he's a contender for sure. He always plays the week before the Masters (Tiger never does), and he won in Atlanta in 2006 before winning his first Masters the following week. And if he finds a chance to hit that 205 yard 5-iron out of the woods, off the pine straw, over a creek, to 8 feet for birdie? Well then, keep an eye out for Amy and the kids on Sunday evening.
(Lefty after Sunday's win in Houston)
(for you Preppies out there)
Martin Kaymer- There are no flaws in this guy's game. Hits it long, soft, left, right, over and under. He putts well. He's nearly as stoic as Reteif "The Mechanical Golf-Playing Robot" Goosen on the course. It seems like a cop-out to pick the World #1 as a contender, but this guy is the real deal. And, according to Queen Bee Swain, he's apparently eye candy too. Any guy who can pull off the ascott/scarf in the desert in February probably doesn't have a hard time with the ladies, if you know what I mean...
(in the finals of the Accenture Match Play in Tucson in Feb)
Ian Poulter- Poults has come a long way since his "Tiger's more beatable than ever" days of 2007. He's one of the top ball strikers in the world; a skill that was cited as a weakness for him just a few years ago. He's a fierce competitor and punishes people in match play competitions like the Accenture and the Ryder Cup. If he's at the top with one other guy with a couple strokes between them and the field, it could become like a match play event, and my money would be on this guy for sure.
(nice pants...for an Englishman who lives in Orlando)
Ricky Fowler- Young gun. Nearly flawless game, but hasn't figured out how to put a whole week together and close the deal for a win. I just wonder what a green jacket would look like over an all-orange Sunday getup???
(add green jacket and I'm seeing a trend here...)
Matt Kuchar- Often overlooked American sharpshooter with a game that fits Augusta well. I sincerely considered picking him as my winner, but I'll save that for below. He won more money than any golfer in the world last year, and already has a win this year to go along with his new, more consistent, putting stroke. Serious contender.
(with the fam after a win)
Tiger Woods- I think my comment last year was "anytime he's in the field, he's the favorite." Well, um, that's not true anymore. This guy is all out of whack, and it's gonna be a while before he gets back... into...whack.
Lee Westwood- #2 player in the world does more choking than a Red Cross CPR class. Hasn't won a major. Won't win a major...yet.
(in fake english accent: "oh bother. I've lost another major? Bullocks!")
The Old Guys- In the last few years, we've had good runs from Jack, Freddy, Greg Norman and Kenny Perry. I just don't see that happening this year. Nobody over 50 will make a run. The closest who could would be Phil (40) or Vijay Singh (46...ish?)
Hunter Mahan- Another American who has often been overlooked, and is one of the best without a Major title to his name. This guy has been nothing but consistent this year. He's also been on winning and losing Ryder Cup teams with big, intense pressure situations. He's also in those funny Titleist commercials where he serves hot dogs at the halfway house. He's been in the Top10 in the last TWO Masters (T8 and T10). With 5 Top 10's this year in only 9 events, he's the hottest guy out there right now and due for a big win. That's not to say that he'll "win big," but it will definitely be a "big win" for him.
(this look could be familiar by Sunday evening)
(all gussied up for Golf Magazine)
So there you have it. Pick up your mark call it good. I'll see you in the clubhouse for a cold one.