The 78th Masters is upon us, and even though the actual competition does not begin until Thursday at Augusta National, it truly is a week-long celebration of golf and tradition. Even the practice rounds on Monday and Tuesday become media events, and the tradition-rich Par-3 tournament takes place on Wednesday.
Adam Scott is the defending champion at Augusta and his best chance in repeating lies, perhaps, in the fact that Tiger Woods will not be participating this year. Woods had back surgery in early April and some are estimating his return at up to four months. There is still a stellar field for the Masters, as always, and it is time to take a look at some of the favorites, according the Station Casinos Race & Sports book in Nevada.
Rory McIlroy (8-1) has been playing well, but has not set the world on fire. He has had four starts this calendar year, going out in the round of 32 in the match-play tournament, losing in a playoff in the Honda Classic, tying for 25 in the Cadillac Championship then finishing in a tie for seventh last week in Houston. Picking McIlroy is even more tempting when you consider the fact that his best round last week, 65, came on the final day. Is he coming into form, or simply erratic?
Adam Scott (10-1) is the defending champion. Some betting outlets have moved him up into a co-favorite role with McIlroy at 8-1. He seems to be ready to defend his title, with three top-10 finishes in five events this year. The one big wart on a smooth year has been losing that big lead with 76 in the final round at Bay Hill.
Phil Mickelson (12-1) is a three-time Masters champion and a crowd favorite every year. It is hard to back “Phil the Thrill” this year based on performance. He has played nine events in 2014 with no top-10 finished and only three times in the top-25. He has missed the cut once and withdrawn twice due to injuries. He seems to have recovered from his latest malady, a pulled oblique muscle, and had an adequate tune-up with a tie for 12 in Houston. It is hard to rule out a player like Mickelson, though, who has studied and dissected Augusta National so much that he could be awarded a Masters degree in Masters golf.
Matt Kuchar (12-1) went to college and played golf at Georgia Tech, and there is no tournament he wants more. If there is a golfer who is playing well coming into the year’s first major, it is Kuchar. His last two events have yielded a fourth and a second, but it is troubling that his final rounds of those two events were both over 70. His challenge is made bigger by the fact that he likes to hit the ball left-to-right, and Augusta National favors players who work the ball right-to-left.
Jason Day (12-1) could be the best Australian in the field. He won the Accenture Match Play Championship in February but, in the process, injured his thumb and has not played a tournament since then. It won’t be known until later in the week whether it has healed sufficiently but, if it has, Day can win the Masters this year. He knows how to play Augusta National, finishing third last year and second in 2009. The thumb issue can be viewed in two different lights. Either it is a chronic problem and he does not have a chance, or he has been over-protective and is making sure he is ready for the Masters.
Jordan Spieth (12-1) is a surprise among the favorites in this event. He is a great young golfer, but this is his first Masters, and winning the first time you play Augusta National is a tall order. It is also significant that his last four event places have been 34, 20, 10 and “missed cut,” and those last two were in his home state of Texas. Root for him, but do not bet on him.
The choice for the 2014 Masters winner has a distinct Aussie flavor: Adam Scott or Jason Day. Phil Mickelson should be there on the final day, and his knowledge and experience might make the difference. On Tuesday, Golf Shots will look at some of the long-shots that could be favorites in the 2014 Masters.
Golf Shots is a daily series which provides analysis and commentary on the PGA tour and golf-related topics all year long.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky