By Doug Halberstadt
Tomorrow (Thursday, April 5), and for the next four days, all eyes of the golf world will be focused on Augusta, Ga. After three days of practice rounds, the world’s best golfers will begin play in the first round of the 78th Annual Masters Tournament. In many people’s opinions — and mine — this is golf’s premier event.
Most of the recent chatter surrounding this year’s tournament is centered on the recent resurgence of Tiger Woods. Two weeks ago, he won his first tour event in nearly three years when he bested the field by five strokes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Many people who follow golf believe he now has the momentum needed to capture his fifth green jacket. His last one is from 2005.
Woods will have to out-drive and out-putt a bevy of challengers. Last year’s winner, Charl Schwarzel, is just one of the players who will be trying to keep Woods from walking away with the tournament. Schwarzel is currently ranked seventh in the current world golf rankings, one spot below Woods.
Luke Donald is currently the No. 1-rated player in the world and will be shooting for his first green jacket. At last year’s Masters, he finished in a three-way tie with Woods and Geoff Ogilvy for fourth place.
Phil Mickelson is another perennial Masters favorite. Despite his current ranking of 15th, he is still a golfer to watch when he comes to Augusta. His last green jacket is only two years old. He won in 2010, and he has another one hanging in his closet from 2006.
One of my other favorites in this year’s tournament is Steve Stricker. He’s also in pursuit of his first Masters title. Stricker is from Edgerton, Wis., and is currently ranked fifth in the world. He has spent 140 weeks in the top-10 of the rankings since 2007, but has never been fitted for the green jacket.
He is considered one of the best players without a major championship. He started out 2012 with a win at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, Hawaii. It was the 12th PGA title of his career. His highest finish at Augusta was tied for sixth in 2009. Could this be his year?
Rory McIlroy is another name that gets tossed around when it comes to prospective winners of this year’s tournament. He is the reigning U.S. Open champion and is currently ranked second in the world, fewer than 28 total points behind Donald. He may actually be the favorite heading into the tournament.
The 22-year-old McIlroy will try to erase the memory from last year’s Masters. He entered the final round with a four-stroke lead. It was his tournament to win or lose. He imploded with a final round of 80, and finished tied for 15th.
He’s looking for much different results this year. “I wasn’t necessarily under the radar last year, but you know, I’ll be going in there with a lot more attention, a lot of scrutiny because of what happened last year,” McIlroy said at Doral, the last tournament in which he played. “The spotlight will be on me, and it’s something that I’ll just have to deal with. … But I’ll try to take the same approach and approach it like I did last year — at least for three days, anyway.”
So, whether you’re pulling for any of the previous mentioned golfers or someone totally different, it’s always an exciting tournament to watch. My prediction is Woods will rise to the occasion and win his fifth green jacket.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the April 4-10, 2012, issue