No Tiger, no problem.
Tiger Woods may not be playing in the Masters Tournament this year, but that doesn’t mean that the usual drama and competitiveness that goes with any tournament at Augusta National won’t be present.
Golf.com gives us a couple of story lines guaranteed to pique your interest and get you watching this weekend:
The Rookies: There are 24 first-timers in the field, breaking the record for number of Masters rookies. The big difference this year: Between newbies like Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker, who have six victories between them in the last 12 months, these guys are brash enough to contend on the weekend and maybe even to win, becoming the first rookie to slip on the jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in ’79.
The early favorite to lead the group of 24: WGC-Cadillac champion Reed, who went to Augusta State and played the course three times as an amateur. It was Reed who pronounced himself a top-five player after winning at Doral. As if to say, “Prove it,” the powers that be at Augusta National have put him in a threesome with Rory McIlroy and Spieth for the first two rounds. They’re off at 10:52 a.m. Thursday.
Rory McIlroy: Tournament favorite McIlroy, who is coming off a final-round 65 and a T7 in Houston, and who (other than the Australian Open) hasn’t won anything of note in the last 18 months, looked primed to atone for his 2011 Masters meltdown. McIlroy opened that Masters with a 65, closed with an 80, and has had unfinished business here ever since.
Brandt Snedeker: Unfinished business? Brandt Snedeker is still trying to erase the memory of 2007, when he limped in with a 77 to tie for third and broke down. Snedeker tied for eighth in his last start at Bay Hill.
Freddie: At least one old guy usually makes an unlikely charge on the weekend, whether it’s 58-year-old Jack Nicklaus in 1998 (he ran out of miracles and tied for sixth) or Bernhard Langer last year. (Langer faded with a final-round 76 but was on the leaderboard early Sunday.) You’ve got to believe Fred Couples will be up there in or near the lead on the weekend. The 1992 champion here, Couples has tied for second, won, and finished fifth in three starts on the Champions Tour in 2014.
Many fans will be rooting for 3-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson, who’s had trouble putting it altogether this year so far. One of the most creative shot makers in the game, Mickelson usually plays well at Augusta and is perfectly capable of elevating his game to meet the challenge.
The 2013 Masters Champion, Australian Adam Scott, will be looking become only the 4th back to back Masters champ in history (Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, and Jack Nicklaus). The Aussie’s sweet swing has propelled him to near the top of the world rankings. If he finishes 3rd or better at Augusta, he will take the top spot away from Tiger Woods.
Even if you can’t stand golf, you can still enjoy the broadcast. Augusta National is truly one of the more beautiful spots on earth and with spring fully sprung, the blooming azaleas, dogwoods, and other plants and bushes fill up your TV screen with color and beauty.
For this Midwesterner, it will be a sight for sore eyes after the brutal winter we just experienced.