Saturday, March 31, 2012
Updated: April 2, 1:38 PM ET
Which top player breaks through?
It's Masters week. Enough said.
As golf fans from all over the globe focus their eyes on the storied grounds of Augusta National Golf Club, or simply The National as the locals refer to it, someone will make history come Sunday evening by capturing the year's first major.
So who will be among those to battle it out? Our experts analyze all that and more in our latest edition of Monday Four-Ball.
1. What does Tiger Woods have to do exceptionally well this week to claim a fifth green jacket?
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Tiger will have to play the tough holes at par or better to win. On Sunday, all the contenders are going to play the par-5s well. With so many great players at the top of their games, Tiger is not going to have any margin for error. In his final round last year, he shot a 5-under 67, including a 31 on the front, but he had a rally-killing bogey at the tricky par-3 12th. The four-time Masters winner also can't afford to have an over-par round. His third-round 74 last year put him under a lot of pressure going into Sunday. He would love for a 67 to be enough to win in the final round.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Save pars. Whether it is by getting up and down or avoiding three-putts, Woods needs to limit the mistakes when faced with them. He is near the top of the statistical categories in total driving and greens hit in regulation and has regained his prominence on the par-5s, suggesting he is going to make his share of birdies. But hitting good chips and making solid, testy par putts ultimately will make a huge difference.
Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: If Tiger can keep the ball in play off the tee, he'll be around the lead come the back nine on Sunday. Most players aren't able to make birdies off the pine straw, and they certainly have a much more difficult time getting their approach shots on the right side of the pin when hitting through those tall Georgia pines.
Some will say Woods needs to putt well, which is of course true, but if he's out of position at Augusta National, those putts don't have much of a chance of dropping. Remember, it's a second-shot golf course.
Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com senior national columnist: Terrorize the par-5s, take advantage of his vast course knowledge and avoid putting meltdowns. Basically, continue the momentum of the win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago.
2. Six of the top-10 players in the world have never won a major. Which one has the best shot to shed that moniker this week?
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: I picked Hunter Mahan to win Houston, and he got it done. It's hard to bet against the best driver of the golf ball in the world. Now that he's No. 4 in the world and the only two-time winner in 2012, he's easily the man to beat in the crowd of non-major winners.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Luke Donald. The Englishman is ranked No. 1 and quietly tied for fourth a year ago after a chip-in for a birdie at the 72nd hole. A major is now the biggest void on his résumé, and he comes to the Masters in good form, having won the Transitions Championship a few weeks ago.
Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: Justin Rose. He's been playing "brilliantly," as our friends across the pond might say, having finished T-5 at the Honda Classic then winning the next week at Doral in mid-March. He's in the top 20 in greens in regulation, which is key at the Masters, and has never missed a cut at Augusta. A T-5 is his career-best finish in the year's first major, back in 2007, but he did also pull off a T-11 last year.
Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com senior national columnist: I like Hunter Mahan, and it's not because he just won at Houston. He has the game to win at Augusta but, more important, now has the attitude to deal with the stress of the Masters.
3. It might be too early in the week to make precise predictions, so give us your top three contenders.
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Hunter Mahan, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Luke Donald because he's coming into the Masters with some confidence. Same for Tiger Woods, who also has a strong record at Augusta National, having tied for fourth in each of the past two years while not playing nearly at his best. And Justin Rose. He has contended a few times at Augusta, recently won the WGC-Cadillac Championship and has played well for most of the past month.
Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: Tiger Woods. I'm not picking him to win, mind you, but I get the feeling it's one of those situations where, if I leave him off my fantasy team this week, I've got no shot to win.
Phil Mickelson. Lefty showed just enough form with his T-4 finish at the Shell Houston Open (and third top-5 in 2012) to show me he can turn things around at Augusta, where he's always a threat.
Bubba Watson. He's Bubba long off the tee which certainly helps at the Masters, but he's also first on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation, and that's always a vital stat at Augusta. My only fear here is, when such a feel player gets out of sorts, it can go downhill fast.
Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com senior national columnist: I reserve the right to adjust before Thursday, but right now I like Tiger, Mahan and McIlroy.
4. Golf fans the world over know Augusta National probably better than their local course. So, what's your favorite hole?
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: For me, it's a toss-up between Nos. 13 and 15. But it's a splendid buffet of golf looking down at the 15th green from the fairway with the picturesque 16th in the background. I love the third-shot wedge into 15. It's probably the most difficult wedge in major championship golf.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: No. 10. The view as you walk to the right of the fairway is spectacular. It is hard to believe how much undulation there is on the property, and that hole is an excellent example. The players make it look easy, slinging their tee shots down that fairway, but, in truth, you have to hit it well to get maximum distance and avoid a long iron shot into a tough green. It's an amazing start to the back nine.
Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: I'm going with No. 7. Shortish, uphill par-4. Driver, pitching wedge, drained an 8-footer inside right edge for birdie.
Oh, you mean from a historical perspective? I'll go with the par-3 12th. Never have so many pros anguished over such a short shot (usually in the 150-yard range), and it always seems to douse the hopes and dreams of someone trying to get that green jacket. It was Luke Donald who suffered that fate last year, and it surely will be someone else in 2012.
Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com senior national columnist: This is like asking who's my favorite daughter. So I'll go with two old reliables: the par-3 12th and the par-5 13th. You can never go wrong with that pair.