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The Top of the Standings

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Guest Post: Projecting the Masters by Sliv

My calling was to become a golf beat writer for ESPN or Sports Illustrated or the Associated Press. How I wound up in public relations for the insurance industry, I'll never know. Anyway, you all benefit from the twists of fate that brought me to where I am, because IT'S MASTERS WEEK and here's my annual set of predictions.

1. The Impact of ESPN - ESPN has the first two rounds of the tournament this year and I'm not sure what to make of it. This is The Masters, not a college football Saturday in Ann Arbor, Gainesville or South Bend. Note to ESPN - for the sake of all of us, please give Chris Berman the week off. Just because they let you play in the Pebble Beach pro-am and you can finally make a full turn because you lost 100 pounds on the Jenny Craig program doesn't mean you know what you're talking about. Let Mike Tirico and Andy North take the lead and keep out of the way. Thank you.

2. The Shark Returns - By virtue of his top 5 finish in last year's British Open, Greg Norman returns to Augusta for the first time in nearly a decade. It's a nice story, and it's been reported that he's been practicing a ton to get his game in order. I say there is no way he makes the cut. I also say that we'll be subjected to a thousand replays of his epic 1996 collapse (and Nick Faldo will reference it from the broadcast booth, to which, Norman will respond, "Sure, 1996 hurt, but at least I didn't blow the Ryder Cup last year, Nicky boy!" Well, maybe not, but that would be fun to see).

It's cool that he had a nice week at the Open last year, but the Open is known for random players making an impact (hello Ben Curtis & Todd Hamilton!). Now, Norman isn't random, but since he's more executive than player these days, it was surely a random surprise that he did well at Birkdale. And here's the "not a surprise" element of that week last August: he built a lead going into Sunday and blew it. So the more things change (age, a huge divorce settlement, Chris Evert) the more things stay the same (also see his great performance through 3 rounds in Houston and his 81 on Sunday). Sorry Greg, no green jacket (or weekend rounds) for you.

3. Speaking of the Shark - His daughter is dating Sergio Garcia. Not sure if the Norman choke karma runs across generations to impact a daughter's boyfriend, but we'll see. I have some thoughts on this that will be disclosed in the last piece of this e-mail, when I give my prediction on the winner.

4. Padraig Slamington - If Padraig Harrington wins this week, it'll be his 3rd major in a row, with the US Open at Bethpage being the last step in his version of the Tiger Slam (four in a row, across two seasons). Personally, I love to watch Paddy play, but I don't think he's the guy this week (and he won't win the US Open either). Not a high ball / soft landing player, which is a must at Augusta. Don't get me wrong - his short game is amazing, but bump & runs don't win The Masters (unless, of course, your name is Larry Mize and you're about to hit the most famous chip in Masters history to beat - you guessed it - Greg Norman in a playoff. But that's another story).

5. Favorites - Every year there are a handful of players people lump into the "favorites" category. Taking the top 5 players out of it (Tiger, Phil, Sergio, Vijay, Ogilvy), here are a few of the "other" favorites: Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Camilo Villegas, Anthony Kim. Note that last year I picked Paul Casey as one of my top 5 favorites and he shot 78 on Sunday (from the lead) to blow it. So, I'm watching the Shell Houston Open yesterday and Casey wins it, which essentially disqualifies him from winning this week (I think Mickelson won the Masters after winning the previous tourney a few years ago, but for the most part, you win the week before and you might contend, but you won't win the one that counts).

Chances for the other "favorites" - none. Rose has game and maybe he grabs an early lead, but he won't win. Furyk & Els - their time has come and gone. Sure, they can win on any given week, but they haven't won the jacket by now, and I just don't see any major changes to their games that would mean they have something "new" to bring to the table.

Villegas & Kim - too young, not enough experience at Augusta. It'll be a learning experience for them, not a trip to Butler Cabin for the green jacket ceremony. I'll say one of them makes the cut (Villegas) and one of them misses (Kim).

6. Sleepers - Luke Donald, Fred Couples, Tim Clark. I wrote that list of sleepers before Freddie contended in Houston. After watching him play, I'm tempted to take him off this list. He rarely has back-to-back good tournaments these days, and I just don't see him holding up over a long grind. I'll keep him on here for sentimentality's sake, but I don't expect him to be within sniffing distance on Sunday.

For some reason, I see Luke Donald making a big run. He's coming back from injuries (like Tiger) and has started to put some solid rounds together (like Tiger).

As for Tim Clark, he did beat Tiger in the Match Play, and he always seems to be in the mix at Augusta. I'll take him as my #1 sleeper. Won't win, but he'll be right there all week long.

7. The Kid - Watch Rory McIlroy play, if he makes the telecast. The kid is 19 years old and has mega-game. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if he's oblivious to the Masters pressure and waltzes through the week to finish in the top 10. Or, he could shoot 88 on those greens and miss the cut. My money's on the former.

8. Tiger Woods - Oh boy, Tiger. I'm sure there wasn't anyone happier than the group of CBS Sports executives when Tiger won at Bay Hill two weeks ago. Tiger will be in the mix big-time. He'll be there from the start, but something will be slightly off, which means he'll finish 2 shots back on Sunday.

Tiger has never gone 4 consecutive years without winning at Augusta, and I'm really tempted to pick him this year, but something tells me it's another player's time (more on that in a moment). What scares me, though, is that Tiger's clutch performance on the back 9 at Bay Hill means he's once again doing the things that make him Tiger Woods. The guy is the best clutch putter in the history of the game, no questions asked. But it's his driving that that's the issue. It's still too inconsistent, and at the "new Augusta," you have to put the ball in the right places off the tee. I see too many errant drives in his future, and that will ultimately be the difference this year. But guess what - Tiger will shake it off and win the US Open at Bethpage this summer by 5 shots.

9. Phil "I Have Man Boobs" Mickelson - Phil, you're fun to watch, but I just can't pick you this year. Maybe some other time, but after watching you play horribly in Houston, I can't see how you rebound to all-world status in less than a week's time. Yes, it was that bad. And what makes it worse is that you've won twice this year, and you're supposed to be peaking as you head to Georgia. Instead, you played your worst two rounds of the year. Tune up or no tune up, you can't be happy with that, and it's clear that you're still struggling with approach. Conservative wins majors. Go for broke might pan out every once and a while (and make you insanely popular) but it won't win you the jacket this year. No worries, Phil. You have a zillion dollars, 10 houses, endorsement deals out the wazoo and a really good looking family to go home to. It could be worse, right?

10. Predictions - So, it's time for my official prediction. This is the year a huge talent finally wins his first jacket, and his first major. It's also a year in which his mentor and idol - Seve Ballesteros - is fighting cancer, and seems to be on the mend. Seve's fight will serve as inspiration, and Sergio Garcia will win the Masters (stop laughing, it's going to happen). Sergio learned a lot last year - most importantly he finally figured out how to be patient, and how to win or lose with grace and professionalism.

It's his time, and when he wins, he will give a very emotional speech on Sunday, citing Seve as the reason he won this year.

Winning score -10, 278.

So that's it, my friends. Enjoy the greatest golf tournament in the world!


Andy Silver is a Director of Public Relations and 6-handicap golfer based in Denver, CO. This is his first contribution to the Who's In First Blog. If you would like to get in touch with Andy, feel free to Contact Us and we will pass along the information. Also, you can read more about Andy and his golf passion in one of our Everyday Athlete segments.

Keep sporting!
- Who's In First

1 comment:

Vincetastic said...

Hey Andy, This is one of the best Masters fields in recent memory. There are so many story lines and with Tiger coming off his first victory of the year, it could be another classic. Personally I hope Ernie Els wins his first Masters, he’s one of the best golfers who hasn’t worn the green jacket. This is a really great top ten list. You can post this to our site http://www.toptentopten.com/ and then link back to your site. We are looking for top ten lists and our users can track back to your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.