The U.S. Open may have more prestige and the British Open is the oldest championship (Euros just call it ‘The Open’), but for me the best professional golf tournament on the planet is The Masters.
It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s darn close.
I really don’t go for all the aristocrat stuff (they are not fans, they are patrons), the green jacket that goes to the winner is rather gaudy and tradition has to be followed to the letter or there's a rapping on the knuckles.
But Augusta National is unlike any course the pros play.
It’s an 18-hole pool table. The fairways look like carpet and the greens are bedeviling. With many risk-and-reward holes, scores often can go low unless temperatures dive or the winds whip around.
There’s very little rough to speak of. There’s plenty of trees and pine needles and the roars echo on the back nine, the signal that a charge is being made.
And this year, there’s a healthy Tiger Woods.
I think we can say without question that Tiger is back. He’s had a nice string of high finishes leading into Thursday’s opening round and when Tiger is contention, the intensity is turned up to high.
To be honest, golf needs Tiger to be in contention. It’s good for the game as “patrons” have one eye on him and the other on the rest of the field.
Right now we have more good players than at any point in recent memory. Even Tiger at his best is matched by Dustin Johnson, Jordan Speith, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day, Sergio Garcia (the defending champion), Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy. Tiger doesn’t elicit the fear from players as he used to because they can now bomb it as far as he does and hit it as close as he does. Tiger’s putter appears to be coming back to the form when every time he had a crucial putt he had to make, he did — much like Jack Nicklaus used to.
I’ll be severely disappointed if the leaderboard doesn’t illuminate like a Christmas tree. There would be nothing better than for the majority of the big names being in contention on the back nine on Sunday — where the tournament really starts.
Sunday could be dripping with drama. Holes 13 and 15 at Augusta are reachable par-5s where the tournament often takes a turn. Both holes have water than can easily come into play, as hopes often splash into Rae’s Creek.
Then there’s the par-3 16th and its traditional pin placement on Sunday, which can produce birdies by the batches, even an ace — like Matt Kuchar had.
The final two holes actually are rather mundane as you don’t see a lot of birdies on the 17th or 18. You’d think for a course like Augusta those holes would be a little more dramatic.
I’m really hoping the stars come out. We had a great Masters last year with Sergio beating Justin Rose in a playoff. Let’s hope The Masters turns into an event like none other.